If you oppose conservation and clean energy, I wonder why you would. Typical concerns relate to when conservation and clean energy reduce economic growth or reduce profits for some special interest in the near term. Longer term, most people would agree that conservation and clean energy make sense.
Journalist and social activist Thomas L. Friedman could have written a much shorter book if he had simply started with the premise that it's a good idea to have conservation and clean energy. He spends most of the book providing arguments in favor of those approaches.
Those arguments are related to these propositions:
1. Rising carbon dioxide levels are either causing global warming and more violent weather . . . or will at some point fairly soon.
2. Rapid population growth and concentration into urban areas are making pollution a greater problem.
3. Fast economic growth in the developing world is accelerating pollution.
4. Natural environments are disappearing at a rapid rate, taking with them weather-dampening resources and species which might have value that we don't yet appreciate.
5. Free markets encourage polluting rather than nonpolluting solutions.
6. Extractive energy sources encourage dictatorships, terrorism, and harm to women.
Most of these points are exemplified by an anecdote from when Mr. Friedman talked to someone while on a speaking tour, was traveling from country to country, or was helicoptering around to see some sight that interested him. Much of this book has a travelogue aspect, even though it is a book about social change.
When Mr. Friedman gets into his arguments in favor of laws, regulations, and tax incentives, his thesis is sometimes contradictory. He argues that it is more profitable to use conservation and clean energy, yet cites lots of business leaders who seem to say that they won't employ those methods unless forced to by laws, regulations, and tax incentives. That argument didn't make sense to me. It also seems like many countries are already using laws, regulations, and tax incentives to encourage conservation and clean energy use. If those approaches are a good idea, there should be all kinds of incentives to change.
The crux of Mr. Friedman's argument in favor of these governmental changes is that it is critical that the United States do more in these areas than anyone else for the following reasons:
1. It will be a competitive disadvantage to lag in these areas.
2. Economic growth in the United States depends on creating a large clean energy and conservation industry.
3. Safety from the Muslim world depends on these activities, as well.
4. Other countries will do more in these areas if the U.S. goes first.
5. People in other countries will support more change if U.S. consumers are making these changes.
The major flaw in this thesis is that the United States government can make such a large change and sustain it for several decades. Since the 1960s, there has been little consensus in the United States on any changes other than ones that favor growth of individual incomes and wealth in the short term.
The current economic crisis will put a heavy burden on economic growth for many years to come. The pending retirement of the baby boom generation will be an even heavier weight to carry.
I suspect that there will be little appetite for government to lead such changes.
Ultimately, I suspect that a more likely path to success in making these changes would be for state, city, and county governments to boycott suppliers who don't use clean energy and employ good conservation practices. Action at those levels of government often works, doesn't take a long time, and is already being successful in areas like California.
I praise Mr. Friedman for wanting to encourage conservation and use of clean energy, but I fear that he needs to spend more time thinking about how to do that . . . and less time on arguing for national changes in U.S. laws, regulations, and tax incentives. With our political system, I think he is whistling in the dark.
What do you think?