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December 8, 2009

Lyceum speaker promotes green revolution to help America get “back in its groove”

Pulitzer Prize winner Thomas L. Friedman hopes to “trigger an earth race” – one that positively shapes our climate change policy and promotes a green revolution to get America “back in its groove.”

The best-selling author and The New York Times foreign affairs columnist spoke to an appreciative audience in Brown Theatre on Tuesday, Dec. 8, as part of the University of Louisiana at Monroe’s Presidential Lyceum Series.

Friedman focused Tuesday evening on his most recent best-selling work: Hot, Flat and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution - And How It Can Renew America. The book highlights the challenges – and the opportunities – we face as Americans living in an era of energy shortages, climate change, and the population explosion.

An ambitious national strategy regarding energy would be needed if Americans truly desire a healthier, richer, more innovative, and more secure country, he said. Otherwise, America will eventually be like “road kill on the global highway.”

He explained how E.T. – Energy Technology – is going to be the world’s next great revolution in much the same way as information technology was. Friedman expressed his concern that if America does not act quickly and collectively to lead this revolution, it will likely loses its dominance as a world leader.

Friedman said his experience traveling across the country affirms his belief that America is bursting with innovation, as evidenced by the entrepreneurs who approach him after his lectures about all sorts of energy technologies.

He said he did not believe our government had maximized that potential innovation with the right policy decisions. In short, “Green” must become the new “Red, White and Blue,” according to the columnist.

Five major global trends have stimulated an urgent need for energy innovation, according to Friedman: energy and natural resources supply and demand, “petrodicatorship," climate change, energy poverty, and loss of biodiversity.

Each of these problems leave the world hotter than average and with fewer resources, Friedman said. He made clear that the needed green revolution would not be easy; clean-technology breakthroughs will be both transformative and disruptive.

“Have you ever been to a revolution where no one got hurt?” he asked. “You’ll know it’s a revolution when someone gets hurt.”

Friedman said our goal as Americans should be to make the word “green” disappear and go the way of terms such as “civil rights,” a once revolutionary term that is now only invoked when denied.

“We want to get to the point where there is no such thing as a ‘green car’ – there are just cars,” he said.

One crucial step that the federal government must take is to levy a tax on gasoline, according to Friedman, an idea he said would not go over well with at least half the audience.

He said the reason this painful step must be taken is because America will never get a green revolution without a price signal that raises the price of fossil fuels and lowers the price of green technologies. While information technology gave us “stuff” and more mobility, the green revolution offers no such impetus to make needed changes unless it is incentivized.

In short — price matters, said Friedman. The alternative, he said, is to face either a Democratic China or a Banana Republic – Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything.

“And so we end where we began, with our government, with ourselves and with our elected leaders. Are they ready to do that? Are we ready to do that? I don’t know. It’s about us,” said Friedman.

“We need to get our groove back,” he said. “This time the payoff could not be greater. We have exactly enough time … starting now.”

More about Friedman

Vanity Fair magazine touted Friedman as “the country’s best newspaper columnist,” and he has covered numerous stories in recent decades considered pivotal in American foreign policy.

In his prior best-selling book, The World is Flat, Friedman demystified how the world “flattened” at the dawn of the 21st-century and explained the cultural, political and economic implications. ULM included the book in its freshman summer reading program this year.

Friedman has authored several other bestsellers: From Beirut to Jerusalem, winner of the National Book Award for nonfiction; The Lexus and the Olive Tree: Understanding Globalization; and Longitudes and Attitudes: Exploring the World After September 11.

ULM's Presidential Lyceum Series began in 2003 under the direction of current President James E. Cofer Sr., to promote intellectual exchange among ULM students, faculty, staff and the community.

Previous Lyceum speakers :

• journalist and TV host Lisa Ling

• political strategists James Carville and Mary Matalin;

• businessman and entrepreneur Steve Forbes;

• comedian and television personality Ben Stein;

• Social activist Robert Kennedy, Jr.;

• author/historian and Pulitzer Prize winner Doris Kearns Goodwin;

• film/TV star and comedian Bill Cosby

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