Matt Taibbi, who is making a pretty nice career out of skewering the Wall Street/Beltway establishment, has a ripping piece on New York Times columnist and author Thomas Friedman, called "Flat N All That," in the New York Press
(props to Aaron Task for the link).
Taibbi starts with Thomas Friedman's hypocrisy in the green movement, and then moves onto the rest of Friedman's flaws, including his poor writing syntax and painful metaphors, bad editors at the New York Times
, and pathetic use of statistical randomness in an attempt to prove a point.
Not only is the column immensely entertaining -- Taibbi is emerging as one of the preeminent practictioners of modern Gonzo-financial journalism -- but it points out the central problem to the "green guilt" movement and why Friedman's pathetic attempt to lead us just doesn't make sense.
Taibbi's central point is that Thomas Friedman is a raging hypocrite. Why is that? For starters, Friedman apparently considers himself as a leader of the environmentalist movement, though he lives in a fuel-guzzling 12,000 sq. ft. mega-mansion and jets off to Damascus every five days.
And he's right. The "green guilt" movement is mostly led by wealthy "limosine liberals" such as Friedman and Al Gore (another jet-setting and mega-mansion-compound-living hypocrite
), who really have no interest in taking the steps that true enrvironmentalism would entail: A massive scale-back in lifestyle and consumerism so as to reduce consumption of fossil fuels and greenhouse gas emissions.
The fact is that it's extremely difficult and slow process to do this, because the entire world econmomy is based on consuming stuff, and there are huge economic challenges, psychological challenges, and political challenges to building a more green society. This is the point that Friedman ignores, as his own excessive lifestyle demonstrates.
[caption id="attachment_598" align="aligncenter" width="549" caption="Thomas Friedman's "green" compound"]
The main problem is that most people want more stuff in life.
When's the last time you woke up in the morning and said, "You know, I want a smaller house, I want to give away my car, and become a Buddhist monk." It's a generous thought, but most people just don't think that way. They want to go to the office and get a promotion so that they can upgrade their kitchen. That is an economic fact that has driven humanity since the beginning of time, when we went out to kill our dinner with large stone clubs but didn't yet have a six-burner Viking stove.
How many people have the discipline to scale back the psychological need for "more"? A very small percentage of people have the ability to do so -- mostly poets and monks. But it is not merely a measure of conscience, but also an economic choice. Most people -- especially the folks in the lower-income levels -- simply don't have the time or the money to "be green." They need to drive to work and earn a living for their family. And if you think about it, the people who consume the most energy and spew the most carbon are generally upper-middle class and and-upper-class Americans, like Friedman and Gore, who live in gigantic houses, employ a flotilla of Suburban-driving assistants, and fly around the world stoking their egos by pontificating in front of flag-waving groupies (air travel has the largest carbon footprint of any one action a human can take).
Let's be serious. Do we really think we'll get more green by lecturing the Chinese people that they can't live in a 4-bedroom suburban house and drive cars to work like us? That won't hack it. The Chinese will march forward regardless. They know we are hypocrites to lecture them about how they should be different.
Spend some time with the carbon calculators. Much of our environmental excesses are consumed by recreation and travel -- not daily working life. That is, getting on an airplane to Hawaii or taking the family truckster to Yellowstone Park. Take a look at the chart below and you will see what I mean. Holiday flights, recreation, and leisure account for 20% of the average person's carbon footprint. If you travel for business, forget about it, it means you are a veritable carbon machine.
I live in a large house. I know it's bad. But I know that other things are worse. I once calcuated my carbon footprint based on 10 flights per year (which I used to do), and concluded that it more than tripled my carbon consumption and that air travel accounted for more than 50% of my footprint. I could ride my bicycle to work and live in a teepee, and that wouldn't offset the eight trips to the West Coast. Now imagine Al Gore in mobilizing his globe-trotting propaganda team.
It's really hard, e
ven for many of us who are not living in poverty in India or have decent jobs, to reduce our fuel and carbon consumption.
Yet, Friedman and Gore don't get it. Beyond the issue that their data, science, and economic theories aren't based on fact, they don't understand that they themselves are the true carbon hogs and that the average working stiff (the person they allegedly represent) can't pay an extra $8,000 for a hybrid. Or that Ethanol subsidies eventually result in higher food prices and a generally dysfunctional economic system. Throwing government subsidies on the Ethanol market was one of the most stupid things we've done in the last 10 years.
Maybe people like Friedman should spend more time on real bread-and-butter problems of true economic change for climate, which would include the careful analysis of business cases for alternative energy, the elimination of our Congressmen using taxpayer money to go on airplane junkets to Cophenhagen
, and examining how to promote more private investment in the alternative fuel markets.
The earth does
need our help, and we as humans should reconsider how we live in order to stop the obvious destruction of major quandrants of the planet. But inevitably we're going to have to solve the problems through econmomic and technological innovation. It's the only way. Think about it: 150 years ago we were using whale blubber to fuel our homes. Now, that's progress.
The innovations and economics changes will come when oil and gas will become more scarce, and more expensive, and more investment is driven into new technologies. Meanwhile, solar and other alternative technologies will become cheaper through growth of private
investment; scientists will discover new technolgies to drive down the cost of alternative energy technology; more investment will create even more economies of scale in this market.
You can't force it to happen. It's going to be driven by economics. If you're feeling guilty about that, stop lecturing us and cancel that trip to Hawaii for your next family vacation -- take the volunteer gig on the local organic hemp farm, instead.
Hopefully, we'll be living greener lives in 20 years because the economics of energy and technology guide us there, not because some arrogant jerk in a limosine with a 12,000 square foot house in suburban Maryland tells us to.