President Schumpp Passes Major Environmental Bill

Today we continue our series of the winning essays submitted to Dean of Freshmen, Fred Siegel.  These freshman were selected from over 300 of their peers to attend a dinner with Dean Siegel and author, Thomas Friedman.

Our featured essay of the day is by freshman, Michael Schumpp.

Upon reading Hot, Flat, and Crowded by Thomas L. Friedman, I pondered a quote that my economics teacher told the class by Business Week’s William Ruckelshaus, “Nature provides a free lunch, but only if we control our appetites” (Business Week, June 18, 1990).  Prior to opening this book that has now changed my outlook in one short week; I always assumed that everything in nature was accessible, exploitable, and infinite.   I never truly comprehended that the edificial trees that sway so peacefully against the summer sky, actually serve a dual cooling purpose, protecting the front of my home from the sun’s direct heat. The rivers that I enjoyed gazing upon along the 8 mile bike path that stretches the entirety of my community, were actually the residences of suffering fish and increasing levels of hazardous pollutants.  The seemingly pristine air that I so desperately gasped for after a strenuous run, was actually engulfed by layers upon layers of dangerous CO2, whose chemical components were neither beneficial to the Earth’s sustainment nor to my otherwise healthy lungs.

I’ve always possessed an innate desire to one day aspire to become the President of the United States.  One may classify this goal as naïve or armature, yet, I believe that it is one of great conviction and courage.  Embarking on the laborious journey to become the nation’s leader and world’s commander-in-chief is not a facile undertaking.  While reading this book the headlines became vivid in my mind “President Schumpp passes major environmental bill…20 years in the making.” It is a sad fact that the United States, the supposed leader of the free world, is unable or unwilling to pass much needed and well-thought out legislation within a timely manner. The thought of beginning a project centered on alternative energy such as wind, which SoCalEd tried to bring to the greater Los Angeles area, is a process that will take 11 years! That is 9 years wasted scrambling to obtain permits for a job that takes two to three years to initiate and complete.  It is no wonder why companies, such as First Solar Inc., looked to Germany and the European Union when trying to launch their company, after several failed attempts to acquire the necessary funding, here, in their home nation of the United States. It is unfathomable as to why the U.S. Congress, in recent years, has not made measurable leaps at combating the climate change crisis. Furthermore, it is baffling that with nation facing great hardship, especially with the economy in shambles, that the elected officials would not be trying feverously to pass legislation that would open up the opportunities that this Energy Climate Era has bestowed upon us.  As in the 1990s with Clinton, IT was launched and the entire economy boomed, so why not now when we are in the worst recession since the Great Depression, do we not open a new sector of the economy; renewable energy creation.  This would create demand for workers, which would in turn lead to a decrease in unemployment, causing higher disposable income levels, increasing consumption, and therefore leading to an overall betterment in real Gross Domestic Product. Why not start it now, with all the resources necessary in our backyard?  Don’t we as a nation want to restore our image of prosperity and opportunity worldwide?

Prince Salman, of Saudi Arabia, states that there is still time for the U.S. to regain a favorable rating once again, and it lies in leading a global climate change combative. We as a nation and as a people need to be “better” than our elected leaders.  We need to outsmart them, surprise them, and show them that when it comes to defeating something that we know is right, the American citizens will do almost anything.  I agree with Friedman; there has to be motivation, passion, and excitement, as there was during the Civil Rights Movement; a sense of purpose. I additionally believe that creating a market for renewable energy is well overdue, and if it is not created soon, our hopes of maintaining a world-renowned economy will fall short to developing nations, such as China and India.  Despite the aforementioned point, the population is expected to increase by 2.5 billion people by 2050, with developing nations experiencing the largest increases, therefore causing nations such as India, or China, to be unable to sustain such growth.  The striking part of this statistic is that the increase in the world’s population is approximately equal to the number of people who inhabited the earth when my mother was born just 50 years ago!  This widespread growth will lead to the emergence of 300 more cities, which in my mind adds up to 300 more tourist destinations, 300 more areas for carbon emissions to harm the earth, 300 more places that biodiversity is now destroyed, and 300 more air bubbles that are no longer “healthy” to consume.

However, mass urbanization is not the only issue facing the planet, technological production and circulation has also strained the environment.  Every morning when I wake up I check my phone, turn on the television, and go to the computer.  This has become such a necessary part of my daily routine, yet I never took my ability to use such technological resources for granted. As I sit at this computer screen, writing this very reaction paper, it is awe-striking to realize that, due to the flattening of the world, a new Chinese citizen is opening up a laptop, while in India a little girl is jubilantly skipping after receiving her very first cell phone.  This is the harsh reality that Friedman discusses because owning more technology will further exacerbate the energy and power available and expected in order to live a comfortable life.  Yet, we as Americans cannot blame the developing world to want what we have enjoyed. It is not the right way to go about the situation.  However, as Americans we must rise to the challenge and make technology more energy efficient, so that even though more devices are added nearly every minute, there will be that much more power waiting after all purchases are complete. In addition, I am definitely a fan of the heat.  Spring and summer are my favorite seasons, and truly taking advantage of all that nature has to offer helps to provide a long anticipated sense of relaxation. Unfortunately, the Earth’s temperature has risen by 1.44 degrees Fahrenheit, and prior to reading this novel that rise would not have fazed me.  Yet, when placed into perspective, that increase is actually quite substantial.  Now I like the heat, but if the Earth continues to sweat, then I fear that my daily runs, walks, or bike rides, will have to be done on a stationary machine in the comfort of my home, watching a green screen that gives me the illusion that I am outdoors.  The biodiversity loss that traumatizes the earth daily is disheartening, due to the constant crowding, which in turn leads to a greater demand for infrastructure.  Species, such as the Yangtze River dolphin that once enjoyed a safe lifestyle in China, are now extinct.  The most shocking statistic is that every 20 minutes a new species goes extinct, yet what is even worse, is that we, the human race, are driving the world’s longest surviving inhabitants into an abyss, unable of return. Moreover, the climate change that scientists, teachers, and individuals speak of is human based, causing higher temperatures, floods, and more extreme weather patterns, thus causing certain schools of thought, such as that natural disasters are acts of God and transforming them into realizations of human destruction.

How could we be so selfish?  One American consumes enough energy for 100 people and we build Green Wal-Marts in inconvenient locales, forcing people to shop at less energy efficient stores closer to their areas of residence.  Additionally, it is disappointing that the American government has told the Saudi Arabians and other Middle Eastern oil producing nations to merely “keep the pumps open, the prices low, and do not harm Israel,” but allows those very governments to exploit their own people. This allowance leads to the degradation of women in Islamic nations, a disgraceful practice that becomes seemingly irrelevant in an effort to control our own interests. In an era when selflessness is integral and action is vital, the United States must set a new precedent to be followed.  Developing nations such as China must strengthen their villages by bringing new technology and energy to rural families, therefore connecting these citizens to life in cities, thus causing attenuation in the crowding effect. Imagine a world of ‘McMansions and infrastructure encompassing the entire earth’s surface.  Soon astronauts anxious to explore the hidden wonders of the earth, the serenity, the land formations, the pristine beauty of home from afar, will unfortunately be blinded by the billions of new lights that will have resulted from an amelioration of unsafe energy planning. To offset this possibility, governments ought to join together in an effort of global innovation as well as friendly competition, creating the potential for swifter research and development. However, if the governments of the world choose to act independently, believing that their actions will lead to inconsequential ends, then their leaders and citizens must be taught a lesson in Climate Change 101.  As more people choose to live lifestyles that mimic those of Americans, and grow into the “Americums,” or carbon copies, of the planet, it is scary to realize that the world’s consumption would reach a level that would exist if 72 billion individuals inhabited the earth’s surface.

Does living in a world with increased floods, wildfires, hurricanes, natural disasters, and other bizarre weather patterns that are irreversible and potentially unmanageable sound appealing? Does partaking in deforestation, thus emitting ten years worth of CO2 per tree, the telling your children to go out and experience the “fresh air” seem fair to a generation who may actually be better off playing inside all day? How can we allow the destruction of the Indonesian tropical forests, which hold many of the worlds’s endangered species, to be destroyed with modest opposition? And finally, how can we as Americans, allow energy poverty to permeate the poorest nation’s people, who are forced to champion obstacles such as power outages, violent uprisings, and isolation, with little or no technology reaching to their dilapidating villages? My answer to these questions is simple.  In the United States, we tend to be preoccupied by personal success, individual prosperity, and consumed by modern technology.  Hardly ever do we reach for a remote to turn on the latest news channel or pick up the closest book.  Instead, our nation is the sole place on earth where our adoration with personal gain spreads faster than the devastating climatic issues. Despite the atrocities that exist, there is some promising news.  For instance, Denmark currently enjoys a flourishing economy, having ceased their dependence on foreign oil, allowing the sector for renewable energy to grow by 70%. In addition, the other day I found myself roaming around New York City, enjoying the beautiful weather, when I began to notice the taxi system that had been emphasized within the chapters of this book.  I counted 22 hybrid vehicles in 3 blocks; a sign that cleaner air was now a priority that would one day sweep across all the world’s cities, tourist destinations, and remote villages. It is people like Professor Supritna in Indonesia who has won the protection of the orangutans in the tropical forests and the young girl Suzuki who traveled all the way to Brazil to deliver a speech warning the adults of the damage they are doing by acting passive, who are truly making a difference. The military must also be commended for their efforts to “out-green” al-Qaeda, because by manufacturing more energy efficient weaponry, and altering the living quarters, less power is being exploited, as well as more lives are being salvaged that may have otherwise perished in IED explosions, had the military needed to travel further distances to obtain dirty fuels.

Upon culminating the 17 chapters that filled the emptiness between the two hard covers, I began pondering the issue that if solved would be the most monumental.  Finally, I concluded that fostering our knowledge and resources in a direction that would conflict with the success of petrodictatorships and the spread of Middle Eastern oil would be our best bet. This realization is dependent on a conglomeration of issues.  To begin with, our sense of national security would be strengthened since our leaders would not have to negotiate with “dictators” who are unwilling to sacrifice precious oil for cheaper prices.  Additionally, ending our dependence would lead to less military causalities as well as a dwindling of enemy extremist groups.  This is because groups such as al-Qaeda earn a profit from the money we spend on gaining access to Middle Eastern oil.  If any candidate for public office released an ad insinuating that our enemies will continue to be funded by ordinary U.S. citizens if we do not pass renewable energy legislation, I bet that that candidate would win by a landslide. Thus, the plausible legislation would result in a diminishing demand for oil, and an augmentation in demand of alternative sources like wind or solar. The government, as Friedman suggested, could levy a tax or implement a cap and trade system on carbon emissions, therefore creating even more of a reason to steer in the opposite direction of oil usage. What person does not want a healthier nation for their children and healthier planet that would allow prosperity to continue? What U.S. citizen is willing to abandon their principle of freedom for all, just to remain quiet? I certainly am not willing to hold my tongue when it involves the suffering of Arabian women or the vanishing of freedom.  Unfortunately, the First Law of Petropolitics is always in place, since when the price of oil rises, another individual is forced to sacrifice more and more of their freedom. Additionally, if the U.S. government took the time to delineate the benefits of ending foreign oil dependence, members of Congress would realize that the economies of the region would suffer immensely.  Of course one should never wish for the suffering of another people, yet, this would force the Middle East to follow Lebanon, the only democratic nation in the oil-guzzling region, and embark on an effort to discover an alternative power. If Desert Islam (more extremist) began to once again transform into the older Mediterranean Islam (more modern), then secular ideas and peace talks may once again illuminate the world stage. Due to the aforementioned points, the necessity of sparking an Energy Technology Revolution is imminent because the research and development of cleaner renewable resources will ultimately lead to a new system of power in the United States and around the world.

For too long, the Dirty Fuels System that consists of coal, oil, and natural gas, has polluted the air and biodiversity that surrounds us.  This has lead to negative externalities such as pollution, in which society becomes unnecessarily burdened with, and therefore must tackle, the consequences. As Friedman states, this is no longer a “green party” but rather must become a green revolution.  Code Green can no longer be a phrase that sounds trendy to say nor should wearing green-inspired apparel simply be the latest fashion fad. Green must not only be defined in terms of a way of life, simply as a trend, but rather, it must be the only way of life.  Green cannot fall through the cracks and be written in history books as an activist movement that failed.  If we do not address these problems, there will no longer be the paper to fill the books, and the color green as we know it will cease to exist.   In its place Crayola will be creating new colors such as infrastructure slate, blacktop gray, black coal smog, and petro ebony. Forget the runoff that mountains will produce, due to the melting of snow, and for that matter forget the snow. I wonder if in twenty years children will know what snowflakes are.  Where will Santa be coming from, when the North Pole blends with the Arctic Ocean? The truth is “green-collar” jobs won’t just help destitute communities, but society as whole.  For far too long the citizens of the United States have sat on the sidelines watching Congress debate climate change and each time pushing it off, in the “we will let our children deal with this one” attitude. Well the sorry fact is that by the time the children are old enough to deal with this, the Earth will be too hot, too flat, and too crowded, which is a risk that is too dangerous to take.

“Can Bolivia be the new Saudi Arabia?” After hearing this phrase radiating from the living room, I quickly proceeded to the television to find World News with Charlie Gibson on.  He was discussing the discovery of lithium in Bolivia’s salt fields that could potentially harness the new energy required to develop the technologies needed in the Energy Climate Era. In hearing this story, I realized that Friedman’s warning was substantial and real.  If the U. S. does not act quickly, then it is a conceivable belief that our economy may fall short to those of other nations, as the progression of this era is accelerated. Should this happen, our once invincible attitudes will no longer thrive, since our economy and stature will continue to plummet.  The shores that immigrants once saw as golden will now be thought of as dirt-filled, our gates as closed, our innovation as primitive, our nation as developing, and our people as unwilling. However, if we work with nations such as Bolivia to provide the talent required to harness this energy, then we will be graced by our fellow world citizens, and our economy will once again flourish to unreachable heights.

Then a few days later, on a trip to the Bronx Zoo, in New York City, I proceeded to take a ride on the monorail.  In past years I have been rather uninterested, riding the monorail in an effort to avoid blisters on my feet or fainting from heat exhaustion.  This year, however, the feelings of self-preservation vanished, and in their place was this anxious desire that craved more knowledge. As we were escorted around the perimeters of the zoo, each animal that was pointed out was either endangered, existed only in zoos, or was not expected to thrive in the wild for too much longer.  Looking around though, I realized the greatest endangered species were the Homo sapiens.  The quote from the novel rang in my mind; “every day we look in the mirror and see an endangered species.”  This was the truth.  Many of these animals were our source of nourishment, or killed termites and other insects that were ruining natural forests which included the majority of the earth’s species. As a people, humans often are unaffected by inconsequential circumstances that seem irrelevant.  However, greenhouse emissions and our plummeting environment are not irrelevant or inconsequential.  In fact, the people of developing nations are feeling the full brunt of this climate storm.  These individuals unfortunately lack the resources and equipment necessary to overcome this issue, yet they do possess the willpower and passion to tackle it.  This is when world economic superpowers such as the United States and the European Union, who possess the research facilities as well  as resources necessary, ought to step in, in a global effort to combat and defeat climate change. Just as in the 1700s when revolutionaries, fed up with the British tax system dumped tea into Boston’s harbor, developing nations will be dumping American and European imports in an effort to prove their distaste with our inaction.

It may sound a bit naïve or false to say that reading this book has changed my outlook on the environment.  To an extent that is true and the reason is that after culminating the 412 pages of information that every human being ought to know, the novel did more than just change my outlook. I realized that the book dug to my core interests. I did become a more learned person regarding the environment, but it evoked a passion within that was always there but lied dormant for 18 years. My friends grew tired of my constant blurbs about the novel and how we, the human race are hurting our home, and so they decided to read it with me. The discussions became intense with consensuses and disputes, yet a common agreement regarding the desperate need for action. We can change this world and begin anew; just as the primitive inhabitants millions of years ago were forced to learn the processes of eating, bathing, and shelter. Combating climate change is a science that parallels the habits of the cavemen. Unpredictable weather patterns, the extinction of species, and increased CO2 are relatively new obstacles, but they should be no harder to solve with than it was for the caveman to learn how to first eat.  Overtime innovation was applied, and now the citizens of the world consume their food using utensils. Now, we must call upon our own scientists and ask them to use innovation in creating solar panels, wind turbines, and other renewable resources.  At first there is no doubt that these alternatives will be imperfect, but at least working to better our environment will be a start.

Even if I am never President or in Congress, I hope to have an important role in overcoming this energy crisis, because what the world is experiencing now is truly a crisis.  Every university and high school should invest in Thomas Friedman’s Hot, Flat, and Crowded, since as more individuals are informed, the more potential there is for a solution. A crisis implies that there is a lack of education and interest in solving a much sought after issue.  Wearing green and placing plants in the home will no longer cut it. The only time that the world will succeed is when it realizes that we are all interdependent with one another as well as the earth around us. In this Energy Climate Era, our worst enemy is ourselves, and our greatest downfall will be our inaction. Let us not take for granted the stars that our children wish upon or the nature that our parents were able to enjoy. Let us not allow our air to be lethal and our water to be hazardous. Let us not allow our race to perish and let us not harm the species that are striving daily to coexist with us. Do we want our rivers to dry and our canyons to flood?  Do we want Africa to be snow covered and the Arctic to be boiling? Do we want the sparkle in our pristine mountain tops to vanish or the white-sand coastlines to be obliterated?  More importantly, do we want generations after us to long for walks in the park and a vision of the sea? Do we want in 50 years schoolchildren having to look up pictures of tigers or zebras because they cannot recall from memory the appearance of the world’s animals?  The answer to all of these questions is hopefully a resounding NO! And so we must act as if our lives depend on it, because they do, along with the survival of the world’s biodiversity. If we must be the Re-generation, let the future civilians be the Eco-generation. No one wishes for a world that is inhospitable.  The solutions to this lie not in the politics but rather in the hearts of a people hoping that their leaders will not disappoint them, and will not cause the demise of the most massive civilization ever to exist on the earth’s surface.  Species: Homo, Genus: sapien, Family: those willing to see the earth outlive their own existence, Order: to act now, Class: one that does not permit the existence of a divided population, Phylum: energy efficiency, Kingdom: Planet Earth, Domain: our land and seas, and Life: survival.

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Hot, Flat and Crowded: The Cinderella Complex

Today we continue our series of the winning essays submitted to Dean of Freshmen, Fred Siegel.  These freshman were selected from over 300 of their peers to attend a dinner with Dean Siegel and author, Thomas Friedman.

Our featured essay of the day is by freshman, Preston Reynolds.

Hot, Flat, and Crowded can be separated into three parts, each with its own set of reflections. ‘Hot’, to me, is about the different challenges posed to a green revolution not only in the United States, but around the world. ‘Flat’ is what I would call a cultural globalization, which is important because this is both an obstacle and a useful tool in which we can shape the world to come. Or destroy it. ‘Crowded’ is more than just over-population, yes we’re projected to have close to 10 billion people living on Earth by 2050, but more importantly, where are these people going to live? Urbanization amplifies the problems of over-crowding and population growth.

As Thomas Friedman puts it, we’re all here because we put ourselves here. This is undoubtedly true, but I much prefer Al Gore’s analogy: When you stick a frog into hot water, it jumps right out, but if you stick a frog in lukewarm water and slowly bring it to a boil, the frog will stay in until someone pulls it out. We are the second frog, still waiting for someone to pull us out of the mess we made. We are the second scenario. Because of the global culture that we built in the last century, including our infrastructure, our way of life, our cars, and even our values, we’re too reluctant to renew and rebuild in this new millennium. But just like the housing crisis and our global recession, it only takes one step to lead on to a broader change. Here is what I have to say:

Hot:

The world is a steam room with the doors left open; we’re in the process of shutting, locking, and welding the door closed. Global warming is a sure fact, though we’d all love to debate the cause, the reality that it is happening is evident. Friedman suggests that America is not ready for a green revolution, that it is gradual process that takes decades of preparation and legislative concentration. I wholeheartedly disagree. I think the US is ready now more than ever to renew its values and jump into a green revolution. In fact, I firmly believe the opportunity is staring us in the face.

We’re in a position of financial recovery where taxpayers hold a significant stake in many key players necessary for a green revolution. General Motors, Ford, General Electric, Chrysler, Citibank, Sallie Mae, Freddie Mac, etc. are all pieces in a chess game we’re playing against adversaries of green. Many of these companies, mostly those Detroiters, are reasons behind America’s oil addiction. This puts taxpayers in a very promising place, one that the current presidency has already acted upon. Obama has demanded average miles per gallon of vehicles in the United States reach a standard of 35.5 by 2016, and that these new vehicles be at least 40% cleaner (New York Times). I realize that Friedman wrote his book before these new standards were released, however, I felt it was mentionable due to his emphasis on the slashes of mpg standards in the 90’s and during the Bush administration.

Obama’s standards are goals that are well within reach without sacrificing the American way of life. I am no expert on the mechanics of a car nor the technicalities of an engine, but I do know that there are much higher projected standards among companies like Toyota and Honda. With the backing of taxpayer dollars and government-sponsored incentives, there is no reason why GM, Ford, and other American car-makers cannot exceed expectations.

The goal of American environmentalists is to completely eliminate US dependency on oil. Although the above policies would significantly decrease America’s dependency, it would far from eliminate it. In order to gain petro-independence, we need to build a country that is primarily clean. This is a huge undertaking in infrastructure renewal and restoration. But it is doable, and profitable.

In Israel, a country whose oil dependency is not only an economic brick wall, but also a national security threat, there is a government sponsored program to create a cheap electric car that could travel the length of the country on a single charge. This is highly unrealistic, and lawmakers and scientists realized this. So instead, the government is sponsoring the construction of ‘gas stations’ around the country that house batteries for these cars. The idea is that the consumer does not own the battery, rather it is property of the government and the consumer pays solely for the car itself, then if a car is low on power, the battery is simply swapped out for a fully charged one at one of these stations while the used battery is charged for the next user. In this way, the cost for the car is subsidized by the government (the high cost of electric cars is usually associated with the high cost of Li-ion based batteries, which in this case account for approx. $10,000 of the price of the car), making it cheap for the consumer. Many argue the program stating the cost for the stations and the batteries, however, the construction of the stations and infrastructure systems would put hundreds of thousands of unemployed Israeli’s to work and the quality of Li-ion systems is constantly being improved and the cost cheapened.

Obviously Israel is a much smaller country than the United States, therefore a similar program would be extremely costly. However, only a few decades after the invention of the automobile, America found itself in a depression that the America of today has come so close to reliving. One of the most praised remedies to that depression was the construction of the national highway system and government sponsored infrastructure expansion. This employed millions of Americans, giving them a consistent paycheck in a time of extreme need and unemployment. Today’s America is in need. 9% of today’s America is unemployed. That’s 27.3 million people. Many of our highways are in need of restoration, but it’s not just roads that we’re looking at.

Much of the US’s oil dependency and greenhouse gas emissions come from our power plants. San Diego Gas & Electric Company states that 6 percent of their energy output comes from renewable energy sources. They are 4th in the nation. Meanwhile, in countries like Norway, the environmental and energy agencies expect to be completely energy independent, with over 50% coming from renewable sources. Friedman talks about this, and makes some suggestions as to how America can get to that standard. I have my own.

Many republicans may find this absurd given our nation’s current deficit, but I say sponsor and even grant funds to companies like GE specifically for research and development of renewable energy and expansion of our ‘renewable infrastructure’, that is power plants and facilities to process and produce renewable energy. This is nationwide, and extremely broad. States like California would take advantage of year-round sunshine, or oceanic currents to supply their power. The mid-west would utilize wind currents to generate its power. Meanwhile, like those in Israel, the 27.3 million jobless workers in the United States would receive a paycheck that could most likely push some liquidity into our solid, clogged markets. This cash flow in turn fuels our markets and our programs. And, if need be, our energy programs would be supplemented by Texas oil and cheap petroleum brought in from Canada under NAFTA.

Friedman says we are not ready for this, but we are rebuilding our country from one of the largest financial meltdowns in history, I say we take advantage of this opportunity to make a more profitable, efficient, and cleaner America. I don’t doubt that the process won’t end for at least a decade, but there is no reason why America cannot start now.

Flat:

In The World is Flat Thomas Friedman talks about globalization, the interdependence of nations and the intermingling of world cultures. In Hot, Flat, and Crowded Friedman discusses this in relation to a green revolution.

I spent the second semester of my senior year in high school studying the relationship between independent bloggers and the media. I feel this has huge relevance in examining the importance of cultural globalization. The world is not only flat, but if I scream loud enough, you can hear me on the other side. I found that blogging has an endless audience. I can live in south Texas, have a target audience in Toronto and still have a remarkable effect on my readers. Barack Obama used this to his advantage in the recent election, having attracted voters and readers from around the world to his cause through his election blog. There is a very moving photograph that I saw on the Herald Tribune the day after the election that had a poor Kenyan girl with a Barack Obama pin on her raggedy shirt. She was smiling. Nothing embodies the power of our global culture to connect and motivate than citizen journalism and blogging.

One of the primary barriers to a green revolution is apathy. America is used to where we are now, so what would bring our people to change? People. There are those of us who care enough to speak out, and we have the tools to scream loud enough for the flat world’s horizons to hear us.  We have the power to motivate the unmotivated and check the unchecked. Word is power. Obama brought a record number of Americans to the polls in November with the power of his word. With the right voice and incentives, we can motivate the American people by expressing both the dangers of the road we’re on, and the benefits of taking the right turn.

Globalization is a useful tool in other ways as well. Cuba is the closest producer of sugar cane to the United States, and it also happens to be one of the largest producers of the crop in the world. Most products in the United States that use sugar as a sweetener substitute sugar for corn syrup that is grown domestically (because of the trade embargo with Cuba). The ethanol industry that has tried to make significant growth in the United States as an alternative fuel source has been damaged because of the high price of sugar and the inefficiency of corn (When it comes to producing ethanol, sugar is both cheaper to process than corn and also produces 30% more ethanol). If the globalization principle of free trade was applied between the US and Cuba, the US would gain a number of benefits: 1. Cheaper source of sugar. 2. A surplus of food because of the extra corn growth, which would fall into the global markets, lowering the costs of corn abroad and making it easier for countries like Congo and Rwanda to feed their people. 3. A bigger ethanol industry to supplement fuel costs cheaply and effectively. Cheap fuel means more money in American pockets, which translates to a higher quality of life.

I live in California; it costs me roughly $72 to fill my tank. I drive a Dodge Durango that claims to have an average of 15.3 mpg. Flex-fuel engines in the US usually function off 15% ethanol and 85% fuel, but have the ability to function off 85% ethanol and 15% fuel. Gas costs about $3 a gallon in California and my tank holds roughly 24 gallons of fuel. Ethanol costs $1.74 per gallon to produce (without Cuba’s sugar cane). If I were to fill my tank with 85% ethanol and 15% gas it would cost me roughly $45 to fill. That’s a 37% decrease in fuel costs and the process is cleaner. There is no way I consider my car efficient, in fact, it’s quite the clunker.

As much as globalization has the power to motivate people and drive costs of efficiency down, all the interdependency more often swings the other way. It is increasingly difficult for nations to come to agreement on economic and production standards, this creates much too much tension for scenarios like the one described above. Friedman covers this when he talks about the OPEC crisis of the 70’s and America’s dependency on petro-dictators. This is where I scratch my head really hard. There will be years in America’s future that will be difficult as we sway away from our dependency, but the more I look at it, the more I find it necessary. We are too connected to people who are unwilling to change or give up the prowess of their commodity, but instead of leaning into them, America can see a better future. Oil is not a commodity, energy is a commodity. Oil produces energy, which is the sole reason as to why we buy it and why it has a use. Petro-dictators are a Rockefeller; the United States needs to be an Andrew Carnegie. Rockefeller believed in a horizontal monopoly, meaning to own all of a single resource. OPEC has this kind of monopoly on oil. Andrew Carnegie believed in a vertical monopoly, meaning to own the means of production for a product, and a sustainable amount of all the materials needed to create that product. For instance, if the United States owned a steel mill and they were a vertical monopoly, they would also own a coal mine to provide the coal to mold the steel and perhaps a shipping company to ship it, while the Rockefeller would simply own ALL coal mines. However, the petro-dictatorship’s horizontal monopoly is completely flawed because the product they deliver has one sole function that can be imitated by cheaper, cleaner sources. The US simply needs to abandon Rockefeller and find a new product with the same function. Carnegie’s business model is the model that the United States needs to follow not only to create a stable green revolution, but to re-solidify its position as a superpower in the international arena.

Crowded:

The world is crowded. Crowded, graying, and, for the most part, poor. There are many projections as to how the world population will grow. But the consensus is that by 2050, there will be ten billion people living on earth. Most of these people will live in metropolises around the globe, and most of them will be poor. In the United States in particular, the general concern at the moment regarding population is how we, as a nation, are going to feed and support our people. Even more of a debate is if it is our responsibility. The social security program is criticized for its escalating costs and general abuse. I think some of these are legitimate accusations, but I fall on the other side of the argument; a government exists for its people. It has the responsibility to support its citizens that are in need, and frankly, those strongly outnumber the ones who abuse the power. Granted, it is not flawless but it is more necessary than it is flawed.

What can the United States do to save itself from its own growth and graying? On the note of social security, I think the program is a safety net, and should be viewed as such, if people do not need to sustain the life they had before they retired or became disabled then I believe the government should subsidize. But if they do not have the need for the benefits, why supply them? A government should be able to evaluate the needs of its citizens. Key word is needs.

In regards to over-population, I would bank on education. Much of the world’s growth comes from impoverished areas, including in the United States. Lower class families are typically larger than the upper and middle classes. Given that fact, I assume much of the fault lies in the failure of our education system to bring awareness to the lower classes. Knowledge on the dangers and responsibility of parenting and pregnancy is not common knowledge, this should be corrected. Public schools in areas of America that are known for their low income rates should receive the more federal funding than those of higher income neighborhoods. The amount of funds granted to a school by federal programs should be inversely related to the quality of the institution. Disadvantaged neighborhoods should b granted more than wealthy neighborhoods. Not to say that higher income families would have to sacrifice their education for that of the lower-class, rather the government should reallocate funding from other programs to better educate our children.

In developing nations, this is a task that is both daunting and tried. However, many of the efforts in developing nations have been spear-headed by members of civil society rather than by actually nation-states who have the economic and political backing to ground a much more significant success. With that said, the interdependence of the world should be reciprocated by the international community’s involvement in eliminating illiteracy and poverty.

Statistically, wealthier, educated nations have a much slower growth rate than developing nations. Eliminate poverty, the growth rate slows down significantly.

Go ahead America, it’s your move:

Most of this reflection has been a series of ideas inspired by Thomas Friedman’s word; most of those ideas are about what to do. America is at a crossroad that leads to many different places, many of which we can’t anticipate until we are there. But in my opinion, one road we should not follow is the road we’ve been on. There is plenty of room to change the world, and plenty of time to do it too, but that all starts here and now, in the United States. Before we can even believe we have an obligation or a privilege to shape our world, we need to reshape our country and correct the wrongs we’ve made at home, to ourselves and to our world.

I didn’t like Friedman’s book. I think what he said is important, and I think it is important to heed his message. But I also believe that we are a better people, and that we as Americans are ready to face challenges, even if we are veiled by an illusion of failure and ill-preparedness. We are a nation that has constantly faced adversity and impossibility, and in most cases we emerged prouder as a people, and more successful as a nation. Even in our greatest failures we have stood strong to try again and better our outcomes. We were not the first in space, but we were the first on the moon. We couldn’t win the battle against communism in Southeast Asia, but we brought down a wall in a curtain made of iron. We stood in silence on a day lived in infamy, but we watched our flag wave against all odds at Normandy. We may have made mistakes in the last century that have brought us to these perils, but this is still our world, and we will not watch it burn.

Hot, Flat, Crowded and Now Depressed

Happy New Year!  Today we continue our series of the winning essays submitted to Dean of Freshmen, Fred Siegel.  These freshman were selected from over 300 of their peers to attend a dinner with Dean Siegel and author, Thomas Friedman.

Our featured essay of the day is by freshman, Kendra Poole.

I find only one fundamental problem with Thomas Friedman’s Hot, Flat, and Crowded: he’s right. Hot, Flat, and Crowded doesn’t make me want to solve climate change; it makes me want to go fishing with my dad or contact a long-lost friend.  It makes me want to go skydiving or scale the Great Wall.  It makes me want to evade, to avoid.  The first, most prominent, and lasting message I received from Freidman’s book was not “let’s overcome global warming” but “global warming already overcame us.”  I have never before understood (on any level) the “climate change-deniers.”  It wasn’t that I couldn’t understand their illogical (not to mention discredited) “scientific” reasoning.  I couldn’t understand why they would want to live in such delusion.  Now, I do. I am thoroughly impressed by the stunning, yet depressing, accuracy of Friedman’s lifelong research and the structure with which he imparts his findings to readers.  He initiates a tone of reliability when he begins his paragraphs with (for example) “While I was visiting Beijing in 2007…” or “One afternoon over lunch (insert prestigious political, international, or scientific figure) told me…” or quotes respected periodicals from across the globe in support of his points.  Who could dream to doubt someone who travels right to the heart, artery, and lung of the problem, speaks to the world’s most qualified experts regarding climate change, global politics, and global society, and reads what I’m starting to think must be every energy-related publication in existence?  I don’t doubt him.

I am very much intrigued by the path my own thoughts take as I read, because, if they even remotely represent an average reaction to the book, I worry much of Friedman’s good intentions will be misplaced.  Generally speaking, Friedman presents each component of the “hot, flat, and crowded” problem within the “How We Got Here” portion, promising to later address “How We Move Forward.”  As I read “How We Got Here,” I find myself following a very systematic train of thought.  First, Friedman presents the problem (be it small, large, or insurmountable), and one’s brain automatically assesses a possible solution.  In the very next sentence (for Friedman anticipated these subconscious solutions), he explains why the solution won’t work with statistics, interviews, accounts of his travels, and/or science.  Naturally, one devises a second most likely solution.  Friedman repeats his process of dismissing each unsatisfactory or insufficient idea.  This often pervades the chapter, without eventually reaching what really is the solution Friedman purposes.  He does eventually introduce his ideas (in a very effective manner), but, in my opinion, too late.

By the time I reached chapter nine, the beginning of “How We Move Forward,” I was desperately in need of some hope.  I wanted Friedman to say “go buy a Prius and Energy Star products and everything I just said will go away.”  Instead, Friedman dismantles the “easy” ways to fix the environment (as there are none), continuing to explain why the solutions dreamed up by the still climatically ignorant are altogether insufficient.  When Friedman quotes Chevron’s CEO David O’ Reilly explaining that even if we “shut down the whole transportation system,” we would only “reduce carbon emissions by 14 percent, globally,” I literally scribbled “I am depressed” on the book’s margin.  It was at that point that I really grasped why Friedman stressed a new system, not just some pro-conservation, fashionably green, easy modification of what some see as the “green revolution” today.  The changes we make must be so immense, so quick, and so unified in order to make even a dent on what Friedman appropriately calls the “dangerous, downward trajectory” of the world’s health.  If I were a soccer mom or a high school teacher or even a state politician, I would probably have stopped reading right around then, thinking “this is a problem for the big dogs, the big dogs in Washington.”

I am so grateful to have read Hot, Flat, and Crowded, because it certainly promotes an investment in the world’s future, in our own future, dragging me out of blissful ignorance, no matter how appealing such aversion to the truth might appear.  I can only hope, as the general public and future leaders read this realistic account of the state of the world, that its fatalistic undertones don’t endow climate change-deniers with more “followers.”  As I continued “How We Move Forward,” I made an effort to find my own hope between the unfortunate statistics and predictions, and meditate on what I can do instead of the overwhelming what-I-can’t-do’s.  The conclusion I am approaching mirrors Friedman’s own suggestions.  I have never been overly patriotic or arrogantly American, for I favor a more international perspective on most political and social issues.  I wrote earlier that the one fundamental problem with Hot, Flat, and Crowded was Friedman’s correct assessment of the state of the world.  Let me include a subsequent thesis. The one fundamental asset to Hot, Flat, and Crowded is that Friedman’s right: America has to take the lead.  Through the eyes of a new, politically interested student at George Washington University, a national commitment to climate change is no longer thousands of miles away.  It is right down the street, and I can’t wait.

Preparation Meets Opportunity

Today we continue our series of the winning essays submitted to Dean of Freshmen, Fred Siegel.  These freshman were selected from over 300 of their peers to attend a dinner with Dean Siegel and author, Thomas Friedman.

Our featured essay of the day is by freshman, Krista Mancini.

As the financial system teetered on the precipice of oblivion, there was undoubtedly more than one approach to solving – or at least ameliorating – the crisis.  While most mainstream economists agree that we have reached the lowest trough of the recession, we face a steep and capricious climb back to an economic peak.  Although the United States remains on financial life support, our leaders boldly reassure us that the nation will undoubtedly recover from this interruption in American financial success.  As they compare this economic crisis to past blemishes on our fiscal record, we are told that the country is bound to recover, as it has always done in past instances of economic instability.  Yet how can we simply compare this crisis with past examples when the current political and social cultures of both the country and the entire globe have led to a heretofore unseen amalgam of differing opinions, hostile intolerance, and pressing global concerns?  Unfortunately, regardless of the genesis of the problem, party line driven responses offer no benefit and may, in fact, work against a practical solution to the myriad of issues that we now confront.  We have leaned that the world is flat, but perhaps our own country has become rocky and uneven terrain, a battlefield in the struggle to position the nation in a new direction.

As the blemishes of subprime mortgage defaults on the balance sheets of major banks began to pile up, Thomas Friedman crafted his newest plan for American success.  As professor Nouriel Roubini shared his gruesome predictions for the U.S. economy, and Paul Krugman channeled Lord Keynes in hopes of mending our economic situation, Friedman wrote.  As we listened to the bantering of political pundits and watched fear overtake the population as the global savings glut reached a financial breaking point, Friedman put the finishing touches on his work.  And finally, just as copies of Hot, Flat, and Crowded filled the warehouses of retailers everywhere in preparation for the book’s release, Lehman Brothers shut its doors.

Although consensus is as rare as a unicorn in Washington, as the political parties can find no common ground on a variety of issues, there does appear to be general agreement that we will need to address environmental problems in the immediate future.  While progressives and liberals seem to take the issue more seriously (and accept the science more willingly) than do conservatives, leading rightists from Newt Gingrich to Pat Robertson agree that there is, in fact, a problem that requires attention.

In that spirit, there may be opportunities to morph environmental vision with what appears to date to be a jobless economic recovery.  How often we hear pundits of all political stripes assert that the United States is now strictly a service economy, that we no longer produce anything of substance.  Steel is largely an overseas industry, textiles have long since left New England for Singapore and Malaysia, and although autos are still built in this country, the owners are most likely Japanese or Korean.  We have in front of us the opportunity to once again design and manufacture actual products in America, environmentally conscious products that will ultimately be exported across the world to combat the ravages of global warming and the folly of further reliance on fossil fuels.

Mr. Friedman asserts that there is no green revolution in America, and that we essentially “play” at being green – a feel good philosophy that produces limited results in the actual environmental arena.  Coupled with this indictment, Friedman also alleges that the United States has lost its national focus, particularly since the tragic events of September 11, 2001.  Yet the financial meltdown of 2008-09 would appear to provide the impetus to rouse us from our collective lethargy, trigger an actual green revolution, and combat the aftereffects of the most serious economic catastrophe since the Great Depression.

There will be naysayers that suggest our environmental concerns are overblown, just as there are still pockets of people that believe the world is indeed flat, in the most literal of senses.  Putting aside these fringe elements, I trust that men and women of goodwill and science will see the extraordinary opportunity that now faces us.  The production of wind turbines on a massive scale will employ thousands of people, just as installation, operation and maintenance will employ thousands more – no doubt in and of itself a tremendous societal benefit.  Yet in addition to providing paychecks for thousands of families, the energy derived from the resultant wind farms will replace millions of tons of coal and barrels of oil.  Not only will we reap a financial benefit from less reliance upon fossil fuels, but as still another benefit, the wind farms are ecologically preferable to the emission by-products derived from our current fuel sources.  You say you want a revolution? This is revolutionary, not merely playing on the margins.

General Motors recently announced that a number of furloughed autoworkers are being called back, as the redesigned company finally makes a legitimate commitment to green vehicles.  There is discussion of eco-friendly cars that may be able to deliver upwards of 200 miles per gallon of gasoline, coupled with pricing points as low as $4000.  It seems incredible on its face, that an industry widely castigated just months ago as a useless dinosaur can suddenly have a vision for the future.  A green vision…a revolutionary green vision!  We need to drastically and dramatically change our paradigm, become a nation that once again “can do,” building products for both domestic consumption and export.  The green revolution stares us in the face, a pathway out of the national malaise which so infects us, a pathway that produces tangible products and real growth, enabling us to compete once again in the global marketplace of both ideas and products.

Even in this era of rampant political partisanship, it will be hard to deny the benefit of the burgeoning green revolution, particularly so once the initial skirmishes in the battle are successfully fought.  If thousands and thousands of people are employed in only the two industries referenced above, and wildly popular products once more roll off the Dearborn assembly line into a garage near you (and that garage is heated with lower cost electricity generated from those wind turbines), there will be little need to “sell” additional green oriented proposals.  Success has a thousand fathers while defeat is an orphan; politicians, business people, Democrats, Republicans and Independents will race to introduce the next green initiative, hoping to capitalize on the convergence of full employment and energy conservation.

Success is often the result of preparation meeting opportunity.  We have an opportunity to change the world, the fortuitous legacy of a calamitous economic disaster.  Unfortunately, our preparation is lacking, as we have allowed the environmental debate to dissolve into partisan politics.  Yet this nation has proven its ability to prepare within the tightest of time frames, mobilizing a peacetime economy on December 6, 1941 into the greatest war machine the world has ever known within one short year.  Following the Soviet launch of Sputnik, a moribund space program landed a man on the moon within a dozen years.  A real revolution, a green revolution, with the attendant sacrifices and national resolve, can not only offer us a better world for tomorrow, but a stronger national economy today.  While we may no longer be on the precipice of financial ruin, we are on the precipice of a new day … if we take that first step.

American Revolution or a Global Revolution?

Today we continue our series of the winning essays submitted to Dean of Freshmen, Fred Siegel.  These freshman were selected from over 300 of their peers to attend a dinner with Dean Siegel and author, Thomas Friedman.

Our featured essay of the day is by freshman, Min Kyu Kim.

A Story that Happens in a Restaurant

In a luxurious French restaurant, people from developed countries start their extravagant full course meal with Amuse-bouche. Then, they move to the next step, caviar. Then, they move to the next step, soup. They keep on moving; shellfish, antipasto, pasta, quail, and etc. They chew. They swallow. They drink. Again and again. They leisurely enjoy the last step, coffee, with a full stomach feeling complete satisfaction. At that time, people from developing countries come into the restaurant. Generous people from developed countries invite the novices to their table and kindly order several additional cups of coffee for them. When the novices swallow their first sip of coffee, people from developed countries gently call an employee, “Check, please.”

Globalization means Americanization

America has been the hyperpower[1] since the Soviet Union collapsed. America has possessed absolute justice protected by its economic and military superiority. The justice of America even exists over the United Nation; the Iraq war – that ignored the decision of the United Nations Security Council – proved it to us. Thus, all nations in the world glare at America with respect, envy, and awe, and many of them have desired to be like America. Especially, all developing countries – that own relatively weak economic, diplomatic, and military power – have stronger desires than the others called as developed countries. Literarily, it is their American Dream.

At least from 1991[2](I think before than that) until today, Globalization has directly meant Americanization. Being global is not understanding and respecting the differences of other cultural characters, religious faiths, and philosophical ideas, but only accepting and following the things of American way. The hyperpower has gently welcomed other countries benchmarking and encourage them to pursue and adapt the values of America.

The Nation of Consumption

America is the nation of consumption. Although consumption causes the exhaustion of natural resources and environmental pollution, which has not been America’s concern. The more America indiscriminately expends, the stronger it has become. It seems that liberal consumption, only regulated by the Invisible Hand[3], is a shortcut to wealth. Such behavior of consumption actually becomes the key to achieve the American Dream.

After America has fully enjoyed its reckless consumption without adherence to the Kyoto Protocol[4], America suddenly shouts to other countries that have pursued the American Dream, “let’s make a Green World!” The countries, which just understand the pleasure of spending a little, blankly gaze at America that yells ‘Green Revolution’ and ‘World Revolution.’ For me, it looks unfair that the responsibility for the ill Earth – that most developed countries represented by America have enjoyed, ruined, and provoked – is very simply shared with the middle classes all over the world.

The Hot, Flat, and Crowded World and Code Green

Thomas L. Friedman, who has thrown a fresh socio-poli-economic[5] discourse to the world every time, published “Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution–And How It Can Renew America; he came back with a new survival strategy for the future known as “Code Green.” The main strategy of Code Green is to change a present dirty-fuel system based on coal, oil, and natural gas to a clean energy system generated from natural resources such as sunlight, wind, rain, etc. Friedman believes “Code Green is the only way to survive in this hot, flat, and crowded world including five serious problems: diminishing energy supplies and increasing demand for natural resources, enormous wealth shift to oil-producing countries and oil dictators, destructive climate changes incurred by the increase of carbon dioxide, the gap between haves and have-nots about electricity, and the loss of biological diversity caused by the extinction of many species. He predicts nations and corporations that survive through energy innovations will dominate the future.

There are two distinct methods to interpret Friedman’s Code Green. If one observes it microscopically, it is the “Green Revolution.” If one takes a broad view of it, it is “Global Revolution.” Either way, the subject of the revolution must be ‘America,’ and Friedman’s faith that the world changes only if America changes first is not shaken at all. On the face of the book, he seems to be an artless, naive pro-environment protester, but, a closer look reveals that the book is sporadically filled with ‘American centrism.’ Thus, Friedman’s ‘green’ is actually not green but still ‘red, white, and blue.’

America achieves “Enlisting Father Profit to Save Mother Nature”

The energy, climate, and environment connected to a huge interconnected system interact together in a complex manner; thus a nation achieving a Green Revolution need not only high technology and immense capital but also a strong government and innovative policies. In other words, a “Green Revolution” becomes successful when three distinct components, politics, environment, and business harmoniously intersect at a single point. Friedman’s conclusion implies American centrism in the book. He trusts that America is the only country which possesses all the necessary and sufficient elements of the Green Revolution, and progressively and effectively applies the market functions. Friedman implies America should take the role of Noah and build the Ark, the system, and save the world. He dreams a renewed America and the renewed world.

America the Clever and China the Chaser

In my personal perspective, the sincere purpose of the Green Revolution for America is not to protect environments and to achieve sustainable developments. Those things may be the alternative, showing reasons to America. It looks as the “Green Revolution” is an inevitable, prerequisite choice for America to remain as the only hyperpower in the world. Friedman continuously stresses that China is different from America although China is a growing superpower.

There is an economics research that human’s marginal utility is not absolute but relative; therefore, America will finally choose the Green Revolution, because although American’s absolute power decrease, its relative power will increase compared with China, in Code Green. America is a very clever nation. In order to protect their omnipower, America is ready to deny the old method that they have utilized and apply a totally new method that they have rejected. America, moreover, may start to proudly mention ‘Green America,’ because the manufacturing industry of America is decreasing due to China, India, and other developing countries.

“What kind of America would you like to see?”

I am not cynical and pessimistic about this green movement that rises in these days. As a member of the Korean Federation for Environmental Movement[6], I have waited for the green movement, and I truly am thankful for seeing a book like Hot, Flat, and Crowded in the bestseller corner of a book store. But I believe that an elaborate check over the genuine purpose of the American green movement and its criticism are strongly needed, because if there is no sincerity in being green, the Green World can be the 21st century version of Pax Romana[7]. As many colonials are sacrificed for the peace of the Roman Empire in the 1st century, many developing countries will be sacrificed for the harmony of the developed countries in the 21st century. I also trust that the Green Revolution, without sincerity, would not be successful, because people would use the color green to satisfy their red desires.

Barack Obama, who became the 44th President of the United States, has stressed the importance of “the Audacity of Hope.” In a similar vein, Friedman emphasizes that America should be regenerated by the leadership of hope for the world. The true leadership of hope I expect of America is being truly humble, taking down the eagles pride, and sharing sincerity and love with the nations that have worse situations than America. That is my answer for the question that Friedman repeatedly asks, “What kind of America would you like to see?”

Postscript

Friedman’s insight into the “Green Revolution” is deep with his abundant imagination and detailed practice strategies. Individuals, corporations, and policy makers at great pains must read this book to prepare a sustainable, future, survival strategy.


[1] After the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, some political commentators felt that a new term was needed to describe the United States’ position as the lone superpower. French Foreign Minister Hubert Védrine popularized the term hyperpower in his various criticisms of the United States beginning in 1998. (Wikipedia)

[2] The year that the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) collapsed.

[3] (In the economics of Adam Smith) An unseen force or mechanism that guides individuals to unwittingly benefit society through the pursuit of their private interests. (Dictionary.com)

[4] The Kyoto Protocol is a protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, an international environmental treaty with the goal of achieving “stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. (Wikipedia)

[5] of, relating to, or involving a combination of social, political, and economic factors

[6] The first environmental non-governmental organization in Korea founded in April 1993

[7] The terms of peace imposed by ancient Rome on its dominions (Dictionary.com)

Carelessness in Our Garden of Eden

Today we continue our series of the winning essays submitted to Dean of Freshmen, Fred Siegel.  These freshman were selected from over 300 of their peers to attend a dinner with Dean Siegel and author, Thomas Friedman.

Our featured essay of the day is by freshman, Elyssa Kaplan.

Four Flashbacks:

Fifth grade Earth Science group assignment, to be followed with a class debate, following a small, imaginary island nation of a name long forgotten and its national debate over a new energy policy.  This small island nation was amazingly a natural source for all energy sources, dirty and clean; natural gas, thermal energy, coal, and offshore oil underground and lots of water with high amounts of wind surrounding it above ground. Each group was given an energy source to represent and then present its merits to try and win the bid from the “government” of the school’s science teachers.

I was on the wind energy team. Luckily for our group of three eleven-year-old girls, this island nation did not have pre-existing energy grids, lobbying firms, massive health care debates, or oil tax incentives and the democratically elected government officials were looking for the best energy policy that their constituents would blindly accept. Also, luckily for our group, tourism was one of the major economies of the island. It was easy. We chose to build wind turbines resembling the Dutch countryside with tulips all around and wooden shoes in the gift shops. It was to be a Dutch version of Helen, Georgia, a town only two hours north of our school. At the debate amongst all the other energy groups we won easily. Our energy was nonpolluting, fed into and even expanded the local economy, had the ability to pay for itself over time, and I debated more fiercely than anyone else.

A high school memory montage starts in a counselor’s office during the worst part of the Georgia drought, war with Tennessee is being debated and the Governor is praying on the steps of the capitol for rain. “So, Elyssa, are you one of those green people who are using the extra bath water to flush the toilet?” My guidance counselor asked with a snicker. Spanish class, sophomore year we are practicing verbs while the two guys behind me discuss how big their trucks are. The one with the F-150 was deemed a sissy-man compared to other with the F-350. Lunch table with peers, “My sister is at UGA in a Geology class and her professor told her that global warming is a hoax,” another chimes in, “Of course, it’s a government conspiracy,” And yet another, “Well, it doesn’t really matter because Jesus is coming before the world falls apart. If you believe in Jesus, you know this.”

Senior year of high school, Western Humanities lecture on Northern European Renaissance art. Mr. Rosch flips to the next PowerPoint slide featuring a painting on three joined panels, The Garden of Earthly Delights. “Ahh… this one,” he said. “is a college dorm room staple.” We made fun of him, “Really, Mr. Rosch? A poster of a 500 year old painting by a Flemish Renaissance guy, a dorm room staple? You are such a nerd.” But he insisted no. “Look closely,” he said. It was then that we noticed the overt sexuality of the middle panel in Hieronymus Bosch’s masterpiece.

A quiet morning in my Jerusalem apartment, November 5, 2008 after an all night election party of all my American friends living in Israel. They have left and it is now, just me, sitting on my little porch trying to keep a wireless signal, trying to not scream in excitement, trying not to cry from feeling so separated from the excitement, trying not to fall asleep on my laptop and reading a NY Times Op-Ed piece by a favorite author. Entitled Finishing Our Work, it boldly states that on the previous night the Civil War had ended. Thomas Friedman, because of statements like these followed by clear, mostly objective, and intelligent support is along with Leonard Pitts, my favorite Op-Ed columnist to read. I am inspired to post on my blog because I realize for the first time how homesick for my country I truly am and how empowered I feel to improve it.

I do not have any cutting-edge, creative ways to change the energy grid or convince people to try to live a “greener” lifestyle.  But I want to start thinking of some. Before reading Hot, Flat and Crowded, I found the green movement unwieldy in the fact that it was scientific evidence marred by classic ideological political divides mixed with trends and fads. After reading the book, I still see the movement as science tarnished by inane political games with inconsequential fads riding its coattails, but also as one of if not the most important and most interesting challenges of my lifetime.

With terrible fact after horrifying fact, I read the first half of the book and was nearly turned-off by the feelings of helplessness when reading, “About half of the wetlands and a third of the mangroves are gone. An estimated 90 percent of large predator fish are gone… twenty percent of corals are gone…” (Friedman, 2008, 46) or that “through our energy purchases we are funding both sides of the war on terror.”  (Friedman, 2008, 80) Luckily, I realized that this was not a time to be overwhelmed and powerless, but to take what Mr. Friedman had found and written to become more involved, more creative, and more aware of this issue surrounding the world and specifically the United States.

I have always had an interest in the world and am planning on becoming an International Affairs major, however, I also have always been fundamentally against fixing other people’s problems or more precisely having the gall to tell them how to fix their problems when I am not fixing my own. So, despite the fact that I found chapter seven on energy poverty in the third world one of the most interesting and hope-inspiring chapters as we work toward an “age of humanization”, I did not dwell on it. Even though it is an important issue, it is not my country’s issue. Just as I enjoyed and found chapter thirteen about Indonesia’s move toward saving their forests and villages together heartening, I did not dwell on it as I do not understand their politics, society, economics, or anything else except what I learned from the book itself. Instead, for me, this book inspired me to focus on America’s problem and America’s future just as Thomas Friedman had encouraged me on November 5, 2008 in my apartment in Jerusalem.

However, this time, Mr. Friedman did not give the answer I wanted and left me searching for more. He introduced me to the American energy grid and the need for a whole new system for the way we think about, use, and transport energy. I am sold on our need for a new system. But I am not sold on Mr. Friedman’s way of getting us there. Maybe it is because he could not dwell on it to finish and get all the ideas into his book, but I feel like the part on how we as Americans create this new system is lacking. Maybe it is because he feels, like I do, that the only way to quickly get the top-down political power to get a new system is by either 1. Another moon race implying that we have already lost in the race to China or 2. a 9/11 do-over, a tragedy too horrible to consider.

Mr. Friedman’s last sub-section is entitled, “Why Leadership Matters.” And I think he ends on this note for a reason. No system is ever going to be overhauled without strong political leaders. The energy system especially will never change if our leaders stick to the status quo because none of the “five big problems- energy supply and demand, petrodictatorship, climate change, energy poverty, and biodiversity loss,” (Friedman, 2008, 37) affect Americans apparently or uncomfortably in every day life. Daily brown outs or any form of energy loss is not a large problem, Americans seem to not realize that buying large amounts of gasoline funds terror organizations, and climate change is still debated as a political topic- not as science, everyone has energy, and we do not see species going extinct in the suburbs. Furthermore, Americans do not see China, India, or Europe out competing the United States in innovation of clean or net-zero technology. Friedman states, “It [an American Green revolution] is now a core national security and economic interest,” (Friedman, 2008) but the “average Joe” if you will, does not see it, does not live it, and does not believe it in his daily life. Therefore, to believe the average American will lobby their Congressperson or Senator to change the system tomorrow is not realistic or to think that the men and women in Congress or the Senate are going to push the issue without further incentive is, in my opinion, nonviable.

Friedman identifies innovation as the saving grace for the Energy Climate Era stating, “We are not going to regulate our way out of the problems of the Energy-Climate Era. We can only innovate our way out,” (Friedman, 2008, 243) Steven Chu, the current secretary of energy, adds that students are engaged in this issue and scientists want to research it, “They want to work on this problem,” he tells Friedman, however, “with the almost flat funding in basic energy research…the recruiting stations [of energy research] remain closed.” (Friedman, 2008, 384) I agree. However, This is where the need for regulations and investments enter as the solution for creating the capital to fund the innovation. Again however, Investors do not want to invest until they have certainty in their investment.  Only the government has the extensive size and power needed to create that certainty. Without Congressional support, the money will not be given. And Congressional support does not look promising or imminent as the political atmosphere is currently not one for raising any form of tax let alone a carbon tax, cap and trades appear socialist in a time of extreme fear in many Americans for Socialism, and when many major public universities are enforcing furloughs asking for more money for energy innovation again seems juvenile.

Thomas Friedman points out all of this. Where he is lacking still, in my opinion, is the next step. I think that next step has to be a new way to lobby Congress. The global warming and climate change debate is not and will not work fast enough because global warming and climate change is as Friedman correctly points out still considered a political issue (Friedman, 2008, 115) not an American issue. Coal is still too strong a force in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and West Virginia- four strong swing states- for any presidential candidate to be against or to expect those Congress people and Senators to fight against. (Friedman, 2008, 376) In the Midwest there is the incentive to protect the biofuels market (Friedman, 2008, 376), the oil companies still have enormous clout, and doing any form of wide sweeping, national regulation appears Socialist especially now with the current Healthcare Debate and “scare.” Otherwise we end up with insignificant and failing attempts to change like California’s Proposition 87 where whole lobbies spend hundreds of millions of dollars to stop it (Friedman, 2008, 378) or innovation money becomes Congressional pork projects as it did in 2008. (Friedman, 2008, 381). Energy efficiency and responsibility have to become the norm for citizens first  before I can spread to our political leaders.

Like I said earlier, I do not currently have any new, creative ideas to lobby Congress, but I can see various grassroots projects Friedman points out throughout the book and put them together in an attempt to create change from the underbelly of America, a grassroots campaign. Instead what we need is some of Van Jones plan on a national scale. Where “green” starts beating poverty and the lower-socio-economic groups start the trend moving it up to mainstream America. Then hope for more Noah Horowitz’s to figure out ways to cut other energy costs in their daily lives and at their work place. And maybe start utilizing the “green war hawks” and the soldiers who return from war after seeing the benefits of a greener way of doing things. If smart appliances became more accessible, energy conscious consumers could buy them creating a new national consumer trend. With the Detroit car industry going bankrupt is the time right for higher efficiency standards in cars without worrying about the two, four, and six-year cycles of this country? (Friedman, 2008, 406) I do not know, but if I can just in reading a book think of this, what can a whole freshman class think of, create, and enact in a year? I look forward to seeing it.

I wondered about the cover art for this book when I purchased it. I wondered why the Garden of Earthly Delights and the overt sexuality on the cover. It is about a green revolution, nothing that exciting. But, I think it makes sense to choose this middle panel of Hieronymus Bosch’s masterpiece. For too long we have been living in a world where the more you took, the more successful you were. We ate from the oversized fruits and carried on as if our lifestyle had no end and no consequences. We have been careless with our Garden of Eden, forgetting that it is what has supported us and our lifestyle for so long. Luckily, it was this panel that was featured and not the third one. We are not yet in Bosch’s Hell, but we are close. “I don’t know when we will hit the wall,” (Friedman, 2008, 68) but I know we do not have to because just as my Humanities teacher saw this piece of artwork is a dorm room staple, I see Thomas Friedman’s book and the ideas within it to be a life staple and a jumping off point for every American if we are to survive in this Energy-Climate Era.


Conversion of a Common Sense Conservative

Today we continue our series of the winning essays submitted to Dean of Freshmen, Fred Siegel.  These freshman were selected from over 300 of their peers to attend a dinner with Dean Siegel and author, Thomas Friedman.

Our featured essay of the day is by freshman, Richard Ingebretsen.

I am a common- sense conservative, and I have been one for nearly all of my life.  As a result, I have been on the opposite side of the global warming and environmental debate for some time, claiming that global warming was either entirely false or a natural occurrence that had nothing to do with man.  I believed the well-being of our economy was more important than anything else. The main reason for my mindset was that I had never heard a convincing argument for global warming and environmental caution. I read Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring and was unconvinced by her arguments, feeling that her claims regarding DDT and other pesticides were sensationalist, unsubstantiated by significant, credible scientific data, and resulted in the deaths of many people due to the banning of DDT and the rise of Malaria in Africa. I felt the same way about the people who cautioned about global warming, since their claims were just as sensational and promised even greater harm to mankind with the crippling of our economy. What is more, I felt that many of these individuals were disingenuous at best and hypocritical at worst, condemning those who drove SUV’s and warning against the dangers of carbon emissions  while flying around in a private jet or riding in a limo. Furthermore, I feared that since the people who were advocating global warming were predominantly liberal at the time, I feared that their solutions would be liberal as well, with increased government control and the castration of our free economic system with burdensome regulation.   Mr. Friedman has convinced me that the threat of irreversible global climate change and loss of biodiversity caused by global warming and the wasting of natural resources is real, and that we are the main perpetrators. What is more, Mr. Friedman has demonstrated what I believe is the only credible and acceptable way to fix these problems:  The combination of robust use of a free economic system, assisted by targeted government intervention, and natural human ingenuity and spirit.

Mr. Friedman completed my conversion by appealing to my sense of duty and patriotism in making America the dominant force in the world again, and by demonstrating how green technology and policy could be the next economic boom for the US and the world.  After reading Hot, Flat, and Crowded, I have also come to the conclusion that being environmentally friendly is the conservative thing to do, because even though many of these new green policies will be a large step away from the status quo, they will most certainly be less of a step than irreversible global climate change, and at least new green policies offer numerous benefits to the US and the world.  This is a simple choice which only requires common sense.

Additionally, Mr. Friedman makes several excellent suggestions for what the US needs to do in order to undergo the Green Revolution and thoroughly explains and analyzes most of them. One plan that I wish Mr. Friedman had elaborated upon more was the involvement of the military in the development of green technology. While Mr. Friedman did demonstrate how the military has already begun to reanalyze the cost of sticking to the status quo in terms of using dirty fuels and inefficient technology and has begun to develop greener technologies, I fear Mr. Friedman overlooks what I think could become one of the best ways to make the US green.  Mr. Friedman notes that green technology research lacks funding and capital, and that when it does receive funds the purse strings are held tightly. Defense spending, on the other hand, accounts for almost 21% of the US Federal Budget and is almost never denied the funds it needs, no matter what other budget issues arise. My conclusion is that we should fund green technology research through the military. The United States government should strive for its military to be greener, requiring vehicles to be made more fuel efficient or run on alternative fuels, designing new, greener ways for bases to be powered, and with all of these things required to be enacted using fewer natural resources.

This plan has several benefits, the first of which is that by giving green research to the military we have ensured that some of the brightest minds will work on it since defense industries have some of the best research facilities, engineers, and scientists in the entire United States. Looking back, some of the most revolutionizing inventions and technologies have been developed by the military or have come out of its conflicts. These inventions include Penicillin, radar, computers, satellites, and rockets, and all of them have assimilated into and been of great benefit to the rest of humanity. What is more, the military, as Friedman discusses, has already shown an interest in conservation and has already started developing green technology with systems that are similar to the ones Mr. Friedman advocates. I was amazed by how similar his description of the energy internet, the connection of all electronic appliances, customers, and providers, was to the military’s attempts at net-centric warfare with all of its soldiers, satellites, and vehicles interconnected and sharing information to become more efficient.

The other main reason why it makes sense to combine the military with green research is that it will ensure that green research will always be funded, as no politician in his or her right mind will try to cut military funding drastically. What is more, green technology requirements will probably require that more facilities and more workers spread across different congressional districts, meaning congressman will become even more protective of these projects and fight harder to keep these projects alive and well funded. Just think, if congressman fought as hard for green technology research as they have fought for the MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, America would be the greenest nation on the planet, exporting these ideas around the world.

If America combines defense spending and research with green technology, it will develop the leadership support it so desperately needs to succeed in the Green Revolution. The expansion of leadership is the final benefit of involving the military in green technology research because many in the military go on to be leaders in business, politics, or even just their local communities. If, as military leaders, they have already been exposed to and convinced of the benefits of the Green Revolution, they will then be in positions to continue it and expand it, which is what needs to happen if the US is ever going to lead the fight against global warming.

I acknowledge that this plan is not a silver bullet and alone will not have the immediate or wide- reaching effects that will be required to prevent catastrophic climate change. I wish we could make the drastic policy changes and investments that are necessary to make this country green and fight global warming; however, this is not practical due to its political controversy and fiscal cost. I believe this plan, however, is a viable and practical start, attractive to both ends of the political spectrum, which is a viable means to wider-reaching reforms.