Monday, April 16, 2007

Global Geo-Green

Sunday's New York Times Magazine carried a long article on energy and the environment by Tom Friedman. The article reprises a lot of themes that Mr. Friedman has covered in the last several years, including the economic benefits of creating markets for greener products, the issue of "funding both sides of the War on Terror", and the challenges and opportunities that China poses for energy and the environment. What's new here is a more complete picture of how this could all be made to work not just for America's benefit, but for that of the whole world: a "Geo-Green" strategy for the planet, not just the USA. I could argue with some of the details, but on the whole this is Friedman doing what he does best: stimulating and provoking us with concrete, human examples of the ideas he is reporting.

One of the big advances this piece demonstrates over many of Mr. Friedman's earlier NY Times columns on this same broad topic is a recognition of the scale of the challenge, perhaps influenced by Dr. Socolow of Princeton, whose greenhouse gas "wedge" strategy he endorses, or perhaps because of his frequent exposure to China. For the first time, you don't get the sense that he thinks these problems can be solved easily or quickly, if only we agreed on the right strategy, as his columns have often implied.

The article is also full of quotable catch-phrases and remarks from various trend-setters, such as on the military's need to "eat its tail"--reducing its energy supply chain--or the requirement for alternative energy to meet the "China price." My favorite is from GE's Jeffrey Immelt on how the market forces big energy players "to take a 15-minute market signal and make a 40-year decision."

There are still a few blind spots. For example, in advocating the benefits of lower oil prices in advancing democracy in "petroauthoritarian" states, Mr. Friedman still ignores one of the most obvious ways we could jump-start this process, by opening up some of the areas under drilling bans. Perhaps he's paid too much attention to those who parrot the "25% of consumption, 3% of reserves" mantra. Nor does he directly address the paradox of the impact on oil demand of the lower oil prices he intends to create. Despite these quibbles, it's a thought-provoking article, and I recommend it.

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