Climate & Energy

Celebrating Earth Day with Tom Friedman

An interview with The ‘Stache pre-pie-in-the-face

Yes, Tom Friedman came to Brown University on Earth Day to unveil his new book and got hit by a pie. But he cleaned himself up, came back with a joke about surviving Beirut and Jerusalem but running into trouble in Providence, and went on to deliver a stem-winder of an address for an op-ed columnist essentially outlining his latest book. I found The World Is Flat to be a good window into business models in the 21st century. His new offering, Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution -- and How It Can Renew America, promises to be a cogent lassoing and explication of many of the biggest things that matter in the 21st century. Friedman chooses as the crucial drivers: energy supply and demand, climate, the spread of democracy versus petro-authoritarianism, biodiversity, and energy poverty. A few bits from Friedman's speech to look forward to in Hot, Flat, and Crowded and when he returns to columns this month: The McCain gas tax holiday: A "dumb as we want to be" approach to energy policy. On high oil prices and petro-dictatorship: With oil at $25 per barrel, Bush looked into Putin's eyes and saw his soul. At $100 per barrel, look into Putin's eyes and you'll see "all the instruments of democracy he's swallowed." Did Reagan bring down the USSR -- or was it the decline in oil prices from $80 per barrel to $14.50? And finally, China as the Speed bus, except that it must switch from a diesel to a hybrid engine without going below 50 miles an hour. (That's the first thing since The Matrix that makes you aspire to be Keanu Reeves, isn't it?) Before his speech, I had the chance to catch up with Friedman and ask him a few questions. The short interview is below:

The slow car movement

Easing off the gas eases gas use

A few weeks ago, Clark wrote about truck drivers slowing down to economize on fuel. It's a great story, but was it a real trend or just anecdotal? Photo: Pietro Izzo Well, I'm here to report that there's some truth to it. Or at least some truthiness. A recent Congressional Budget Office paper examining the effects of gas prices found this: "Freeway motorists have adjusted to higher prices by making fewer trips and driving more slowly." That's surprising to me. I mean, I don't slow down when gas prices are high; it would never occur to me. Do other folks?

There is no food shortage

A gap between rich and poor makes free markets fail

It's really an absurd travesty when starvation gets blamed on "global warming do-gooders," and we haven't seen the last of that. The problem is miscast, though. There isn't a food shortage, at least not yet. There is a food price crisis, which is a very different beast. Are its roots in the huge resource gap between the relatively rich and the very poor? If that's true, it has broad implications. Here's one way of looking at it, from the Omaha World-Herald:

There's a hole in my energy bill

Biofuels loophole in 2007 energy bill grandfathers in pollution

A recent report ($ub. req'd) by Greenwire's Ben Geman revealed a massive loophole in the 2007 energy bill that renders meaningless most of the climate safeguards for corn ethanol that Democrats have touted. The loophole exempts any ethanol refineries that have already been built or were under construction at the time the bill passed from meeting the global warming requirements. Those facilities have a combined production capacity of 13.7 billion gallons, just shy of the 15 billion gallons of production mandated in the bill -- meaning that the Democrat-vaunted greenhouse-gas safeguards will apply to only 11 percent of corn ethanol production. With recent studies in the journal Science and elsewhere revealing that corn ethanol takes 167 years to produce enough greenhouse-gas savings to make it as green as regular old oil, and with billions of people struggling with skyrocketing food prices, and millions more acres of forest and savanna being destroyed, that means disaster for the climate and the world's poor.

Live Earth is back, so get ready to rock

Mark your calendars for Oct. 5: Live Earth is back and ready to rock. Kevin Wall, founder of last summer’s international concert extravaganza, says that the October shows will be held on U.S. college campuses, …

Carbon policy dilemma, 1

You can’t achieve the three goals of climate policy at once

I’ve been thinking about carbon policy lately (shocker, I know), prompted by recent interactions with Monica Prasad, Peter Barnes, and our own Sean Casten. The more I think about it, the more one of the …

Obama plays it straight

Energy prices that tell the truth: the real presidential litmus test

Calling all greens: Barack Obama, battling to remain the front-runner in the Democratic presidential primary, this weekend took on the most sacred cow in American politics: cheap gas. Campaigning in Indiana, Obama distanced himself from the gas tax "holiday" proposed by Sen. John McCain, saying it may not bring down prices and would require raising other taxes to pay for highway maintenance. "The only way we're going to lower gas prices over the long term is if we start using less oil," Obama said in Anderson. McCain pounced, saying through a campaign spokesman that "Americans need strong leadership that can deliver lower gas prices and a healthier economy, not Barack Obama's inexperience and indecision." Obama's Democratic rival, Sen. Hillary Clinton, did likewise, unveiling a new ad calling for suspension of the gasoline tax -- a proposal first advanced by McCain on April 15. As U.S. political campaigns go, the contrast between McCain-Clinton's playing the gas-tax card and Obama's brave clarity couldn't be clearer.

Green pay day

Green-collar jobs are real

There's lots of buzz about green-collar jobs these days (sort of like blue-collar jobs, but with a sustainable edge) -- whether you're listening to Obama, McCain, or Clinton; Gregoire, Kulongoski, or Schwarzenegger. You hear this kind of thing a lot: A study conducted by the RAND Corporation and the University of Tennessee found that producing 25 percent of all American energy fuel and electricity from renewables by the year 2025 would produce the following: "$700 billion of new economic activity, carbon emission reduction by 1 billion tons, and 5 million new jobs." Fine and dandy, but, some might ask "where are those five million new jobs? When will we see them?" Some skeptics have begun to ask whether it's bordering on hype. Big projections are just that - big projections. But there's nothing like local industry reporting 2000 new jobs here and 500 jobs there -- right in our neck of the woods -- and a steady stream of investment dollars to keep skeptics pondering the possibilities. So, we're happy to report a real-live green-collar workforce is materializing in the Northwest, and it's likely the wave is just gathering strength. With more policy measures encouraging green-tech investments and training programs it could swell to something much bigger. Looking at Oregon's green-collar boom, Ted Sickinger of the Oregonian calls it a "small tsunami." Some real numbers from Oregon and Washington:

The thing you really never hear

This column from Newsweek editor Evan Thomas is largely a witless recitation of conventional wisdom, but it does raise one point I want to make. It seems to me that every mainstream media figure in …

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