Wednesday, March 11, 2009

it's not easy being green

thomas friedman, that venerable columnist and member of the liberal media elite (open cheek, insert tongue) was in salt lake tonight promoting his new book, "hot, flat and crowded," as well as making an impassioned plea for energy innovation that will help save the planet before it is too late. being the responsible and concerned citizens that we are, dave, melissa, dallas, kent and i went to check it out. also in attendance? the love of my life, mayor ralph becker. though i would expect nothing less.

friedman draws a very interesting parallel between the information technology boom of yesteryear and the energy technology boom that we need now to solve problems such as global climate change, strains on natural resources, energy poverty and dwindling biodiversity. the major stumbling block being that the i.t. boom introduced totally new technology that offered totally new functions (a phone i can carry in my pocket? what the what?), which made people willing to pay a premium for the technology, while energy innovations only give us a different version of something we can already get for cheap. never mind that the new version might be better and cleaner. the incentive to pay a premium for something you can get without paying a premium is pretty low.

the idea of a global green revolution is certainly an enticing one, and friedman offered up some really fascinating statistics (ex: more people will be born during his lifetime than were alive on the earth in the year he was born), but i could have used a few more practical applications. a call to "change your leaders, not your lightbulbs" is inspiring, but not immediately practical. and i take some issue with friedman's framing of wise environmental stewardship in terms of american dominance. something about phrases like, "green is the new red, white and blue" and "the space race is over. the earth race is on" rubs me the wrong way. it might be naive, but it seems that a revolution to save the planet should be a collaborative effort between all the people on the planet, not something to be lorded over some people by others. but maybe that's just me. (friedman is bff with al gore, so he has an edge on me there.)

but lest i give the impression that i thought the whole thing was lame-o (because i did not think that in the least), i will say that a few ideas really, really stuck out to me.

one. friedman gave a call to "get off facebook and get in someone's face" about the important environmental issues. i can get behind any call to be engaged in our communities and with our leaders in the real world. so thumbs up there.

two. he talked about how any revolution is going to bring some pain. not physical pain necessarily, but the pain of sacrifice. for example, paying a little more for clean energy. (and, as friedman points out, if we were to pay the burden price of our cheap electricity, including the cost of building plants, stripping the earth for coal and passing a damaged planet on to our children, that dirty energy wouldn't be so cheap anymore.) i personally find it easy to talk the talk when it comes to environmental issues, but i need to be reminded sometimes to walk the walk. no pain, no gain. as some people say.

and three. and my favorite. he encouraged all of us to see our environmental efforts as a work in progress. we don't all have to have a carbon footprint of zero by tomorrow, but every little bit helps. and every little bit can be added upon. this one-step-at-a-time idea is emerging as one of my favorite life themes right now, and i am happy to apply it in this context as well. today, a few extra dollars a month for wind power. tomorrow, a healed planet.

or at least one step closer.


Marie said...

Yeah, some of it was pretty rah-rah gimmicky. I was irritated by the American pep talk too, not just because I don't think America's the only possible big player in meeting our challenges, but because the way he said it sounded insincere and condescending -- like he thought the only way the masses would get behind his message was to frame it as a global football game.

However, I've always liked the idea of government keeping gas and coal prices high artificially until we make the switch (I thought I'd thought of that idea first, vain girl that I am) so it was good to hear one more person with a big audience putting that idea forward. I know it would cause a lot of pain, especially for the poorest among us and for those whose livelihoods depend on transportation costs, but it kind of has to get done anyway even if people are jobless or electricityless for awhile until costs come down. In the meantime maybe we'll have to invest in warm socks, hand-cranked flashlights, and soup kitchens?

Like you, I thought it was great that he made it clear that real change WILL hurt and that we can't treat environmentalism like a hobby and say it's good enough. I like what Arnie's doing in CA, but his claim that no one will suffer is both ludicrous and irresponsible. He won't succeed if Californians aren't braced for the difficulties that will come with his new policies.

I wish I'd spotted you there. We were near the back, Orchestra Right.

Twinkie said...

I liked that he said that initiatives earth day were lame. and that going to a concert to celebrate being green isn't a revolution - but a party. i've always wondered how much CO2 and energy are wasted on having those huge concerts where thousands of people travel to and gather - just to say they want to save the planet.

i pretty much agree with everything you've said frances. except you forgot to mention how short Friedman is. that was a surprise to me. i like my journalist elites to be tall and lanky.