Earth sicker than feared, Friedman warns

Author tells Brandeis audience the U.S. must lead the way in an energy-technology revolution

Thomas Friedman speaks with the Brandeis Environmental Sustainability Team

WALTHAM, Mass, Oct. 16, 2008 -- Thomas L. Friedman today warned a Brandeis audience that the Earth is much sicker than previously estimated and can’t recover without the “biggest-scale project” ever undertaken by humankind.

“The hour is late,” he told several hundred students, faculty and other Brandeis community members. He argued that the planet, already overcrowded, is growing much warmer than even former Vice President Al Gore popularly projected and by some estimates has seen a jump of 2 degrees Fahrenheit since the industrial revolution. There are 6.2 billion people on the planet today, a population that by the year 2020 will grow by another one billion, Friedman said.

Friedman ’75, the three-time Pulitzer Prize winner for the New York Times and best-selling author, visited campus to talk about conclusions he has drawn from researching and writing his latest book, “Hot, Flat and Crowded.”

He lamented the culture of posing that has accompanied the popular environmental movement in the United States, arguing that Washington-D.C. is not taking climate change, the energy crisis or environmental destruction seriously, and that business and industry is having “a green party, not a revolution.”

“You’ll know the revolution is here when the word ‘green’ goes away,” he said.

His talk in the Spingold Theater Center revealed a shift in Friedman’s work that is positioning him more as an ecological crusader and perhaps somewhat less the popular geopolitical analyst that he has become through his work for the Times and as a commentator on network television and radio.

Friedman said the United States, since Sept. 11, 2001, has abandoned its leadership position in the face of perceived threats from abroad. “We have lost our groove,” he said. “We have become the United States of fighting terrorism.”

“Our government does not work today. Our government can no longer solve any big multi-generational problem.”

He used “flat” to describe the rise of a technologically educated middle class across the planet that can compete and “play just like Americans.”

Friedman said the country must lead the way in an energy-technology revolution and nurture an innovation explosion coming from hundreds of thousands of garages. He called on Washington to set energy and fuel rates at a level that would force industry into abandoning business-as-usual practices in favor of Earth-friendly options.

He decried the rate at which species are vanishing from the Earth, telling younger members of the audience they may inherit the ultimate responsibility for conservation. “You are the first generation of humans who will have to think like Noah.”

Friedman’s visit helped to mark the opening of a global green MBA at the Brandeis International Business School.

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