Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Thomas Friedman in D.C.

Several years ago, while attending the National Book Festival on the Mall here in Washington, I kept overhearing folks who were scrambling to make the lecture and booksigning that someone name Thomas Friedman was having for his new work, The World is Flat. He certainly had one of the longest lines of the day, and I left with his name tucked in the back of my mind.

A few weeks ago, I saw that Politics and Prose, an independent bookstore here in the Washington area and a district institution for a number of years, was hosting Friedman (in conjunction with New Republic magazine) at the Historic 6th and I Street Synagogue. I have to admit that I was a bit curious -- still thinking of what I had heard on the Mall a few years ago but also recognizing that is a New York Times columnist who is often critical of some things which I support. However, I'm a believer that if you are going to strengthen your own position on things you have to study both sides of the debate, so I ordered some tickets for tonight's event.

The focus of his lecture was on the next big industrial revolution, which he thinks will be the ET age, and which is covered in his newest book, Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution--and How It Can Renew America. Just as the last big revolution focused on IT systems and development, the next one will focus on the development of environmental technology -- and the country that is able to capitalize on new environmental technology first will be the next global leader. He also talked at some length on why it is important to the growth of democracy (aside from the future of our energy needs) that what he terms "petrodictatorships" need to be brought to an end.

I think that after seeing how Al Gore and his environmental crusade and PowerPoint presentation was always being thrust in front of us, I was a bit concerned about how in-your-face Friedman would be with his take on things. Surprisingly -- and pleasantly -- what the audience got was a very calm, quiet (sometimes too quiet; I heard many folks sitting near me during the course of the evening complain that they couldn't hear him) and often humorous explanation of what he sees happening and what he thinks we still need to do. Just a few points of what he brought up (and I only wish that I had been taking notes; guess I'll be reading the book now!!):
  • When he was born in 1953, there were about 3.6 billion people on the planet; by the time we get to the year 2053, there will be over 9 billion people on the planet. More people would have been added to the population over the course of his lifetime than were alive when he was born.

  • Currently, there are 1.6 billion on the planet who are not on the power grid at all -- meaning that there are 1.6 billion people who will never have access to any sort of meaningful education the tremendous amounts of information that make up 99 percent of what we know, and who will never have the tools to try and discover the one percent of things remaining to be discovered.

  • The IT revolution was easy; the folks who were creating Google and Apple and the Internet were coming up with something new and didn't have anything to try and overcome. One of the biggest challenges of the ET revolution will be trying to come up with something new without relying on the dirty, environmentally-unfriendly sources already in place.

  • Throughout history, as oil prices fell democracy took hold. As an example, he used the year 1991 -- oil was at $18 a barrel, and the Soviet Union fell. He has developed an entire graph of two inverse lines, which show a rise in the growth of free societies and democratic governments as the price of oil falls. As Friedman said (somewhat paraphrased her), "What was the first country in the Middle East to disccover oil? Bahrain. What was the first country in the Middle East to run out of oil? Bahrain? What was the first country in the Middle East to have democratic elections? Bahrain. What was the first country in the Middle East to have a free and open society? Bahrain."

  • One bit of humor: a study showed that the average golfer walks 922 miles per year. The average golfer also drinks 22 gallons of liquor per year. "That means the average golfer gets 41 miles to the gallon."
There was a great deal more he said and which I look forward to studying at greater length in his book. In fact, his 40 minute talk extended to nearly an hour and twenty minutes, and I could have listened to much more. He has definitely given me a great deal to think about and has increased my interest in learning more about the green revolution that is upon us and what my family and I can do to take part. If you see that Friedman is going to be in your area, I would highly recommend you go to listen to him -- it will certainly be memorable.


rdl said...

I hope this means that you are still considering Obama/Biden since they seem to be the "Green" ticket. I was wondering what you thought of all the blundering in the McCain campaign??

NoVA Dad said...

I have to admit that I wasn't at all impressed by how Palin did in her interview with Katie Couric the other evening. I don't care how much you feel unprepared for a question-and-answer session, or how much you still need to learn about national issues; don't ever tell a reporter that you'll check into it and get back to them with some examples. I cringed when I heard that.

As a fiscal conservative and a social liberal, elections are always a challenge for me. I always approach everything with my two children in mind -- on one hand, what shape will our society and the planet be in when they grow up, and on the other, what shape will our government and the nation's finances be in for them. Honestly, I haven't seen a candidate yet you fully embraces everything that I believe it; I just don't think that magical candidate has appeared yet...

rdl said...

Yes unfortunately if is the lesser of 2 evils in alot of cases for people. I'm still hoping that you will decide on Obama - one can always hope.

NoVA Dad said...

Keep hope alive:-)

Robert said...

LOL nova jesse jackson will give you a huge thumbs up there!!! i really am fascinated by what you shared about friedman. I recall hearing Tom Sine speak at my Bible College in 1983 and he gave a forecast of what the future would be like, He had it right on many points!!! Have you ever heard of a book called Idols For Destruction??? I forget the author. He gave a good discourse on various aspects of our political system and ways they are destructive as well as touching on interplay between faith and social responsibilty. I always enjoy insights on books that you share about. Also if you are ever on aim i am lakermagik32 in case I send you an Im you will know who it is :)

rdl said...

Well i am hopeful that he will win after the VP debate - I thought Joe Biden was great and Palin was Palin - tho i will give her that she did better than with Katie- i guess all those days of being sequested at the ranch paid off somewhat. I still shudder at the thought of the possibility of her as president.