Thomas Friedman is doing a public service by pushing his “geo-green” shtick. Any time someone outside the mainstream environmental community, particularly someone as high-profile as Friedman, pushes sensible energy policy, it becomes harder for its industry and administration opponents to dismiss. Frankly, if Paris Hilton wanted to come out and argue that alternative energy improves your sex life, I would praise her to the rafters. Whatever gets the job done.

It is worth, however, keeping our expectations realistic.In Sunday’s NYT, Friedman hits the theme again, arguing, as he did last time, that we are in effect funding our opponents in the war on terror by buying their oil.

We are financing the U.S. armed forces with our tax dollars, and, through our profligate use of energy, we are generating huge windfall profits for Saudi Arabia, Iran and Sudan, where the cash is used to insulate the regimes from any pressure to open up their economies, liberate their women or modernize their schools, and where it ends up instead financing madrassas, mosques and militants fundamentally opposed to the progressive, pluralistic agenda America is trying to promote. Now how smart is that?

What would we get for reducing our demand for oil? “It would buy reform in some of the worst regimes in the world, from Tehran to Moscow.”

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Would it?

Now, he lists several other benefits — fighting climate change, shrinking the deficit, etc. — that I’m very much on board with. Reducing our dependence on oil would be an unqualified blessing in almost every way.

But it’s clear that Middle Eastern political reform is the geo-green’s central goal and central promise. And as I said before, I’m skeptical. Amidst much nonsense in this post from Pete Geddes, he hits on the crux of the issue:

The global market for oil is like one big pool, where oil from each nation is mixed before consumers buy it. Hence, we can not selectively reduce demand from any one source. If we are going to reduce demand, it has to be for oil in general. … Even if we successfully reduced demand by, say, 10 percent, the effect on the number of barrels of Saudi oil consumed would likely be minimal. Why? Again, because the Saudis are the world’s low-cost producer. If demand for oil drops, they will be the last ones pumping.

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In other words, while reducing our domestic consumption of oil would have all kinds of benefits, it would probably not put any great economic pressure on Middle East suppliers of oil — not unless China, India, and other booming economies followed our lead, which is speculative at best. As long as anybody’s using oil, the Saudis will be selling it.

So let’s reduce our dependence on oil. And let’s push for reform in the Middle East. But let’s not fool ourselves that the former is a substitute for the latter.