Thomas Friedman thinks it’s great that more Americans are driving hybrid cars, using CFL light bulbs, and generally trying to live greener, more environmentally sensitive lives.
Problem is, according to the celebrated Jewish author and columnist for The New York Times, any gains Americans made by taking these steps have been wiped out by the rest of the world.
The longtime Middle East observer traveled to Doha, Qatar, last year for his new book, “Hot, Flat and Crowded,” and discovered that a city the size of Manhattan had grown out of the desert. In China he said, cities most Americans never heard of have already reached that size and are now doubling it.
All over the world new middle classes are growing and are consuming as fast if not faster than Americans.
That means more energy is used, which creates more carbon dioxide, which blankets the planet, which raises the average global temperatures, which melts the polar ice caps, which contributes to rapid extinction of species, which threatens the future standard of living for the next generation.
The world has a problem, Friedman said, and it needs new solutions — fast.
“We’re in the middle of a perfect storm,” he said.
Friedman was the guest speaker Tuesday, Sept. 16, at the inaugural program of the Pittsburgh Middle East Institute. The new organization, in the works for months, has been organized to “forge lasting ties between Pittsburgh and the Middle East through business, education and culture,” according to the PMEI.
“This opportunity is a win-win for all sides,” said Simim Curtis, chair of the PMEI, who opened the program.
Also appearing at the two-day inaugural were Houda Ezra Ebrahim Nonoo, the ambassador of Bahrain to the United States; David Aaron, director of Middle East Public Policy at Rand; Wendy Chamberlin, president of the Middle East Institute in Washington, D.C.; John Zogby, founder of Zogby International, and former U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill.
In introducing Friedman Tuesday, O’Neill said he sought the famed journalist’s advice while at the Treasury Department, especially after 9/11 as the government dealt with the implications of trying to interdict suspicious transfers of money.
“He’s a different kind of human being,” O’Neill said. “He’s a thinker; obviously, he’s a provocative thinker. … And he’s a student.”
Friedman, a self-described capitalist, said the solution to the combined problems of global warming, out-of-control consumerism, energy controlled by dictatorial regimes, must be a new source of “abundant, cheap, clean, reliable electrons.” He thinks the country that develops that source will become the leader in a burgeoning new industry —energy technology.
“The United States must be that country,” he said to thunderous applause.
(Lee Chottiner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)