Why won't more politicians and Americans listen to Thomas Friedman? It's not like the guy is some wacko living in the backwoods of Montana. He's a foreign policy expert and world traveler. He wrote Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution--and How It Can Renew America. He even has the ear of world leaders, but unfortunately not enough of what he is saying is is heard by mainstream America.
Two of his latest columns make an excellent point for why America needs to get away from fossil fuels and start embracing renewables.
The first article, Have a Nice Day, highlights the work Applied Materials (an American company) is doing in solar. The catch: while they are based in America, not one of the solar plants they have built (14 and counting) is based in the U.S. What do you think goes along with all those facilities? Jobs, that's what. Jobs that don't make workers risk their lives in off-shore oil rigs or jobs that don't require workers to blow up Appalachian mountains to get at the coal that lies underneath. From the article Friedman says,
If you read some of the anti-green commentary today, you’ll often see sneering references to “green jobs.” The phrase is usually in quotation marks as if it is some kind of liberal fantasy or closet welfare program (and as if coal, oil and nuclear don’t get all kinds of subsidies).
Green Jobs are real, just ask all the workers in the solar panel factories built by Applied Materials in other countries.
And in regard to subsidies for fossil fuels, Scientific American just wrote a piece covering the report released by Environmental Law Institute which stated that fossil fuels received roughly 72 billion dollars between 2002-2008! All this for an industry that was making record profits! During that time period renewables received 29 billion.
On why creating a green industry here at home is so important, Friedman highlights why China has decided to be a leader in clean energy:
China now understands that. It no longer believes it can pollute its way to prosperity because it would choke to death. That is the most important shift in the world in the last 18 months. China has decided that clean-tech is going to be the next great global industry and is now creating a massive domestic market for solar and wind, which will give it a great export platform.
Are we really going to sit by and let China beat us to what is most probably the world's next economic engine?
In his other post, Real Men Tax Gas, Friedman asks why America can have an honest discussion about fighting the war on terror (and sending troops to fight and American tax dollars to support them), but we can't have an honest discussion about where the regimes that support the terrorists get the money in the first place: oil. In this case, Friedman is talking about a gasoline tax that would reduce the usage of oil, thus reducing the amount of money that Americans are handing over to our enemies. Friedman says:
In sum, we would be physically healthier, economically healthier and strategically healthier. And yet, amazingly, even talking about such a tax is “off the table” in Washington. You can’t mention it. But sending your neighbor’s son or daughter to risk their lives in Afghanistan? No problem. Talk away. Pound your chest.
I am not sure what the right troop number is for Afghanistan; I need to hear more. But I sure know this: There is something wrong when our country is willing to consider spending more lives and treasure in Afghanistan, where winning is highly uncertain, but can’t even talk about a gasoline tax, which is win, win, win, win, win — with no uncertainty at all.
I know it is politically unpopular to tax something in the time of a recession, but Americans need to wake up. Our country is in debt (so the Government will find a way to get the money out of your pocket somehow anyway), we're fighting wars in the middle east that are heavily influenced by a reliance on their oil, our roads are crowded, and our environment is suffering the consequences. All of these things are the result of cheap oil.
This same idea was hit on by Amory and Hunter Lovins and Paul Hawken in their book, Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution. In the book they ask why our current system taxes good things, like hard-working American's income from their jobs, and not bad things, like gasoline and other fossil fuels that destroy our environment, hold our economy hostage at times of shortages, and increase our reliance on despotic regimes. By taxing income we are discouraging employers from hiring workers, and by not taxing gasoline we are encouraging Americans to use more of it. Imagine if we taxed gasoline, but whatever revenues were raised we lowered the income tax by the same amount. We would bolster our economy, environment and national security all while letting Americans keep more of what they deserve.
I guess this is a very similar idea to what the book by Neil Boortz, The Fair Tax Book: Saying Goodbye to the Income Tax and the IRS, is suggesting. The Fair Tax is basically a national sales tax that would get rid of the income tax but would tax things we buy at a higher rate, and I'm assuming gasoline would fall under this. The nice thing about this, is that if you have a good job, but live fairly conservative, you won't pay as much in taxes!
Finally, I haven't even discussed something Thomas Friedman mentions is another reason why we need to push forward on clean energy: Global Warming/Climate Change. Let me make one thing very clear to those Americans who still stall efforts to push forward on a clean and renewable economy based on their belief that Global Warming/Climate Change is a hoax: It doesn't matter what you think. Now I'm not saying your thoughts and opinions aren't important, what I am saying is that the rest of the world doesn't give a rat's ass that you think Climate Change is just due to earth's natural variance and that you think Al Gore is a kook. The rest of the world is moving forward on renewable energy. Why does that matter you ask?
America is not an island. We sell and buy stuff from the rest of the world. If the rest of the world (see China is example above) is going to push forward on a clean economy, that means we can sell them things to do so, just like Applied Materials is doing. Or in another scenario, if I was an American fireworks maker, and China told me that on February 14, 2010 they will be celebrating Chinese New Year (which is true) and need to place a large order of fireworks with me, I'm not going to laugh at them and tell them, "I don't believe in your stupid Chinese New Year, I celebrate Valentine's Day on Feb. 14!". No, I'm going to get off my butt and start making some fireworks. It doesn't matter if I believe in the reason a customer is buying something, the fact is they are buying it.
Right now we are slow to sell countries things that will improve America (like technologies that lower environmental impact) while we are quick to buy things that detract from America (like oil which bolsters enemy regimes, destroys our environment, and hurts our national security). Thomas Friedman gets it, and he has been a huge influence on helping me get it. When will the rest of America wake up and realize we are very possibly hurting our chances for a clean, prosperous and renewable future?