The US and the impossible green revolution
A dream beached by the economy
Book Review Feel a little pity for Thomas L Friedman's Hot, Flat and Crowded, his new book on what must be done to deliver a green revolution in America. With the economy collapsed, political will in the United States is now decisively hostile to almost everything in it.
Nevertheless, Friedman's premise is easy to absorb and reasonable. The world's growing middle class (and the desire of those not yet in it to join ASAP) is bringing environmental and energy catastrophe. And if the rest of the world follows the same pattern of consumption as practiced by the US, it will only end badly. The real limits to growth have arrived, Friedman says, taking the place occupied by the Club of Rome over thirty years ago.
He even deploys the lily-pads-in-your-pond analogy. Go on vacation thinking you have time to trim the vegetation. When you get back, the overgrowth has exploded exponentially. The pond is choked. Your fish are all dead.
Friedman tells us a "Code Green" must be established, not as an advertisement for business as usual - which is what it is now - but as a systemic and global way of moving the world's energy economy to one of distributed super-efficiency. In this, he wrote before the chances of it happening evaporated, the US must take the lead.
For the book, Friedman goes to China, relating a lecture he gives to the locals on how America is going to innovate, innovate, and out innovate the Asians in smart green energy technology. And then we'll sell this innovation to them, helping China to achieve even more prosperity for its middle class as the environment is rescued from ruin.
And there must have been at least a few in the group thinking, "Listen to that Yankee brag."
The cognitive dissonance occurs in Friedman's view of the US, taken from a man who calls his job the best in the world, hop-scotching the globe and country to sample from the wisdom of a small number of the scientific and political elite. You get Edward O Wilson and his ant collection. "Destroying a tropical rain forest and other species rich ecosystems is like burning all the paintings in the Louvre to cook dinner," reveals the Harvard scientist. No kidding. And there's Friedman's ever-present friend, Nate Lewis of Caltech in Pasadena, drinking strawberry lemonade at the faculty club with the author, telling readers, "[The US] has energy politics, not policy." And when did that first occur to anyone with common sense and the power of observation? Quite a while ago.
The view from the faculty club
Being around such people, along with a seemingly abundant supply of sunny optimism, Friedman's world view doesn't quite align with this reviewer's. Over a decade of living a few blocks from the Caltech faculty club, in the heartland of energy super-consumption, I've cobbled together the opinion that this country is no longer capable of the efforts required to get those things done which Friedman deems critical.
Briefly, the author describes it as the installation of a systems approach to everything involved in energy generation. It's a massive national upgrade in which billions of smart energy transfer nodes, from household appliances to the national network, constantly analyze the energy cloud for the greenest electrons at the best operating hours. A few pages, printed in italics so one knows they're special, are devoted to describing this future. "Your car, by the way, is no longer called a 'car,'" it reads. "It is now called a RESU, or rolling energy storage unit..." A little bit of this goes a long away as techno-virtuous pap for boys who enjoy watching TV shows about what the marvelous future has in store. (Which it turns out, Friedman has been involved in briefly for a US cable network.)
Saw him on the Daily Show
Didn't seem too outrageous to me. From what I understood the book to be about, it was suggesting that we need government intervention to make the cost of clean energy competitive.
For example the main reason oil and coal are so popular is the cheap energy these fossil fuels produce.
What environmentally responsible people are trying to do is convince middle class America to abandon cheap and dirty in favour of green and expensive. Not a winning argument to someone who can barely make their mortgage payment.
So his solution (and one I happen to agree with) is to subsidize green tech (solar, wind, thermal, etc) and increase the cost of fossil fuels through taxation. Thus making the choice of switching to green fuel more palatable.
Of course that's political suicide in this country. Other parts of his book go on to suggesting we use the taxes from fossil fuels to create a green 'bubble' in the stock market, rather than try to setup Manhattan projects. The upside of most bubbles is after the dust settles, new technologies and industries often survive if they're actually worth something. These often become the new innovations that allow those countries with a decent policy of investment to grow, and allow the next generation of kids to have somewhere to work.
His idea is that green fuel and clean water will become the next 'big thing' simply because fossil fuels will eventually run out and unsustainable population growth will mean fewer and fewer sources of things like drinking water. So in an effort to give our kids a future of wealth and prosperity, what better idea than to make the US the capital of all things green.
The byproduct of this is that the US finally does something about climate change.
Are the ideas whacky? Well I've probably explained them badly, so don't judge them on what I've written, go watch the Daily Show - Monday 10th Nov to be exact (dailyshow.com I believe) and judge for yourselves. Or read the book.
The simple answer
Is to invest in fusion. Not the D-T cycle; that's only useful in nuclear weapons.
@Mark re: @Steven Jones
>"Or were you thinking we should adapt to a more aquatic lifestyle and grow gills?"
Hurrah i awake from yesterday
alive but the war is here to stay
so my love catherina and me
decide to take our last walk
through the noise to the sea
not to die but to be re-born
away from a life so
battered and torn....
oh say can you see its
really such a mess
every inch of earth is
a fighting nest
giant pencil and lip-stick
tube shaped things
continue to rain and
cause screaming pain
and the arctic stains
from silver blue to bloody red
as our feet find the sand
and the sea is strait ahead..
well its too bad
that our friends
cant be with us today
well thats too bad
that we built
would never save us"
thats what they say
(thats why they aint
coming with us today)
and they also said
"its impossible for man
to live and breath underwater..
forever" was their main complaint
and they also threw this in my face:
you know good well
it would be beyond the will of God
and the grace of the King
(grace of the King yeah yeah)
so my darling and I
make love in the sand
to salute the last moment
ever on dry land
our machine has done its work
played its part well
without a scratch on our bodies
and we bid it farewell
starfish and giant foams
greet us with a smile
before our heads go under
we take a last look
at the killing noise
of the out of style...
the out of style, out of style
In memoriam Mitch Mitchell (July 9, 1947 – November 12, 2008), a truly great jazz drummer. Not necessarily stoned ... just beautiful.