Interview with Tom Friedman

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Recommended Reading:
Hot, Flat and Crowded by Tom Friedman, who was interviewed tonight on Larry King:

KING: We stay now with Thomas Friedman, the "New York Times" columnist, three-time Pulitzer Prize winner, author of the new bestseller ,"Hot, Flat and Crowded, Why we Need a Green Revolution and How It Can Renew America." Specifically, Tom, what is a green revolution?

FRIEDMAN: Well, the basic argument here, Larry, is that the world is getting hot, global warming, flat, the rise of middle classes all over the world, from India to China, from Russia to Brazil, and crowded, over population. The world has gone from 2.8 billion people when I was born in 1953 to 9.2 billion by 2053. So in that kind of world, Larry, whoever is the leading country in producing clean power, clean energy, clean water, all these clean technologies, I believe is going to have a huge competitive sustainable advantage.

I call it the ability to out-green your competition. And I believe that country has to be the United States of America. We need to give birth to this new industry. We need to own this new industry. I call it ET, energy technology. As Jeffrey Immelt, the head of GE likes to say, Larry, if you want to be big, you have to be big in big things. The biggest thing coming down the road is ET. I believe in the next administration, in the next eight to 12 years, we need to make sure we lay the foundation for that industry. That's what the book is about.

KING: Who is ahead now?

FRIEDMAN: Who is ahead now? Different countries have different slices of it. One out of every three wind turbines of the world are made and sold from Denmark. Japan is great in energy efficiency. Europe has a lot of effective energy efficiency products going. We are the laggards. We are not in a leadership position. We need to be. Larry, the chance of our kids enjoying the standard of living we had if we don't own this next great global industry, ET, the way we owned It, information technology, I would say it is about zero.

KING: How did we get in this fix?

FRIEDMAN: Well, because year after year we never put in place the price signals we needed, a gasoline tax, a carbon tax, that would have stimulated the innovation around this industry. That's where the problems of the auto industry that we were just talking about meet the whole question of the energy technology industry. What all of the countries that are leading this industry, Larry, today have in common, whether it's Japan, Denmark, is that they put in the price signals. They have given a long-term fix durable price signal.

I was just in Houston today. I saw gas at 1.77 a gallon. That's going to kill the wind, solar and cellulosic Ethanol industry, unless the next administration is ready to put a price signal in.

KING: Let's say all your ideas are put in place, what are we going to look like?

FRIEDMAN: What we look like? What would we look like in 20 years? We have something I call in the book, Larry, the energy Internet. It is when IT meets ET. We would have a lot of clean generation of electrons, going into a smart grid, going into a smart home, where all your appliances would basically day trade automatically for electrons for you, fed into a smart car that would charged at night with electricity, and drive 100 miles on electricity and never have to fill up with gasoline. That's what it would look like.

I know it sounds like science fiction, don't fetch it too far. All these technologies exist today, Larry. They just don't exist at the speed, scope and scale we need.

KING: Will red China go -- You've give a lot of attention to China in your book because They're the largest. Will red China become green China?

FRIEDMAN: I think the Chinese are going to have to move down this road. They're waiting for us. They're really watching us, kind of hiding behind us now. When they see us move, I believe you'll see them move. I used the image in the book -- To me, China today is like the movie "Speed," where the terrorists take over a bus and if it goes under 50 miles an hour, it blows up. China is kind of like that bus, Larry, if their economy grows under eight percent, it could blow up. Their big challenge is they've got to change their engine from a dirty coal burning engine in that bus to a clean electric hybrid while the bus is going 50 miles an hour.

It's the greatest show on Earth. It's going to be a huge challenge. They are following us. And I think when we lead, they will follow.

KING: Suppose we become more hot, flat and crowded, what's the end result?

FRIEDMAN: Well, it's not a world you particularly want to live in. You know, small changes in global average temperature can have a huge effect. I call that chapter in my book "Global Weirding." It's a term kind coined by Hunter Lovins from the Rocky Mountain Institute. We're not going to have global warming. Global warming sounds so nice. To a kid from Minnesota, Larry, global warming, that sounds like golf in February. That's not what we are going to have. The hots are going to get hotter. The dries are going to get longer. The wets are going to get wetter. The snows are going to get thicker. The most violent hurricanes could become more numerous. That's what it will look like.

KING: Two part question: how did the Bush administration do in this area and what do you expect of the Obama?

FRIEDMAN: I think we wasted eight years, Larry. We had a president who could barely get the word c -- c-- conservation out of his mouth. He basically was uninterested in a gasoline tax. He was uninterested in putting in place, I believe, the real regulation standards and price signals that could have launched a green revolution. He should have put a Patriot Tax in place right after 9/11. Gas was 1.69 that morning a gallon. And if he had done that, I think we'd have been in a different place today. And by the way, the auto companies would have been in a different place today.

I have high expectations for the Obama administration. President Elect Obama has talked about this issue a lot. But the key thing will be whether he is ready to put in a price signal. You are just not going to get a clean resolution if clean fuels are so expensive and dirty ones continue to be so cheap. You have to find a way to work that problem, make the dirty fuels more expensive and then give people a break on payroll tax, make it revenue neutral, but get people focused on working, cut taxes on working, and get them focused on using fewer dirty fuels and raise taxes on those.

KING: If you can get people like T. Boone Pickens coming your way, is it possible to turn this country around?

FRIEDMAN: Boone Pickens is a friend of mine and I think Boone is really typical of the new coalition around this issue. It's people who understand green is not liberal, tree hugging, sissy, girly man, unpatriotic, vaguely European. Green is geo-political, geo-strategic, geo-economic, patriotic, capitalistic. Green is the new red, white and blue. And there are plenty of conservative patriots like Boone Pickens who understand that, who don't think it's not smart to be sending 700 billion dollars a year, brought every year, to people who have drawn a bull's eye on our back. God bless them.

KING: Can you remember, Tom, how you got interested in this topic?

FRIEDMAN: I got really interested -- Actually, I got hired by the "New York Times" as an energy reporter back in 1981, in fact. But the big shift for me was really post 9/11. It was really seeing what happened with our energy purchases, seeing how our energy purchases have been empowering petro-dictators all over the world. It's poisoning geo-politics. It's really reversed the whole fall of the Berlin Wall Democratic trend that was initiated in 1989.

Then it really converged a few years later with the whole climate issue. And the combination of the rise of the climate issue, the geo- politics of this, and finally the need, Larry, to give birth to a new industry that our kids will be able to basically enjoy a higher standard of living off -- we have to give birth to that new industry. We can't just bail out the economy. We have to build it up. The way you do that is by giving birth to a new industry that in a world that is hot, flat and crowded, everybody will need green tech clean power.

KING: Are you optimistic?

FRIEDMAN: I'm cautiously optimistic. I have been to -- danced at a lot of weddings with people who told me they were really serious about this issue. I heard what President-Elect Obama has said. I think he's enthusiastic about it. I know the people that have working for him on this issue. I think they're serious, credible people. I'm from Minnesota and we're like the people in Missouri, show me.

KING: What's your next book?

FRIEDMAN: My next book is "Hot, Flat, Crowded and Busted."

KING: You're already working on it?

FRIEDMAN: No, not yet. But I think that the whole economic situation we're in right now is really going to dominate the next four years. That's really what I'm thinking about right now. I think, you know, we've been talking about the next secretary of state, will it be Mrs. Clinton or somebody else? I can tell you this, Larry, the next four years will be a lot more about General Motors than General Petraeus, and they're going to be a lot more about managing weakness in the world than managing strength. The next secretary of state is going to have to be up to that challenge.

KING: We only have 30 seconds. Every time I read you, you're somewhere else. How do you decide where you go?

FRIEDMAN: I just kind of follow my nose and get an instinct and intuition where I think the news is. Right now, Larry, you know what, I'm right here, because I think the story of America is the most amazing, compelling and, obviously, the most important story in the world right now. I don't want to be anywhere else.

KING: You're the best. Thanks, Thomas. Hope we do many more. Thomas Friedman, "New York Times," three times Pulitzer Prize winner, new book, a major best-seller already, "Hot, Flat and Crowded; Why We Need a Green Revolution and How It Can Renew America."


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