March 10th, 2009 | by Adrienne So News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, CLEAN UP, Politics, Environment

Thomas Friedman Tells Portlanders to Stop Futzing Around

     
Tags: media, economy
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Say what you will about incendiary Pulitzer-Prize-winning columnist and reporter Thomas Friedman: It takes some serious chutzpah to stand in front of a packed house of Portlanders and tell them that all of their green activism is nothing more than a hobby. "Don't get me wrong, I love hobbies," Friedman said at yesterday's free lecture at PSU's Stott Memorial Center. "I build model airplanes. But hobbies are not going to save the planet."

That one statement was so antithetical to Portland's DIY culture that I had to wonder if any of the lecture's 44 sponsors had actually read Friedman's book. For those of you who haven't read Hot, Flat and Crowded, the gist is this: Things cannot go on as they are. There are too many people, driving too many SUVs and eating too many burgers. Innovations in the field of energy technology are the only thing that stands a chance of saving us from ourselves, and the only way to galvanize that innovation is to make the flawed choices too expensive.

In other words: Carbon tax.

Your little lifestyle choices are cute and all, Friedman said, but riding a bike to work every day is not going to cut it. Doha, capital of Qatar, just ate the carbon savings of Portland's entire bike-riding community for lunch without even thinking about it. Cheap, abundant energy is the only thing that can solve our problems of resource depletion, climate change, sociopolitical unrest, global lifestyle disparities, and biodiversity loss.

It's pretty disheartening—very Eddie Willers-esque—to have stood in the rain for hours, packed into a damp, echo-y college gymnasium, and be told over the course of an hour that your only hope for Earth's salvation is someone who is smarter than you to devise cheap, abundant energy solutions. In the meantime, the best we can do is to lobby our leaders to make market conditions more favorable for these geniuses to work. And not wimpy, hippie-dippie lobbying, either. That is ineffective (as the Friedman protesters have no doubt learned by now). We have to learn how to play the game and get in our leaders' faces, like GM or Nissan.

If we were good at playing hardball and making deals, would I have the free time to trek over to PSU at noon on a Monday? Nope. I am not good at hardball. Dang it! I failed AGAIN.

Given this depressing message, I'm not surprised that the Mercury's Matt Davis calls Friedman "a bit of an asshole." But in its own pretty astonishing display of rudeness, about 40-percent of the audience filed out before Friedman's question-and-answer session even started—although I can't be certain if they were leaving out of protest or because they were missing lunch.

Still, is what Friedman said true? I'm afraid that his arguments were pretty convincing. The IT revolution reached its fruition when kids could no longer imagine a world without the Internet. For example, I had a screenname before I had a training bra. The green revolution will have happened when...we have no idea that it's happened. Someday, it will come about that the only energy available for purchase is clean, cheap and renewable.

But does that mean I'm going to stop buying local produce? I guess not. Not because I think I'm saving the planet, but just because it tastes better. Your dismissal of my hobby means you won't experience my culinary delights, Mr. Friedman! Hrmph. I bet that showed him.

Image of Thomas Friedman courtesty of www.thomaslfriedman.com.
 
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