Tom Friedman Tears into Our Economic System, US Citizens, “Climategate,” & Obama at Greenbuild 2011

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friedman greenbuild conference speech

Noted author and New York Times Columnist Tom Friedman tore into Obama at this year’s Greenbuild Conference in Toronto for some of his environmental and clean energy failures. He’s not the first to do so — Al Gore has, Rolling Stone has, Joe Romm of the blog Climate Progress has, Bill McKibben of has, and numerous environmental organizations have. I don’t think any of them would say that Obama hasn’t done more than any Republican president at this time would do. But they have all expressed their great frustration at Obama’s lack of leadership and a number of big, sort of shocking failures (i.e. opening up Wyoming to massive coal mining, dropping strong smog standards, opening the Arctic up to oil drilling).

Of course, the big one that all environmentalists’ eyes are on is the Tar Sands XL oil pipeline. This, as many have said, is Obama’s “make or break” with environmentalists (and, as our nation’s top scientist has said, if Obama approves this pipeline it’s “game over” for the climate). That should be important to every single person on the planet.

On the plus side, Obama has helped to stimulate massive growth in clean energy and related jobs in the U.S. He deserves due credit for that. But evening out that success with such oil and coal failures is, to say the least, a let down. And there is widespread belief that he could have done 2 or 3 times more for clean energy if he had tried (or maybe even more)….

Anyway, back to Friedman’s pointed speech at Greenbuild. Aside from Obama’s (lack of) leadership on climate change and clean energy, he completely slams our economic accounting of basic life necessities, the public’s response to the economic crisis, and “climategate.”

Climate Progress has cut it up to focus on the most critical climate and clean energy points (down to 8 minutes from 30). Here’s the video, followed by a repost of some of the Climate Progress piece (basically, the text quotes and lead-ins to them):

On the financial crisis of 2008:

“This underlies the faulty accounting that we have been exhibiting in both the market and mother nature. But a more fundamental crisis looms ahead. An ecological credit crunch caused by undervaluing the environmental assets that are the basis of all life and prosperity.”

On our response to the wake-up call in 2008:

“If 2008 was our warning heart attack, how did we respond in 2009? Did we go on a diet? Start exercising? Basically we kept on smoking and gaining weight and started to actively ignore the doctor’s advice.”

On the hacked emails from East Anglia University:

That whole email thing, which was totally bogus….

“Because the message it gave out — that somehow there was some crazy global conspiracy between climate science to hype the whole notion of climate change and global warming. that message was spread far and wide and it came at a time of economic distress when it fell on way too many sympathetic ears.And it came at a time of weakness, at least in America, at the Obama Administration, which fundamentally failed to speak out in favor of the science. The president’s climate team, I’m sorry to say, there are endangered species I’ve seen more of in the last two years than that climate team speaking out in defense of climate science and scientists.”

On the political and economic hangover into 2010-2011:

“And as a result, is that there will be no energy legislation — let alone clean energy legislation — at the earliest until 2013. We who believe in energy efficiency and protecting the environment, and trying to move the economy to a clean power system, we’ve had a couple of bad years here. And it seems to me we need to sit back and realize this environment — political, economic environment — is not going to change overnight. And therefore, every one of us here has to think about how we bring more imagination to every thing we do around this industry to work within these constraints.”

And moving into 2012 and beyond, Friedman ended on a positive note — one that I thought wrapped up the speech well:

“Frankly, I’m amazed that you’re all here. You just didn’t get the word. God bless you. You just didn’t get the word that we’re not going to have a price signal, that the politics is all paralyzed. That we’re fighting with each other from one end of Washington…to the other. You just didn’t get the word. You are like a marine we interviewed for our new book, That Used to Be Us, when we asked him why he surged in Anbar province, he said ‘we were too dumb to quit.’ Thank you all for being too dumb to quit. Do not get the word.”

“Please don’t get the word. Because if you get the word, the word’s kind of grim right now. I wish I could tell you that some quick solution from the national level is coming. It’s not. We are where we are, we’ve got what we’ve got. It’s on you. It’s on me. It’s on us. They’re not going to solve it for us. So promise you will keep on going and you will never get the word.”

Thoughts on this? Insightful, needed criticism? Or too critical? (I’m definitely in the “this nailed it” boat, as I think you could guess from my post.


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Zachary Shahan

Zach is tryin' to help society help itself one word at a time. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director, chief editor, and CEO. Zach is recognized globally as an electric vehicle, solar energy, and energy storage expert. He has presented about cleantech at conferences in India, the UAE, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA, Canada, and Curaçao. Zach has long-term investments in Tesla [TSLA], NIO [NIO], Xpeng [XPEV], Ford [F], ChargePoint [CHPT], Amazon [AMZN], Piedmont Lithium [PLL], Lithium Americas [LAC], Albemarle Corporation [ALB], Nouveau Monde Graphite [NMGRF], Talon Metals [TLOFF], Arclight Clean Transition Corp [ACTC], and Starbucks [SBUX]. But he does not offer (explicitly or implicitly) investment advice of any sort.

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