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I sat down with Pulitzer prize winning Tom Friedmanto discuss his book and the upcoming Climate Summitin Copenhagen. In this part of the interview, we discuss what we can learn from Denmark – dubbed the greenest country in the world; the role of Silicon Valley in energy technology innovation; and where he thinks the next Green Google will grow. Tom says emulation is more effective than compulsion in solving the climate crisis, so I asked him:
Do you think the Copenhagen Summit is a waste of time? (more…)
Introduction: In this second part of my interview with Pulitzer prize winning columnist, Tom Friedman, we discuss how he uses his platform to drive forward the green agenda. Tom shares his views on the resignation of Obama’s green czar, Van Jones, and how he himself deals with critics.
Alison van Diggelen: Tom, thank you very much for joining me today on Fresh Dialogues. In Davos this year, you asked: ‘Am I a bad guy for wanting to be China for a day?’ In light of the resignation of Van Jones, do you feel you’re a bad guy?
Tom Friedman: (laughter) No. I don’t feel Van Jones is a bad guy either.
Alison: Absolutely, but in that environment of criticism (that Van Jones bowed to), do you feel you are a ‘bad guy’?
Tom Friedman: I don’t really care. I say what I say. I think there’s a big audience for what I say and I don’t really pay attention to the critics.
Alison: Right. So you just turn a deaf ear?
Tom: I keep on marching on. I hear it and it’s fine. And it’s a free country. You can say whatever you want. But I’ve got my own bully pulpit and I use it. I don’t use it to shout back at critics; I use it to get my message out. I’m looking forward. You know, the dogs bark and the caravan moves on. I’m in the caravan.
Alison: But you don’t feel that distraction…that Glenn Beck and his ilk… are getting stronger and are going to be energized by the Van Jones resignation?
Tom: Well here I am giving a talk at De Anza College. We had 2500 people last night, 2500 tonight, 2500 people tomorrow night, actually paying money to come hear this and other lectures – not only my own. You were here last night…I think the audience was really paying attention, really motivated. Did everyone agree with every word I had to say? God, I hope not, that wouldn’t be a very interesting audience. But I think people understand the stakes, they’re living it every day. They know the climate’s changing and the Glenn Becks and the other opponents of these ideas will have their audience and I have mine…and let the best man win. To me that’s what it’s all about.
I don’t spend my time dealing with my critics. I’ve got a great podium and if you’re criticizing me, God bless you. I’m not above criticism. My focus is on my ideas with my audience.
Alison: I’m not intending to criticize you. But I’m just curious…
Tom: No, I’m telling you this is just my philosophy…I think you’d have to Google a long long time to find a column…I dare say, you’d have to Google forever to find a column where I’ve actually addressed personally, one of my critics.
Alison: Good for you.
Tom: My feeling is, I’m out there. And therefore, if you can’t take the heat, don’t be out there, number one… But why would I waste a column writing about one of my critics when I can write about these really interesting ideas for my audience who cares. So what I always say to the critics is, ‘you may be writing about me, I really appreciate that, but don’t think for a second that I’d waste a column on you.’
Alison: Good for you. I like that.
Tom: I’ve got this platform in the New York Times, why would I waste it on one of my critics? By the way, they’re entitled to their criticism. I’m out there. Sometimes you even learn from critics, but you move on.
Alison: Talking about journalism, what is your feeling on the future of journalism? What is morale like at the NYT today?
Tom: Well, I think it’s getting better. I think there’s a feeling -hopefully, we keep our fingers crossed- that we’ve hit bottom. Stocks are creeping up. We’ve just announced that we’re going to start a pilot project here in San Francisco Bay Area, whereby every Friday and Sunday, there’ll be two local pages in the NYT of San Francisco news. We’re going to go after some of the papers out here and try to win readers here. We’re pushing forward, ideas are coming out…
Alison: Is that going to change your column at all?
Alison: It’s more local news?
Tom: They’re going to be writing about Bay Area news…
Alison: Right….I met with your colleague from the NYT, Maureen Dowd this year…
Tom: Uh huh.
Alison: And she told me that you guys get together for a daiquiri from time to time. She said, and I quote ‘when Tom is feeling down about climate change’…
Alison: So I’m curious to know how the daiquiris are going? Have there been a lot of daiquiris recently? In other words, are you feeling more optimistic or less optimistic since you wrote this book (Hot, Flat, and Crowded), Tom?
Tom: Umm, I am going to hedge that. You know, Maureen is my dear friend and we do, you know, confide in each other about our moods at different times.
Right now I see a lot of things that are very exciting happening – exploding really – on a kind of small scale, but they haven’t achieved yet a critical mass and when you’re talking about changing the climate, you are really talking about critical mass. And that’s really what’s missing. A lot of exciting things happening, a lot of good buzz, peoples’ ideas are changing, they’re in flux, and much more open to all of these arguments but it hasn’t yet been translated into policy at scale.
Alison: And you’re still waiting for that…
Alison: And what do you see as your part…you talked about being in your bully pulpit…
Tom: My part is to use my platform as a journalist to drive this agenda – that I see as important – I have the great good fortune of having this platform and I use it to drive this agenda.
Alison: You also hooked up with John Doerr, I think it was in January of this year and you went before Congress. Can you describe what your expectations were for that and if it’s something that you’d want to do again?
Tom: Well, it was a very informal hearing…sponsored by Barbara Boxer, the Democrat Senator from California, on climate change and energy. John and I were the two main expert witnesses…It went great but no one intervention like that is going to be decisive, it takes many many more at many levels…most of all from the President.
Alison: And did you enjoy the experience? Is it something you’d like to do again?
Tom: Oh, it was fine. Um. It wasn’t like ‘wow.’ What struck me was how serious Senator Boxer was in her questioning and her colleagues. They’d done their homework, they were serious. To the extent it got out…YouTube, C-Span, the respective websites of the senators; I think it really contributed something.
Alison: Great, and let’s talk about the future. What’s the next book, the next travel plans, the next story Tom?
Tom: Well my book, Hot, Flat, and Crowded is coming out in paperback in November, right before Thanksgiving and I’ve updated the book significantly and I’m very excited about that. Now that I’ve done that I’m not sure what I’m going to do next. I’m just sitting back thinking. I’m in the market.
Alison: I read your column about Botswana and you wax lyrical about how beautiful it was, the nature there. What is it that drives you forward? I mean you could retire tomorrow probably but what is it that drives you to keep writing these thought provoking and insightful columns?
Tom: Well, I care first of all about the issues, so that’s what drives me. Secondly, I have this platform so what I care about can be heard by a lot of people and third, I’m having fun. I have the best job in the world. Somebody has to have it and I have it and you don’t.
Tom: I get to be a tourist with an attitude. I get to go wherever I want, write whatever I want…and they pay me for that. And I get to be part of the debate and ideas, people agreeing with you, disagreeing with you, trashing you, praising you. You know, I enjoy it; it’s why I’m here. I wouldn’t give it up for the world. I still enjoy getting up every morning, hitching up my trousers and getting out there…opening up my laptop and taking on the world.
Alison: Great. Well Tom Friedman, thank you very much for joining me on Fresh Dialogues.
Tom: My pleasure
To read the summary post of this interview, part two click here
To read the transcript of Part One on China Envy & Government Policy with Tom Friedman click here
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I caught up with Pulitzer Prize winner, Tom Friedman, at the Foothill CollegeCelebrity Forumlecture series last month, where he delivered a spirited argument for why the United States must embrace a green economy. In this second part of our interview, we explore his part in driving the green agenda. This January, he took part in a congressional hearingon green tech and economic recovery, sponsored by US Senator,Barbara Boxer. We discuss his role in that; how he deals with critics; and why he enjoys daiquiris with New York Times colleague, Maureen Dowd.
I use my platform as a journalist to drive this agenda that I see as important… I see a lot of things that are very exciting happening – exploding really – on a kind of small scale, but they haven’t yet reached critical mass and when you’re talking about changing the climate, you are talking about critical mass. It hasn’t yet been translated into policy at scale.
Alison van Diggelen: Tom, thank you very much for joining me today on Fresh Dialogues. I’d like to focus today on your book, ‘Hot, Flat, and Crowded.‘ Your premise is that energy technology (ET) is the next big thing and by focusing on it, American can get its groove back. Can you expand on what you mean by that?
Tom Friedman: I think that in a world that is becoming ‘hot’ – captured by climate change; ‘flat’ – rising middle classes all over the world from Russia to India, from Brazil to China; and ‘crowded’ – we’re going from 6.7 billion to 9.2 billion by 2050. In that kind of a world, demand for clean energy, clean fuel, energy efficiency is clearly going to explode. It’s clearly going to be the next great global industry. I know that as sure as I know that I’m sitting here at De Anza College, talking to you.
What I don’t know is who is going to lead that industry. Is it going to be America or China, India or Europe, Russia or Japan? What my book is really a call for is that America should lead that industry, because if it’s the next big thing, we need to be at the head of the line on the next big thing. And I think we get our groove back as a country by being big on the next big thing. Not only will it improve our standing economically but we’ll be seen by the rest of the world as working on the most important problem in the world.
Alison: Great. So Tom, you have two daughters, and you’ve written extensively about energy, political and economic security; and about the beauty of the planet, most recently from Botwsana. But what was your biggest motivation for writing this book?
Tom: My biggest motivation really was the concern about America. That…imagine if today Microsoft were a French company, Google was a Chinese company, IBM was a British Company, and Intel was a German company? What would our standard of living be like? What would our standard of living be like if we didn’t dominate the IT industry? What do you suppose our standard of living will be like if we don’t dominate the ET industry? If the next great solar company is Chinese? If the next great wind companies are Danish? If the next great battery companies are all Japanese?
Alison: And you’re advocating for government involvement. Why is it necessary to have government involvement to jumpstart this green economy? Why couldn’t it just happen?
Tom: Because first of all you need more research. We haven’t really found the breakthrough scale technology; and research needs to be funded and that’s government’s role, to fund basic research…to push out the boundaries of physics, biology, chemistry and material science so we can have these really scale answers to clean energy and climate change.
Alison: But you’re talking about more than just research?
Tom: Yes, and government’s other role is to set prices, to create the regulations, incentives, the stimulus and the price signals that will drive innovation. That will stimulate both innovators to want to invest in these clean technologies and consumers to want to buy them.
Alison: And you’ve said one of your mottos is: ‘change your leaders not your light bulbs.’ Can you expand on that and talk about Obama? We now – after eight years – have an environmentally conscious president. Do you feel…
Tom: I mean leaders at all levels. Change your mayor, your governor, your senator and certainly your president… in ways that will put in those positions people who can write the rules, can set the taxes, can put in place the incentives. People who are commited to launching a kind of ecosystem of green innovation.
Alison: And do you feel that Obama has enough passion to do that and is putting in place the right legislation to do that?
Tom: I’m not sure yet. I think the book is still out on that. Although he did say he was reading my book (Hot, Flat, and Crowded) over his recent vacation at Martha’s Vineyard…
Alison: Any feedback from that yet?
Tom: I haven’t yet…no. Our sales went up though, so that was good.
Alison: Excellent. Well that’s a good endorsement. Great…
Now, you have a chapter in the book entitled China for a Day and you write in a recent column ‘China’s leaders understand that in a world of exploding population, demand for clean power and energy efficiency is going to soar. Beijing wants to make sure it owns that industry and is ordering the policies to do that.’ Do I detect a bit of China Envy there Tom?
Tom: Um… Well. ..I…What you detect is the envy of someone who wants his own government to act democratically with the same effectiveness that China can do autocratically. And I think we could if we all pulled together and really focused on this project because this is a huge scale project. The government has to get it right; it has a huge role. And if government is not working; if it’s divided against itself – red states/ blue states – then we’re not going to get where we need to be.
Alison: If Obama were to call you up tonight after your lecture and say, ‘I’ve read your book cover to cover, I want you as my Green Czar. ‘ What would you say to that?
Tom: I’d say, ‘I get my aggravation playing golf…’ (laughter)
But you know, I’m now 56 years old, if I wanted to go into government, I would have done so a long time ago. I’m a journalist, that’s what I do. I think it’s a noble craft. I love being a journalist; I love being a columnist at the New York Times. I have the best job in the world. There are plenty of people who can do those government jobs a lot better than we do. We have a terrific energy secretary, Steven Chu, Nobel Prize Winner, former head of Lawrence Berkeley Labs. I couldn’t hold a candle to him. I think Obama has the right people. the question is: can he pull his party and Congress together to really drive it forward.
Click herefor the transcript of Fresh Dialogues with Tom Friedman Part Two on dealing with critics, Silicon Valley innovators and daiquiris with Maureen Dowd.
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Last week, I sat down with Pulitzer Prize winner, Tom Friedman, just before he delivered a lecture to an expectant Foothill CollegeCelebrity Forumaudience at the Flint Center in Silicon Valley. We discussed his bestselling book, Hot, Flat, and Crowded and why he thinks it’s imperative that the U.S. government jump-start the green economy. According to Tom, creating the right ecosystem is key: funding research, setting price signals and creating incentives to encourage green innovation. Tom admitted to some China envy in that regard. (see below or check out the transcript)
On his motivations for writing “Hot, Flat, and Crowded”
“My concern is about America…imagine if Microsoft were a French company; Google were a Chinese company…What would our standard of living be like? If Energy Technology (ET) is the next big thing, we need to be at the head of the line…By being big in the next big thing, we’ll be seen by the rest of the world as working on the most important problem in the world.”
On the need for Energy Technology
“Demand for clean energy, clean fuel and energy efficiency is clearly going to explode; it’s going to be the next great global industry. I know that as sure as I know that I’m sitting here at De Anza Collegetalking to you.”