Thomas Friedman delivered a witty, profound, educational and immensely entertaining keynote about how America needs to take the lead in solving some of the biggest problems we Earthlings are facing.
If you've read any of Friedman's books — I loved both The World Is Flat and Hot, Flat and Crowded — or his regular column, you know he has an easy, conversational style and a way to make complex geo-political issues easy to understand without much prior knowledge. Not surprisingly, that is exactly how he speaks, too.
After he made it clear that he's no dyed-in-the-wool greenie (On writing Hot, Flat and Crowded: "I wasn't inspired by environmentalism, I was inspired by the fact that America has lost its groove.") he continued on to make two really interesting points.
First, he explained that what the Great Recession really was (is?) was both the market and mother nature "getting together to send us a message: 'The way you are growing is not sustainable.'" There were three key characteristics of the recession that apply to both mother nature and the market — underpriced risk, privatizing gains and socializing loss — that made this message painfully clear. The subprime mortgage crisis was clearly a case where risk was underpriced, but certain entities were still profiting hugely...and when it all came tumbling down, the bailouts for the banks funded by taxpayer dollars were the ultimate example of socializing loss. In terms of the environment, as we continue to use cheap (underpriced) energy sources like coal-fired electricity and foreign oil, we're creating huge profits for (in some cases) energy conglomerates and foreign petrodictators. And the socialized loss is climate change and its effects — because the detriments of our continued dirty-energy growth accrue to the entire planet.
Friedman spent the second half of his talk summarizing the arguments made in Hot, Flat and Crowded, so there wasn't much new there, for me anyway. He did acknowledge that there are still many climate change deniers out there (climate change is the "hot" part of Hot, Flat and Crowded) — "That's fine if you don't believe in climate change, that's between you and your beach house" — but the intersection of the "flat" (how interconnected the world is now) and "crowded" (overpopulation, and at a higher standard of living) are enough to show that our model of growth is not sustainable. If you're interested in this type of thing, I'd highly recommend that book. It's a very clear, concise explanation of why we do need a green revolution and why America has to lead it.
Now, back to fiction...
Any other Friedman fans out there? Which of his books have you read/enjoyed?