Late to the Party
Tom Friedman just left the stage at PopTech, having talked a bit about about his GeoGreens notion. Friedman frustrates me; his work in the 1980s and early 1990s on the Middle East was remarkable and insightful, but he's lost me with his recent work. His analysis of globalization feels mired in the 20th century -- an amazement about technology coupled with a fixation on top-down authority and very traditional social structures. With his observations and declarations about Iraq turning out to be fatally in error, he's turned to the need for greater sustainability and more renewable energy. And here's where the frustration really hits -- as much as I agree with most of his proposals, his ideas are hardly new (even if he acts like these are novel discoveries and insights), and they're far too timid.
The key problem with his approach is that Friedman's observations about the environment get swallowed up by the quite traditional, limited language of international politics. I'm completely convinced that global warming is already having serious political impacts, but Friedman doesn't tell us anything that anyone with open eyes couldn't have seen five years ago -- and he tells us in a way that (as much as he wants to say that he's trying to butch up the terminology) diminishes the importance of the environment. With an emphasis on the geo-strategic aspect of energy, he opens us up to scenarios in which the political problems are solved without much impact on the environmental problems -- and the potential for "solutions" that could even make environmental (and other) problems worse.
I understand the use of people like Friedman; when he raises topics, he makes them acceptable for the chattering classes and inside-the-beltway bureaucrats to discuss. That's good, I suppose, but if the allowable discourse on the environment is only about "support for freedom" vs. "support for terrorism," we miss out on opportunities for innovation and solutions that cut across multiple problem categories. We need to think bigger, broader and faster. Fortunately, we can, we will, and more and more of us already do.