Thomas Friedman: the voice of (needed) sustainable policy

Green Jobs, not just a slogan

Green Jobs, not just a slogan

Why won't more politicians and Americans listen to Thomas Friedman?  It's not like the guy is some wacko living in the backwoods of Montana.  He's a foreign policy expert and world traveler.  He wrote Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution--and How It Can Renew America. He even has the ear of world leaders, but unfortunately not enough of what he is saying is is heard by mainstream America.

Two of his latest columns make an excellent point for why America needs to get away from fossil fuels and start embracing renewables.

The first article, Have a Nice Day,  highlights the work Applied Materials (an American company) is doing in solar. The catch:  while they are based in America, not one of the solar plants they have built (14 and counting) is based in the U.S.  What do you think goes along with all those facilities?  Jobs, that's what.  Jobs that don't make workers risk their lives in off-shore oil rigs or jobs that don't require workers to blow up Appalachian mountains to get at the coal that lies underneath.  From the article Friedman says,

If you read some of the anti-green commentary today, you’ll often see sneering references to “green jobs.” The phrase is usually in quotation marks as if it is some kind of liberal fantasy or closet welfare program (and as if coal, oil and nuclear don’t get all kinds of subsidies).

Green Jobs are real, just ask all the workers in the solar panel factories built by Applied Materials in other countries.

And in regard to subsidies for fossil fuels, Scientific American just wrote a piece covering the report released by Environmental Law Institute which stated that fossil fuels received roughly 72 billion dollars between 2002-2008!  All this for an industry that was making record profits!  During that time period renewables received 29 billion.

On why creating a green industry here at home is so important, Friedman highlights why China has decided to be a leader in clean energy:

China now understands that. It no longer believes it can pollute its way to prosperity because it would choke to death. That is the most important shift in the world in the last 18 months. China has decided that clean-tech is going to be the next great global industry and is now creating a massive domestic market for solar and wind, which will give it a great export platform.

Are we really going to sit by and let China beat us to what is most probably the world's next economic engine?

In his other post, Real Men Tax Gas, Friedman asks why America can have an honest discussion about fighting the war on terror (and sending troops to fight and American tax dollars to support them), but we can't have an honest discussion about where the regimes that support the terrorists get the money in the first place: oil.  In this case, Friedman is talking about a gasoline tax that would reduce the usage of oil, thus reducing the amount of money that Americans are handing over to our enemies.  Friedman says:

In sum, we would be physically healthier, economically healthier and strategically healthier. And yet, amazingly, even talking about such a tax is “off the table” in Washington. You can’t mention it. But sending your neighbor’s son or daughter to risk their lives in Afghanistan? No problem. Talk away. Pound your chest.

I am not sure what the right troop number is for Afghanistan; I need to hear more. But I sure know this: There is something wrong when our country is willing to consider spending more lives and treasure in Afghanistan, where winning is highly uncertain, but can’t even talk about a gasoline tax, which is win, win, win, win, win — with no uncertainty at all.

I know it is politically unpopular to tax something in the time of a recession, but Americans need to wake up.  Our country is in debt (so the Government will find a way to get the money out of your pocket somehow anyway), we're fighting wars in the middle east that are heavily influenced by a reliance on their oil, our roads are crowded, and our environment is suffering the consequences.  All of these things are the result of cheap oil.

This same idea was hit on by Amory and Hunter Lovins and Paul Hawken in their book, Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution. In the book they ask why our current system taxes good things, like hard-working American's income from their jobs, and not bad things, like gasoline and other fossil fuels that destroy our environment, hold our economy hostage at times of shortages, and increase our reliance on despotic regimes.  By taxing income we are discouraging employers from hiring workers, and by not taxing gasoline we are encouraging Americans to use more of it.  Imagine if we taxed gasoline, but whatever revenues were raised we lowered the income tax by the same amount.  We would bolster our economy, environment and national security all while letting Americans keep more of what they deserve.

I guess this is a very similar idea to what the book by Neil Boortz, The Fair Tax Book: Saying Goodbye to the Income Tax and the IRS, is suggesting.  The Fair Tax is basically a national sales tax that would get rid of the income tax but would tax things we buy at a higher rate, and I'm assuming gasoline would fall under this.  The nice thing about this, is that if you have a good job, but live fairly conservative, you won't pay as much in taxes!

Finally, I haven't even discussed something Thomas Friedman mentions is another reason why we need to push forward on clean energy: Global Warming/Climate Change.  Let me make one thing very clear to those Americans who still stall efforts to push forward on a clean and renewable economy based on their belief that Global Warming/Climate Change is a hoax:  It doesn't matter what you think.  Now I'm not saying your thoughts and opinions aren't important, what I am saying is that the rest of the world doesn't give a rat's ass that you think Climate Change is just due to earth's natural variance and that you think Al Gore is a kook.  The rest of the world is moving forward on renewable energy.  Why does that matter you ask?

America is not an island.  We sell and buy stuff from the rest of the world.  If the rest of the world (see China is example above) is going to push forward on a clean economy, that means we can sell them things to do so, just like Applied Materials is doing. Or in another scenario, if I was an American fireworks maker, and China told me that on February 14, 2010 they will be celebrating Chinese New Year (which is true) and need to place a large order of fireworks with me, I'm not going to laugh at them and tell them, "I don't believe in your stupid Chinese New Year, I celebrate Valentine's Day on Feb. 14!".  No, I'm going to get off my butt and start making some fireworks.  It doesn't matter if I believe in the reason a customer is buying something, the fact is they are buying it.

Right now we are slow to sell countries things that will improve America (like technologies that lower environmental impact) while we are quick to buy things that detract from America (like oil which bolsters enemy regimes, destroys our environment, and hurts our national security).  Thomas Friedman gets it, and he has been a huge influence on helping me get it.  When will the rest of America wake up and realize we are very possibly hurting our chances for a clean, prosperous and renewable future?

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I would like to determine proof that China is investing heavily in natural vigor. Please provide source.
U nutty socialist pigs. Friedman is a ADHD basket case who cannot do basic math. Green jobs? Solar panel factory workers? In China maybe. Machiavellian ends justify means is all we get from anyone outside the mainstream these days. If any of you truly believed you had a "lets save the world" case, you'd focus on facts and arguments instead of hyperbole pushed by narcissistic washington types who believe it or not don't believe anything at all other than making things happen that have their names attached. Prices are going up because you all say so. You could have made choice available and see who actually buys your argument. Instead its all 100 percent cramdown. Because noone outside your circle of social retards is buying the argument because they hate people who force their values on others. The green movement will thus be ended because noone sought buy-in they simply sought cram-down. Leftist losers and religious right extremists may you all end up greenhouse gased for forcing your values on others.
Nutty socialist pigs? Far from it. Let's see, who is trying to present a sustainable (not socialist. sustainability actually shares more with conservative values than socialist) and who is spewing meaningless Rush-inspired rhetoric? Unfortunately you have the blinders of W. Bush-era inspired tactics on. Learn how to think for yourself. Do you blame the socialist pigs for the meltdown on wall street too? Or maybe, just maybe that was do to the greed of bankers buying sub-prime baskets of mortgages who were operating in a very financially unsustainable manner.
Regarding Klem, I don't think that the mainstream public feels angry and betrayed so much as unwilling to accept reality and the need for change therein. I bet most of these people hardly understand what is needed for climate change, they simply don't think that it is as necessary as some of us "hippies" make it out to be. I'm only guessing, but I bet that there are much fewer educated Chinese naysaying the country's new resolutions, and maybe it has something to do with China's renowned education system. Who knows why so many Americans choose to play dumb in facing the blatant injustices that we are causing our country and planet, but maybe it has something to do with our poor school system and the critical thinking skills that seem to have dwindled so much in the past years?
I agree with Randy ....we need to talk about the "elephant in the room"...lobbyists have enormous power in Washington!!...which is why it's vital that people begin to speak our voices are heard by won't happen without this!
Unfortunately, America has also politicized climate change and peak oil. If you believe in either one, you are a leftist liberal (or Communist which is becoming the popular term I've heard lately) If you don't believe in it, you are labeled a right wing conservative. This has been a huge dis-service to America. I think it has caused some to be blinded by their party affiliation and they won't read the facts for themselves and make up their own mind if the evidence justifies belief. If we can de-couple climate change and peak oil from political parties, maybe we can have an intelligent debate about the facts. Supporting clean energy technology is good for our country. We need to get on it and be the leaders in ET (per Friedman) so we can have a strong economy again and the unemployed can find good jobs and work again.
I'm not sure that we are going to have a choice rather we should participate or not before too very long. I agree with this post, we will be forced at some point to move on to the new way of doing things if we are going to continue to interact with the rest of the world. There are a collection of opinions out there about how change should evolve but I am not sure I have made up <b>my</b> mind <b>how</b> America should proceed. I do believe it will be inevitable.
I see what you are saying, as I too am frustrated at many actions Congress is taking, but just because politicians lie to me (surprise, surprise) doesn't mean I'm going to give up on a more sustainable future. I'm not saying the Waxman bill is the answer; I'm not saying I know the answer. But what I am saying is that I'm confident that if Americans aren't willing to start taking the steps necessary to be <strong>leaders</strong> in a clean energy future, we won't be.
I don't think you get it. This is a brand new and growing industry and many individuals will make billions from it. Great! But this has been sold to the public as a way to save the planet while it was clearly not for that purpose. So the public is pissed that they have been fooled for years now. That's why they are stalling the push for renewable energy. They've been lied to. So yes it matters what the public thinks, as the Waxman bill barely passing in Congress will attest. And it will likely not survive the Senate because the public feels betrayed by the Green movement. That's why they're opinion matters. And they don't give a rat's ass about what Europe thinks either. (Ooooh the Germans..No not the Germans...) If the US decides to make money in the renewable energy industry, no fruity Cap&amp;Trade bill will make any difference; we'll dominate the technology and dominate the market like we always do. Europe will fall behind by strangling themselves to death with regulations like they always do, and China will be the low cost leader like it always does. We need standard legislation to encourage the development of these technologies and markets, we don't need Cap&amp;Trade. Cap&amp;Trade is the big lie.
Good post, Chris. I think we need to disconnect Global Warming/Climate Change and Sustainability. One reason clean energy has had a difficult time in the US is the immense power those industries wield over the politicians - who are not willing to lead us into the future at the expense of losing an election. The public naturally doesn't want to spend more, either, but Friedman and you point out a way to make it better. Keep up the good work!

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