Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Friedman Savaged By Carmudgeon Realist: A Study in Contrasts

Just the other day, a long and detailed piece by the NYTimes international columnist Thomas Friedman appeared in The Magazine (a weekly feature, for those unfamiliar with the nation's paper of record), the subject of which was how development of "green energy" would lead the US out of its increasing dependency on unstable Middle East countries (which would in turn eliminate the so-called "oil curse"), put the productive capacity and brainpower of the nation to work to produce more "clean technology," which developing nations (China, India) would purchase, and simultaneously enable the US and the world to make progress on global warming.


There are many objections someone who is familiar with the issues of the end of cheap energy, global heating, and the effects of exponential growth on finite resources might make; language like this, for example, not only gives one pause but tends to undermine whatever value the rest of the article might contain:

"After World War II, President Eisenhower responded to the threat of Communism and the 'red menace' with massive spending on an interstate highway system to tie America together, in large part so that we could better move weapons in the event of a war with the Soviets. That highway system, though, helped to enshrine America’s car culture (atrophying our railroads) and to lock in suburban sprawl and low-density housing, which all combined to get America addicted to cheap fossil fuels, particularly oil. Many in the world followed our model.

Today, we are paying the accumulated economic, geopolitical and climate prices for that kind of America. I am not proposing that we radically alter our lifestyles. We are who we are — including a car culture. But if we want to continue to be who we are, enjoy the benefits and be able to pass them on to our children, we do need to fuel our future in a cleaner, greener way."(emphasis Chaos')

The effects of the continuation of ridiculously wasteful American lifestyles is obviously not going to be addressed by Friedman; why not? Perhaps Friedman's audience would find that too disturbing to consider. What soporific effect is meant by "we are who we are"? In fact, transportation uses quite a bit of energy, but simply stating that citizens may have to drive less is "beyond the scope" of this article; why? Another interesting question might be: how does an optimist like Friedman expect to handle the energy needs for the "extra" 100 million citizens of the US who are projected to "arrive" by 2050? In fact, the overall tone of the article seems calculated to induce a pleasant sensation: just a little old-fashioned American ingenuity and government incentives, and these problems will just go away. Overall, the piece is disturbing, in that it contains a bedeviling mixture of facts and delusions that together give a much more optimistic tone than is reasonably warranted by the nature of the looming multiple catastrophes. (Chaos is adopting a more strident tone in preparation for the introduction of the next writer).

Chaos will now leave off the criticism of Friedman or, more properly, turn it over to James Howard Kunstler, who addresses this piece in his weekly blog, Clusterfuck Nation. Besides being screamingly funny, the man has put it all together, in such works as The Geography of Nowhere, and The Long Emergency, both highly recommended. Chaos thinks that it might help readers to get a sense of just how large the problems are by reading Friedman's piece and Kunstler's response to it. Further, what lurks behind the NYTimes article (and many others like it in the MSM) is the plain fact that it is impossible to tell the truth to the American public. Any solutions proposed will have to account for this "energy ADHD" aspect (hint: few, if any of them do).

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