Thomas Friedman is back at The New York Times after a two-month hiatus. I don’t always agree with his stands (and enjoyed the alternative voices that appeared in The Times during his absence), but find it heartening that his second op-ed upon returning has an environmental bent:

Of all the shortsighted policies of President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, none have [Editor’s Note:  Grist editors would not have let slip this misuse of have] been worse than their opposition to energy conservation and a gasoline tax. If we had imposed a new gasoline tax after 9/11, demand would have been dampened and gas today would probably still be $2 a gallon. But instead of the extra dollar going to Saudi Arabia — where it ends up with mullahs who build madrasas that preach intolerance — that dollar would have gone to our own Treasury to pay down our own deficit and finance our own schools. In fact, the Bush energy policy should be called No Mullah Left Behind.

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Interesting perspective — and certainly not one we’ve heard from the Kerry campaign.Friedman goes on to argue that “[n]othing would do more to stimulate reform in the Arab-Muslim world” than big cutbacks of oil consumption in the U.S. When demand for oil dropped, prices for it would drop as well, forcing countries that are now governed by oil plutocracies onto a path of democratic reform. That’s the theory at least. Friedman, known in some circles (or at least by me) as Mr. Globalization, sees the most promising changes in the Arab-Muslim world as now occurring in countries “with little or no oil.”

To the extent we hear John Kerry talking about the environment nowadays, it’s about “energy independence” — the need to reduce American consumption of oil that is sourced from unstable parts of the world. In that way, the Democratic presidential contender is able to tuck some environmental oomph into the overriding issue of the day: national security. That’s smart politics (though I do wish he spoke about the topic more). Kerry has gone to great lengths, however, to distance himself from the idea of increasing taxes at the pump. Friedman believes that higher gas taxes would be smart policy; he ends his column on a plaintive note, wishing we had a president who had the smarts and political will to enact such a thing.

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