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Red, white, blue " and green?

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ASPEN ” Humans have befouled the planet so severely that that they are going to have to think like Noah of Biblical times just to make sure some species survive, Thomas Friedman claimed at the Aspen Ideas Festival Thursday.

The New York Times columnist brought the Aspen crowd to its feet, as he often does, with a stirring speech on what’s at stake with global warming and the solutions possible through a “green revolution.”

The three-time Pulitzer Prize winner painted a disturbing vision of five major trends the planet faces from pumping so much carbon dioxide into the system. The potential for accelerated global warming is immense because of the swelling middle-class hordes around the globe, Friedman said. He cited projections that the number of people enjoying a middle-class, American-like lifestyle worldwide will swell from 1.5 billion now to 3 billion in the near future.

“There is no way the planet can handle so many Americans,” he said.

So much carbon has already been pumped into the atmosphere that it is hard to tell whether severe weather, like Hurricane Katrina, is due to nature or mankind, Friedman said. Science shows that climate change is occurring much faster than scientists figured. Extremes in weather, from massive snowfalls and severe droughts to mammoth hurricanes and cycles of tornadoes, will intensify. Friedman, borrowing from Rocky Mountain Institute’s Amory Lovins, called it “global weirding.”

“The weather is going to get weird,” he said.

The ultimate effect of global warming is the survival of species, human and otherwise, Friedman said. Conservation International has estimated that one species on the planet goes extinct every 20 minutes.

“We are the first generation of human beings that are going to have to think [like] Noah,” Friedman said. “Friends, we are now the flood. We have to build an ark.”

After bumming out the capacity crowd of roughly 350 people, Friedman promised there is hope. He said he sees signs of revolution. Most people now acknowledge global warming, humans’ role in it and some are even taking action. He believes “out-greening” one another will become the norm between individuals, companies and even countries. And Friedman wants the U.S. to adopt it as its mission and use the issue to regain its position as world leader. One way it can do that is redefine the American middle- and upper-class lifestyle to one of conservation rather than consumption. (The irony, of course, was that a fair share of the conference guests flew into Aspen on private jets, then stayed in large homes that are vacant for a good share of the year.)

“In the green revolution, everybody’s a winner and no one gets hurt,” he said. That mistakenly makes the battle against global warming sound like a party, Friedman said, but it’s actually going to be tough.

The investment in conservation efforts is insubstantial at this time. Corporations still hold back from green investment, fearing that a return to $3 per gallon gas will cause America to forgot about conservation and alternative energy.

“Right now, we have a country full of green hobbyists,” he said.

Friedman’s outline of the global warming problems and solutions is the topic of his latest book. “Hot, Flat and Crowded ” Why We Need a Green Revolution” is due out in September.

“The book is really about we’ve got a problem; the world’s got a problem,” Friedman said.

scondon@aspentimes.com


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