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Pop!Tech: Friedman On the New Patriotism

He didn’t have a velvet jacket. He didn’t play thrash guitar. But Thomas Friedman managed to grip the post-lunch audience at Pop!Tech with a straightforward message: This is not your parents’ energy crisis. Friedman’s genius is his simplicity (that theme again)” He makes his case so compellingly that you want to run screaming from the Opera House, head straight to Washington, march up to Congress and the Administration, shake them, and say, “Wake up, you turkeys!

He didn’t have a velvet jacket. He didn’t play thrash guitar. But Thomas Friedman managed to grip the post-lunch audience at Pop!Tech with a straightforward message: This is not your parents’ energy crisis. Friedman’s genius is his simplicity (that theme again)” He makes his case so compellingly that you want to run screaming from the Opera House, head straight to Washington, march up to Congress and the Administration, shake them, and say, “Wake up, you turkeys! What is it about our current energy crisis don’t you get???”

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Many of his themes are familiar to regular readers of his columns in the Times. For those who don’t have the luck to read him a couple times a week, here’s what he says.

We are in a war on terrorism, funded and fueled by our energy purchases. We are funding both sides — our own troops with our tax dollars, and Islamic jihad, Iran, and Hamas with our gas purchases. But we rarely connect the dots. In short, our consumption of energy is related to the geopolitical predicament we’re in.

The World is flat. With the emergence of China and India as economic powers, three billion new consumers walked on the playing field. They can not only compete, connect and collaborate with our kids, but they all want what we want: a car, fridge, PC, and printer. If we don’t find an alternative to fossil fuels, our combined consumption of energy will smoke up this planet even faster than Al Gore predicts.

Green power will be the growth industry of the 21st Century.

We must go into green design, technology, and services or there will be no planet. China will go green, he says, because China can’t breathe. It’s growing 10 percent per year, but giving back two percent because of ill health, traffic, etc. A green china, however, will be a bigger economic challenge than red China. China is poised to become a major green innovator, and will quickly develop low-cost scalable technologies. The richest man in China, Friedman notes, is a solar powered engineer. There’s only one way to confront this challenge, he says: with government regulation that sets broad, clear and stringent mileage standards, power generation standards, and appliance standards, like Texas did in ‘99 and California did recently The problem: It’s a huge fight between market fundamentalists and those who understand that the role of government is to set tough guidelines and then let the market achieve them.

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The first law of petropolitics is that the price of oil and pace of freedom operate in inverse correlation. Petroauthoritarian countries are dependent on oil for GDP. As prices rise, freedom collapses. It’s no surprise that the first Arab country to run out of oil — Bahrain –- is one of the most progressive regimes in the region.

Google and Yahoo! are the China and India in the worlds of bits and bytes, Friedman says. Every time you search, there’s a little burst of power in their server farms, a little fan cooling that power, and a little meter reading that power. The amount of energy that the world will consume as it moves to the Web will limit our ability to take advantage of incredible networks and the power within them.

(A participant from Google sitting next to me takes issue, pointing out that Sergei Brin just announced that the company is pushing PC makers to standardize on more efficient power adapters. And, he says, Google is very focused on green energy for its data centers: locating a big data center in Pacific Northwest to use hydroelectric power. It also gives rebates to employees who buy fuel efficient cars.)

Ultimately, Friedman says, his main mission is to to redefine green. To name something is to own it. (i.e. The world is flat.) The problem with the word green, he points out is that it it was appropriated by people who hate it. Who equated it with something girly , sissy, liberal, and vaguely French.

His plan: to make “green” stand for something geopolitically astute, progressively capitalistic, and patriotic: “Green,” he says, “is the new red, white and blue. “

About the author

Linda Tischler writes about the intersection of design and business for Fast Company.

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