Friedman’s green world
Thomas Friedman is a champion of green. His next book will describe how green is the new red, white and blue. He defends the environment as a patriotic cause with a national security twist that appeals to the real politik in American policy makers. Friedman’s chief concern is reducing our dependence on foreign oil. He rues that Americans are funding both sides of the war on terror, both with our tax dollars and with our stipends to Middle East oil producers, paid daily at the gas pump.Friedman sweetens the green approach by promoting what he sees as the vast opportunities green technologies hold for American innovators and entrepreneurs. This new Industrial Revolution, he says, will create nonexportable careers for Americans as we green the world.The green principles described by Friedman last week during the Aspen Ideas Festival, which were echoed by Bill Clinton, are vitally important to our collective security. The message is good, but there’s a problem with the philosophy of the messenger.Friedman lives in a 11,400-square-foot “palatial” home near Bethesda, Md. For Thomas Friedman to pontificate on going green is like an overweight physician telling his equally obese patients to go on a diet. Psychologists call it “cognitive dissonance.”Friedman’s excess hurts not only his credibility; it hurts the green movement by inviting cynicism. The same thing happened when it became known that Al Gore lives in a 10,000-square-foot mansion.”Unfair!” claim Friedman and Gore, who defend their mega-homes because they buy carbon off-sets. What both men fail to grasp – and it’s an insult to their intelligence – is that material gluttony reveals a failure to grasp the limits we need to address as part of the green philosophy.Thoreau prescribed a cure for our current environmental dilemmas more than 150 years ago with just three words: “Simply! Simplify! Simplify!” This message riles the “cornucopians” who believe that natural resources are inexhaustible and that sustainability is purely a matter of technology. There are plenty of affluent people who share Friedman’s and Gore’s desire for guilt-free conspicuous consumption. They buy carbon offsets the way sinners bought indulgences during the Middle Ages. In Aspen, excessive energy consumers pay a fee to the city’s Renewable Energy Mitigation Program. They circumvent Thoreau’s philosophy of simplicity because they see it, not as a liberating influence, but as a curb to their entitlements. Limits are not part of the American mindset, a notion pronounced by George H.W. Bush when he stated that the American lifestyle is non-negotiable as a bargaining chip for war or the environment. Most Americans are enslaved by that notion, and it’s killing nature. The Friedmans and Gores of the world are hoping and praying that the Amory Lovinses of the world can come up with techno-fixes to allow guilt-free excess. What else are they going to do with their wealth if not surround themselves with the utmost in creature comforts? That’s a question of conscience. If environmental constraints limit conspicuous consumption, which they should, then unspent wealth could be put to better uses than squandering it on corporeal pleasures. Education, health, art, poverty, environment and peace could all use a boost in capital.Friedman and Gore are smart guys, but they deny their complicity in environmental degradation because they’ve succumbed to the allure of conspicuous consumption. Their inconvenient truths hit hardest where they live and how they live, and they’re blind to it.If we are ever, as a society, to see beyond our material self interests and embrace a higher collective purpose, we need leaders willing to live their lives with integrity according to the values of conservation, efficiency and – yes – material limits.Paul Andersen’s column appears Mondays.
Editor’s note: This correction was published July 17 in The Aspen Times: In Paul Andersens July 16 column, Friedmans green world, Thomas Friedman and Al Gore are quoted as saying unfair! in response to criticism about their large homes. Friedman says he never said this and, had he been contacted for the column, would not have responded that way.
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