Muckraker: Grist on Politics

Grist caught up with Tom Friedman, New York Times columnist and author of the recent book Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution — and How It Can Renew America, after his appearance on the “Green Recovery” panel at the Center for American Progress on Monday to chat about exactly that.

His latest book calls for green economic stimulus, but for Friedman, it’s not just about economic recovery — it’s also about recovering America’s leadership role in the world, and keeping the country secure:

“I’m not going to Congress and saying ‘Would it be OK if we planted a couple more trees?’ This is about our power. I’m in your face about it,” said Friedman. “I think it’s not just about electric power, I think it’s about national power — not power so we can stomp all over the rest of the world, but power so we can actually be where we need to be as a country, to lead the world they way we need to lead the world and also to pass on what we need to pass on for the next generation.”

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Friedman also expressed hope that President-elect Obama is on board with the idea that a new energy economy can single-handedly address climate, economic, energy, and security concerns. In a September interview with NPR, Friedman said that though he thinks Obama says all the right words on energy and climate policy, he didn’t feel like it was central to his agenda. He gave Obama “high marks for understanding, but not high marks for passion or talking about what we need to do.” But, he says, all evidence so far post-election points to his growing desire to lay out an agenda that focuses heavily on these issues.

“I think honestly he’s gotten more passionate about it. I hear the President-elect talking about green issues, climate change, green stimulus, green investment, with not only more passion, but with more regularity,” said Friedman. “It’s not just for this audience or that audience. He’s making it part of every speech, and I’m excited about that. I already feel the vibes from that. Imagine when he takes over the Oval Office.”

Though he said he wants to see Obama’s concrete plans before he pronounces him on the right track, he noted that simple passion from the president on this issue will also raise its stature on down the chain of command. “You just can’t underestimate the power of the bully pulpit of the presidency. And to have a president who will make this part of his set speech, and then all his deputies will feel comfortable doing that. And that will filter down, and you’ll see mayors and city council people say that ‘As president Obama says …,'” he said. “We shouldn’t underestimate that. We’re in for a sea change.”