Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Green Ideas Of My Favorite Journalist

The journalist I admire the most is Thomas Friedman, columnist at the New York Times, and bestselling author of "The World Is Flat."

Earlier his writings on globalization, free trade and competition in an ever closely connected world attracted international acclaim. These hopefully affect US and worldwide policy in a major and positive way. Now a lot of his emphasis is on green energy, conservation and ways to reduce dependence on oil. I couldn't agree with him more, including on the need for higher and permanent taxes in the US on gasoline. This will discourage excessive consumption, fund alternative energy R&D and can offset other taxes.

Today his OpEd in the New York Times talks of how much we have already lost by failing to curb oil consumption through a $1+ per gallon gas tax over the past six years. Read his article since he puts things so much better than I can. The opportunity to lower demand for oil in the US could have significantly lowered crude oil prices which are currently hovering around $95 a barrel. After all, the US consumes a fourth of the world's oil at a time when supplies are increasingly constrained so slight global shortages make prices spike up. If our own reduced oil consumption lowers prices we benefit not just ourselves but also most of the rest of the world that imports oil.

Of course Friedman has been talking about a lot more than simply taxing gasoline and looking at crude oil imports. You can see his many writings on going green through his NYT columnist page (now available online for free in a welcome change of NYT policy.) It's still not too late. Friedman obviously hopes that his views can influence the Democratic presidential candidates who can then follow the right policies after the next elections (don't expect Bush & Co to do anything meaningful in their remaining time.)

I doubt any leading candidates including Hillary and Obama will advocate a higher gas tax in their campaigns, and they'll be wise to avoid this. It's too risky and unlike Friedman I've less faith in the ability of the average voter to think straight on this. Still, it's what the President and lawmakers do after the election that matters, and people like Friedman may yet become a decisive influence. Let's see.


kenrod said...

Some people say oil is too valuble to burn just for energy. After all, it could be used for pharmaceuticals, fertilizers, etc. And a $1 tax per gal would curb demand and force us to look to other means of powering our vehicles.

But no candidate has the political courage. After all the structure of our society, the giant industrial-military complex, will force all future leaders to follow a pretty set blueprint unless we change our economy. And no one wants that.

You see, we moved from the agrarian age to the industrial age circa 1650. This means there is a transition from "search for perfection" to "search for change." Mankind, since then, has been transformed to constantly remodel, constantly consume more and more, and constantly reinvent.

The person who arguable epitomizes this concept is Alfred Sloan who led General Motors to new heights in the 20th century. Ford, who created the automobile, spent lots of time perfecting its models. GM, on the other hand, would reintroduce a new model every year.

GM won.

Thus, was born "planned obsolescence." We change for the sake of change, and the pace seems to be increasing. The next president will go to war; s/he will spend money like water. It's already in the cards. You could resurrect Gandhi and he would have to do the same. We have to go to war to destroy the old and bring in the new. We have to consume more and more to feed the industrial complex. Gasoline is at the bottom of that food chain which start the whole thing going, so they will not tax it more.

Sandip Madan said...

Interesting background and perspective, Kenrod. To your point, I wouldn't be too hard on the political candidates.

It's likely to be political suicide in addition to political courage to advocate a steep gas tax at this point. The average voter will think of the immediate impact instead of the longer term vision or benefits. But once elected, an enlightened political leader can hopefully shape public opinions and do the right things as Friedman advocates.