Speaking before a group of leading alternative energy company representatives at Eastern Michigan University yesterday, New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman called for an “energy technology revolution,” saying whichever country solves the energy crisis could reap huge economic benefits in the process.
The event, organized by the Michigan Business Review, Washtenaw Economic Club and the state’s University Research Corridor also featured remarks from University President Mary Sue Coleman and Michigan State University President Lou Anna Simon.
Friedman’s visit was part of a publicity tour for his new book, “Hot, Flat and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution — and How It Can Renew America.” In the book, Friedman outlines what he considers the five major energy problems of the 21st century: energy and natural resources supply and demand, petrodictatorship, climate change, energy poverty and biodiversity loss.
Friedman cited the information technology revolution in the late 1990s while describing how big a change would be necessary to handle the world’s environmental problems.
“(Energy technology), to emerge, has to compete with existing cheap, dirty alternatives that are already in the market,” he said. “And unless you have a government that shapes the market differently, you will not get this green revolution in scale, at least not at the speed and scope that we need.”
Friedman said a nation could see enormous financial returns if it were to find a plausible environmental solution.
“Is America going to lead it, or is Japan going to lead it, China, India?” he asked. “That country has to be the United States of America.”
Near the end of the event, Coleman asked Friedman how he would deal with the state’s problems if he were the “leader of Michigan.”
Friedman responded by criticizing Michigan’s elected officials for not supporting stricter fuel efficiency standards for American cars — something he said he’d do if he were in Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s shoes.
“Because if you create that market for clean, efficient power and challenge your industry, that’s America,” he said. “We love a challenge.”
EMU senior Michelle Barcey said she was encouraged by Friedman’s challenge.
“I was surprised by some of the stuff and I thought it was very interesting,” said Barcey, who hadn’t heard of Friedman prior to the lecture. “I thought that the call to serve for the United States was a good deal.”
Don Carpenter, a professor of Civil Engineering at Lawrence Technological University and University of Michigan alum, said he liked Friedman’s talk but didn’t think it would hold most people’s attention.
“The average person doesn’t care about the melting icecaps and the polar bears,” he said. “I think most average people are just going about their day-to-day lives, if they don’t see it, if it doesn’t touch them, they’re not interested.”
He added, “I’m not sure they’ve been hit hard enough yet. Depends upon how many hurricanes we have and how much money we have to spend fixing Houston and New Orleans and Miami. I think that almost wakes up people more than anything else.”