Friedman started by giving us a preview of an upcoming Sunday column (so keep it under your hat) where he's been thinking about Tom Brokaw's book "The Greatest Generation" and how his generation will be seen by those that follow. Will they become bubble generation? Will a kid today write a book about "how my parents saved themselves from their mistakes by charging it to my VISA card"? The world's troubles have been on his mind of late - he did just write Hot, Flat and Crowded after all - and his talk was a retelling of that book's main points.
Friedman is really, really good at rhetoric and public speaking. He knows when to slam the book shut for dramatic effect, when to throw in an "Oh, shit!" to get your attention, when to pause and look at the crowd (like Woolsey's speech, ACORE will be streaming Friedman's talk here and/or here within 48 hours). But, for me, his talk fell apart halfway through. I'll explain why after the jump.
Friedman's first part made a lot of sense to me, and the main gist was that, "there are too many Americans in the world today." He was being slightly facetious, but the rise of the middle class around the world is exactly what's putting such a strain on the environment. "If we, the original Americans, don't redefine what it means to be Americans for all these new Americans," he said, we're going to eat up and heat up the planet much faster than even Al Gore is worried about. There will be another billion people on the planet by 2020, for example, and a lot of them are going to want light bulbs and all that jazz. Friedman then went through his book's main ideas, which are available elsewhere; basically describing the world's problems in simple, attention-getting terms.
Friedman then went on to his rousing finale, and this is where the whole speech just falls apart like a house of cards built on a train going along a bumpy track. His warning was that, if the US does not own the coming ET (energy technology) industry, then the chance that our children will live with the same standards as we have "is zero." He said this like it would be a bad thing - but his whole premise in the first part of his speech was that people living like Americans is what's hurting the world. Huh?
Capitalism proponent that he is, Friedman said we cannot regulate our way to a solution, we can only innovate our way our of this mess. Friedman's not in favor of a Manhattan Project-type solution, but instead in letting the market provide the solution. The role of government should be to make "fossil fuels from hell" more expensive than the renewable energies.
The current green revolution is not a real revolution because in a true revolution, people get hurts. While BP is "beyond petroleum," when GM puts a yellow cap on the flex-fuel Hummer, it's not a revolution. It's a party. No, to really have a revolution, people need to get hurt (he claimed to speaking metaphorically) because that's when change comes. It's only when the word "green" disappears that we'll know the green revolution has been won. When there are no "green cars" or "green buildings," just cars and buildings that were built to the most efficient standards, that's when the world will have truly turned a corner. See, some good ideas and some half-baked ones.