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New York Times Columnist Speaks in GR

October 9, 2009

The World Affairs Council of Western Michigan held its annual dinner on Wednesday in Grand Rapids. Their keynote speaker this year was New York Times Columnist Thomas Friedman, who was asked to speak on the topic of his latest book, Hot, Flat & Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution – And How It Can Renew America.

Not all of the local news reported on Friedman’s visit. In fact, just the Grand Rapids Press and WOOD TV 8 covered his talk. Channel 8 begins their story with the claim that the auto industry is “motoring towards energy efficiency,” even though there is no evidence that this is the case. This was their way of introducing Friedman’s talk and saying that the columnist was advocating a “Green Revolution.” No where in the story is there any information about what Friedman was suggesting in order to make a “Green revolution” happen other than the idea that energy efficiency needed a financial incentive.

The GR Press provided more substantive coverage and ran their story on page 3 of Thursday’s paper, with the headline – “Green is the new red, white and blue.” The story states that Friedman claims that, “carbon emission is the source of the world’s biggest mega-problem.” While this may be true, Friedman also says that growing global population and a larger middle class is to blame. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, there is no equity when it comes to carbon emissions if you break it down by country, particularly per capita emissions. The US and Australia are the worst when it comes to per capital carbon emissions.


Friedman’s main point in the Press article was that the US should see the current global energy and environmental crisis as an opportunity for the “country to get its groove back.” What Friedman was saying is that the US needs to be the world leader in energy efficiency and innovation. Unfortunately, there is no information provided on how this country should concretely engage in energy efficiency.

What Friedman does articulate what he means by going “Green.” “It’s about economic power, innovation power and national power. Green is geopolitical, geo-strategic, capitalistic. Green is the new red, white and blue.” This is exactly why the World Affairs Council invited him to speak at the annual dinner. People in the local business community, many of which do business internationally, dominate the World Affairs Council. Therefore, the audience would welcome a speaker who is advocating a form of green capitalism and green nationalism.

Friedman underscores his commitment to green capitalism by saying: The next great global industry has to be the search for abundant, cheap, clean reliable electrons. That country (that owns that energy/technology industry) has to be our country. If we do not own ‘ET,’ the chance of us passing on our standard of living to our children is zero.”

Notice that he thinks the US should own the energy technology (green nationalism) and that people should want to provide their children with the same living standard as they currently enjoy (green capitalism). Unlike Friedman, most of the global writers on climate justice, writers like Vandana Shiva, Bill McKibben, and Derrick Jensen, all acknowledge that the US level of global consumption is unsustainable and that it is impossible for the rest of the world to have a US standard of living.

The Press reporter does not verify any of the claims made in Friedman’s talk, nor does he get any reaction from local groups doing climate justice or energy efficiency work.

For those who have followed Friedman’s writing over the years it would come as no surprise that this is where he stands on the issue of climate change. Friedman is one of the most committed cheerleaders of US led Global Capitalism. Energy writer Harvey Wasserman notes that Friedman has been an advocate of nuclear energy and “clean coal.” Both of these types of energy are not clean nor are they sustainable.

Another writer comments that Friedman leaves out the issue of “peak oil” in his book, an issue, which is central to the current climate crisis. New York Press writer Matt Taibbi takes the critique of Friedman’s commitment to global green capitalism a bit further in an excellent review of his book Hot, Flat & Crowded,  that you can read on Alternet.

Lastly, it should be mentioned that many grassroots environmental and social justice activists have been critical of Friedman for years. One example is from Earth Day in 2008 where members of the Greenwash Guerrillas decided to pie Friedman who spoke at Brown University. The group pied Friedman for the following reasons:

* Because of his sickeningly cheery applaud for free market capitalism’s conquest of the planet.

* For telling the world that the free market and techno fixes can save us from climate change. From carbon trading to biofuels, these distractions are dangerous in and of themselves, while encouraging inaction with respect to the true problems at hand.

* For helping turn environmentalism into a fake plastic consumer product for the privileged

For his long-standing support for the US Occupation of Iraq and the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Such committed support to the US War Machine and its proxy states overseas cannot be masked behind any twisted mask of “green” – the US Military is the largest single emitter of greenhouse gases in the world.

* For his pure arrogance.

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