An interview with “geo-green” advocate Thomas Friedman

Below are some excerpts from an interview with New York Times columnist and "geo-green" advocate Thomas Friedman, who is on a book promotion tour for his book  The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the 21st Century.

Source: Grist Magazine | Main Dish | 05 Apr 2005

In January, the three-time Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The New York Times debuted his "geo-green" strategy, a powerful proposal for reframing America’s quest for energy independence to appeal to hawkish neocons and lily-livered tree-huggers alike. By aggressively curbing America’s energy consumption, Friedman argues, the Bush administration could reduce the global price of oil to the point where it would force regimes in the Middle East to diversify their economies, thereby priming them for democratic reform.

Added geo-green benefits would include jumpstarting America’s 21st century clean-energy economy, addressing the global-warming crisis, and allaying international umbrage over the Bush administration’s royal dis on Kyoto.

"We are, quite simply, witnessing one of the greatest examples of misplaced priorities in the history of the U.S. presidency," Friedman proclaimed in a March 27 column. "Look at the opportunities our country is missing — and the risks we are assuming — by having a president and vice president who refuse to … marry geopolitics, energy policy, and environmentalism."

The neocons basically believe in using American military power to drive the democracy agenda in the Middle East, and that, idealistically speaking, was the purpose of the invasion of Iraq. The reality is we do not have the resources to do that again — not in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, or anywhere.

ANWR would be better for China than the United States — it’s much easier to get Alaskan crude to China than America. You’d have to take that oil from Alaska down through Panama Canal up to Houston, where the majority of refineries are. This whole notion that it would be a boon to America is absurd.

…when the world goes flat it is a global leveled playing field. When 3 billion people who were out of the game called China, India, and the former Soviet empire walk onto the field with the American dream — of a car, a house, a refrigerator, a toaster, utilities — we are going to smoke up, burn up, or heat up the planet at a rate unlike anything we’ve seen before.

We consume 25 percent of the world’s energy and we’ve got 5 percent of the global population, so what we do matters not only in terms of what we do, but because our strategy will drive innovation and global trends. If we converted our entire auto fleet to hybrid, that would have a huge impact first in the U.S. and then in the rest of the world. As efficient technologies penetrate markets here, they will become the technology of choice and penetrate the markets globally. If we set the example, pioneer alternatives, and improve the energy products we export, it will hugely influence the level of demand created by the countries coming online.

The hallmark of George Bush’s presidency is that he’s never asked Americans, let alone his own base, to do anything hard. And a president like that is going to leave nothing behind. He needs to say, "This is something that is going to drive our reform agenda, pay down our deficit, strengthen our international standing, leave a greener earth for your kids, and make us energy independent." He could bring the whole country around.

But my point to him would be: What are you doing? What would your presidency be remembered for? The deficit? The tax giveaway? A failed attempt to privatize Social Security so we can have no stockbroker left behind? Geo-greenism is smart geopolitics, it’s smart fiscal policy, it’s smart climate policy. But most of all, it’s smart politics! The Republican Party is much greener than George Bush or Dick Cheney. Even evangelicals are increasingly speaking out about the need for us to protect God’s green Earth. If you’re obsessed with the right to life, you have to be obsessed with sustaining the environment — that is also God’s creation. He didn’t create human beings to live in parking lots.

As it is, we have no moral standing to lecture anybody today to conserve energy. There’s immense diplomatic value in removing our dependence on Middle East oil for that reason: Our own energy policy has tied our hands. Our politicians can’t push for democratic reform in that region because our economy hinges on the oil we’re buying from them. A geo-green strategy would buy us political freedom. And imagine how we would embarrass and stimulate the Chinese: "Hey, we’re doing this, you’ve got to do this now too." We’re heading for a colossal global struggle with China over oil, and this would be a way to get the upper hand.