Because of the effects of climate change and globalization, the world right now faces "incredible opportunities masquerading as insolvable problems," said Thomas Friedman on a recent visit to Philadelphia. The New York Times columnist and best-selling author of The World Is Flat was in town for a World Affairs Council luncheon to promote his new book, Hot, Flat, and Crowded.
Friedman's book centers on his call for a "green revolution," and the need for America to be at the forefront of that revolution, both in order to lead the rest of the world and to enhance America's security.
"This book masquerades as a book about energy and the environment, but actually it's a book about America," and how the country can "get its groove back."
Friedman detailed what he sees as the five major problems facing the world, which include climate change, what he called "petrodictatorships," energy poverty, inverse supply and demand for energy and natural resources, and declining biodiversity.
"We humans have introduced so much CO2 into Mother Nature's operating system that we no longer know the difference between an act of God and an act of man," said Friedman, referring to global warming's effects on, say, hurricanes. He said global warming would lead to "global weirding," in which extremes get more extreme — wetter wets, hotter hots and greater force behind weather events like tropical storms.
The columnist likened world climate to body temperature — "very small changes in temperature can have big, big effects," he said, using the example that when a person's body temperature rises just two degrees above normal it may not be much, but a rise of two degrees beyond that can lead to real trouble and hospitalization.
However, he joked, one of the benefits of the advances in medicine is that all the climate deniers will live long enough to see the actual effects of climate change.
Part of the reason the country has lost its groove, Friedman said, is because it lost its main competitor — Russia. Hot, Flat, and Crowded touches on the innovation spurred by the Cold War, which led to space exploration and rapid advances in technology, among other things.
"We've gotten disconnected," Friedman said. "The country that's always exported hope now exports our fear."
He continued: "Our government today can no longer solve any big, intergenerational problem, and, as a result, all the innovative capacity that still exists in this country" can't be harnessed by the government. He likened the country to a rocket without enough power to escape the atmosphere and get into orbit.
In the same way that the revolution in information technology dominated the end of the 1990s, Friedman predicted the world's next great global industry would be environmental technology, or "ET." Truly going green will only be accomplished by innovation, he said, not by more regulations or a modern-day Manhattan Project.
"We need 100,000 people in 100,000 garages trying 100,000 different things," maybe two of which will work, he said.
In the meantime, Friedman said Americans have been funding terrorists with our gas dollars, while at the same time funding our own armed forces and the war on terror with our tax dollars. Those monies spent at the gas pump, he said, go to "petrolist" countries, including Russia, Nigeria, Iran and Venezuela — countries where the price of oil and the pace of freedom are inversely correlated.
That's also detailed in the book, where Friedman provides a number of charts outlining those correlations. He also calls for a gas tax to spur innovation.
"There's one word you should never use about the green revolution, and that's 'easy,' " said Friedman. A green revolution will require sacrifices, and if America is going to lead the revolution, then the country will have to be willing to bite the bullet.
"When everybody's a winner in a revolution, that's not a revolution — that's a party."