New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman wants the United States to turn the recent financial crisis into a green opportunity to strengthen America's future. He wrote about his ideas in a new book called "Hot, Flat, and Crowded" and tells Living on Earth host Bruce Gellerman why a global clean energy revolution is imminent.
GELLERMAN: Thomas Friedman doesn't need much of an introduction - but we'll give him one anyway.
Tom Friedman is a three time Pulitzer-prize winning columnist for the New York Times, and bestselling author. His latest book is "Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution and How it Can Renew America." Friedman says, we face the worst of times, but this could be the perfect time for a New Green Deal:
FRIEDMAN: We have to use this moment to launch the next great global industry. Here we are thinking Bruce about spending $700 billion to bail out our economy, and in my attitude, when the IT bubble burst, well it burst, but it left us with the whole internet infrastructure. When the railroad bubble in America burst, it burst, but left us with an America tied together by railroad lines. If this financial bubble bursts and only leaves us with a bunch of dead derivative contracts, and we spend $700 billion on it, that would be a tragedy.
We need to make sure we use this money. Let’s say the government’s passing out money for new mortgages, well let’s make sure every new home built with the government taxpayer money is LEED green certified. If we’re gonna spend $700 billion bailing out our economy, bailing out for instance, General Motors, I’ll consider that – on one condition – that General Motors agrees to truly transform itself and not just supply us with cars in 2020 that will get 35 miles to the gallon which they reluctantly agreed to. You want money from the taxpayers? You’ll produce 40 miles per gallon cars by 2015 pal, or you won’t get a dime out of me.
GELLERMAN: You call it what – “code green.” You say there’s no plan B. Either we go ahead with this or we are done for.
FRIEDMAN: I know as sure as I have a nose on my face that energy technology is going to have to be the next great revolution. Otherwise, we’re not going to be able to survive on this planet. We need abundant sources of cheap clean reliable electrons. And therefore, that has to be the next great global industry. The question is who’s gonna lead it? And it’s got to be us. You know, you cannot be a big country without being big in big things, Bruce, okay? And there’s nothing that’s going to be bigger that clean tech. This isn’t just about electric power – this is about national power.
GELLERMAN: There’s one part in the book where you say you were basically stunned when somebody said that America was becoming a new India.
FRIEDMAN: Well, it was stunning. Basically this was a European solar manufacturer – a solar panel manufacturer – who was talking to the head of the solar manufacturing association, the lobby group in Washington, and said, you know basically we’re doing all our innovation now in Europe and we see America with the cheap dollar as a great place to do manufacturing. We see you as the new India. Oh my god – I love India, but I want to be the innovative end of India, not the cheap labor end of India.
GELLERMAN: Right, that they would be supplying the intellectual capital and we would be supplying the cheap labor.
FRIEDMAN: Exactly. That’s a sign of the apocalypse.
GELLERMAN: Well, we are running a lot of red ink these days. And we’re bleeding red ink. Where’s the money gonna come from to support all of this, this change that you want to see happen?
FRIEDMAN: I’m not a Manhattan Project guy; I’m a market guy. And what the market needs is a price signal. Can we get a carbon tax tomorrow, Bruce? Not a chance. Can we get a gasoline tax tomorrow? Not a chance. But last time I drove in and filled up my car with gas, it was over $4 a gallon. Let’s just have the government say gasoline is never going to fall below $4 a gallon. Don’t even think about it. That Hummer – is gone. It’s over, okay? That alone will trigger enormous innovation around batteries, plug in hybrids and all electric cars. We can’t put a tax on – let’s a least put a floor on. So, the OPEC guys can’t lower the price and wipe out the renewables as they did in the 70s and 80s.
FRIEDMAN: What I’m really trying to focus on in the book, Bruce, actually is no particular technology. People often say to me “Hey, what’s your favorite fuel? You a wind guy, you a solar guy, you a clean coal guy, you a mass transit guy?” What I tell them all, Bruce – I’m actually an ecosystem for innovation guy. That’s what I’m trying to trigger. I’m trying to get the right price signals, standards, regulations in place, that I think given the American market we have, the innovative capacity we have, would trigger innovation in clean power energy efficiency solutions that you can’t even imagine now. So I’m really focused on the ecosystem for innovation, and I don’t know what will come out of that.
GELLERMAN: So Tom, are you hearing on the stump from the candidates for presidency what you want to hear?
FRIEDMAN: Not really. I’m not hearing anything I want to hear from McCain. From Obama I’m hearing all the right words, and the music seems to be good too, but I’m hungry still. I want more details. I want a real sense that this excites him, that he sees this as the next great mountain for us to climb. And so I’m not sure that I’m getting the passion that I think young people feel for this, old people feel for this. You know, I’ve been out on book tour for this book. And I’ve had - we had 8,000 people at one book event. I’ve never had that many people. That’s not about me. That’s how many people are excited about this subject. If I can draw 8,000, Obama could draw 8 million, you know? But – God – you gotta have a pulse.
GELLERMAN: You know, Thomas, your book is subtitled “Why we need a green revolution and how it can renew America” and I was thinking, it’s not so much about renewal, it’s about rediscovery – rediscovery about who we are.
FRIEDMAN: Oh absolutely. That’s why the last paragraph of the book says, “Friends, we’re all pilgrims again. We’re sailing on the Mayflower anew. We haven’t been to this shore before. We need to redefine “green” and, in the process, redefine America.”
Tom Burke is a great energy innovator from Britain. He invented a unit of measure. He calls it the “Americum.” And an Americum is any 300 million people in the world living like Americans. Well, when I was born in the 50s, there was only two and a half Americums in the world. There was America, Europe and Japan. Today there are nine. There’s one in America, there’s one in western Europe, there’s one in eastern Europe and Russia, one in India, giving birth to another, one in China giving birth to another, one in Japan, east Asia, one in South America. We’ve gone, Bruce, from a world of two and a half Americums, 300 million people living like Americans, to a world of nine. The good Lord didn’t create this planet for that many Americans. We have to redefine what is means to be an American in sustainability terms. And then build, invest, design, innovate the green technologies that will make that possible. That’s the next great frontier.
GELLERMAN: Well, Thomas Friedman, thank you very much. Really appreciate it.
FRIEDMAN: My pleasure.
GELLERMAN: Thomas Friedman’s new book is called “Hot, Flat and Crowded: Why we need a green revolution and how it can renew America”.
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