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Rise of the Geo-Greens?
Alan AtKisson, 30 Jan 05

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Thomas Friedman of the New York Times alternately edifies, mystifes, and terrifies me with his books and columns. It is genuinely difficult to predict his position on any number of global issues. Now I know why: I didn't have him in the right category.

The right category is Geo-Green. He says so himself, and it's certainly an interesting proposition. What he stands for is a reduction in the price of oil ... as a way of moving toward renewable energy and saving the world. He says the Europeans could be geo-greens, if they weren't so wimpy.

Okay, I'm exaggerating with the "saving the world" bit. But I didn't make this up. Here's the logic:

... I am a geo-green. The geo-greens believe that, going forward, if we put all our focus on reducing the price of oil - by conservation, by developing renewable and alternative energies and by expanding nuclear power - we will force more reform than by any other strategy. You give me $18-a-barrel oil and I will give you political and economic reform from Algeria to Iran.

How will that work, do you reckon?

All these regimes have huge population bubbles and too few jobs. They make up the gap with oil revenues. Shrink the oil revenue and they will have to open up their economies and their schools and liberate their women so that their people can compete. It is that simple.

There you have it: cheap oil empowers women, causes economic development, and stops the terrorist threat from extremist jihad warriors. How to get there? Control America's oil appetite. As it is, we can't possibly invade Iran, say, because that would send the price of oil through the roof and make war far too expensive. (Of course, we don't have the available troops, anyway.)

By refusing to rein in U.S. energy consumption, the Bush team is not only depriving itself of the most effective lever for promoting internally driven reform in the Middle East, it is also depriving itself of any military option, writes Friedman. The Bush team's laudable desire to promote sustained reform in the Middle East will never succeed unless it moves from neocon to geo-green.

I sort of liked the term Geo-Green, in the headline. But I sure have trouble following this logic, and I find the notion that "Geo-Green" is the next step after "Neo-Con" just plain weird ... although they have in the common the idea of greatly expanding nuclear power ... as well as the prospect of increased oil consumption and therefore climate change ... I think. Lower prices, greater consumption, I learned in economics. History suggests that we tend to "consume our savings" pretty quickly, especially when prices or corresponding incentives adjust quickly to the new conditions. Better brakes lead to later braking, for example, not to safer driving.

But maybe I'm dense, and Friedman has made a Very Important Observation. Comments explaining how this Geo-Green scenario is supposed to work in language clearer than Friedman's are welcome. For the moment, this one goes in the Friedman category "mystifying."

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Comments

You've got it the wrong way around, I think.

Friedmans ultimate goal is to reduce the price of oil, so as to bankrupt Iran. To do that requires reducing demand and consumption (through conservation, nuclear power etc).

I.e. make it so that people don't want oil and so the price drops until OPEC can't give the stuff away.


Posted by: Simon on 30 Jan 05

Easy to say to research new sources of energy.

This could be possible, but big oil companies (and Bush himself) will expirience loss of income when oil will be cheap (higher price of barrel of oil than margin is higher).

My opinion is that new sources of energy is developed already, but big oil companies will loose their business so they just pay for "not publishing".

I think the only way of developing alternative sources is the end of the oil resources.


Posted by: Yuri on 30 Jan 05

I'm trying to reconcile this with his call for a $1 gas tax.


Posted by: praktike on 30 Jan 05

Re Friedman's call for a gas tax, I think the key is that he wants to see lower prices *by the barrel*, not necessarily at the pump. Gas taxes raise retail prices, but if in so doing they curb demand, they apply downward pressure on wholesale prices.


Posted by: Michael on 30 Jan 05


Not to mention that his notions about "liberating" the Arab world from the "forces of darkness" (ie Islam) are somewhat crude and frankly silly.

Plenty of Arab countries have open markets, the United Arab Emirates for example. Plenty of Western companies operate within Arab regimes that are kingdoms (ie to Western eyes despotic) and they are very happy being there. As far as I know none of them are making demands for democracy or women's rights.

Similarly plenty of Arab countries have access to Western education without that causing any revolutions. All the universities in the UAE are run by Americans and Brits. There are hundreds of US universities running little outposts in Arab countries. They teach conformism to the market, not political revolution. In countries like Egypt revolution against single party dictatorships has historically been preached by people like the Muslim Brotherhood - banned and prosecuted for doing so but showing no signs of stopping. While it may be taught in places like the American University in Cairo - it's probably a stretch to say that AUC grads are going to liberate Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood on the other hand? Well, they just might.


Posted by: Zaid Hassan on 30 Jan 05

Watch carefully as my hands never leave my sleeves... Friedman is serving the exact same thing up, giving it a new name - but the whole thing is really the same.

Expanded use of renewable energy will cause the price of oil to drop - less buyers. This is supply and demand. This is something I think everyone knows. But he's saying he wants to drop the price of oil to expand the use of renewable energy, which would not work - with decreased cost, oil would be used more, therefore defeating the purpose of the whole idea.

A subsequent drop in the economies that are dependant on oil would not liberate women - in fact, it may make their lives more difficult. Effecting culture through the price of oil is almost exactly what the present system is a victim of. Poverty is not a method of empowerment unless one is a monk, and the power is spiritual.

Sorry. Oil costs more and more to find. Lowering the prices decreases profits, and the first people to feel the pinch will indeed be the people who are employees. These same people won't have the money to invest in renewable energy. And with less profits, there's less money for R&D in countries dependant on oil.

Iraq is a brilliant example of this. All conjecture about the invasion aside, beforehand there was an oil for food program. This program did not empower anyone, and if you looked at pictures of Iraq before the bombing, you wouldn't see much in the way of renewable energy research.


Posted by: Taran on 30 Jan 05

Friedman's column was so silly that it's possible he actually wrote it himself. He thinks that the price of oil is mainly a matter of political and cultural will, rather than a reflection of geology, technology and political economy. And he seems not to have noticed that the real price of oil, as adjusted for inflation, is close to an historic low. If he were a loudmouth at the local bar, we'd dismiss him. The fact that he's published in a leading newspaper seems to give him power and credence - but only because we decide so.


Posted by: David Foley on 30 Jan 05

Having had a couple of letters responding to Friedman columns published in the NY Times, I wasn't terribly surprised by his latest. He's trying to have his cake and eat it - but I'm not sure if it's because he's trying to make a push for renewables palatable (by decreasing gas prices!) or really believes in the lower-price business. He has consistently argued for a "Manhattan"-scale project in renewable energies for the last few years, not from the global warming or oil peak perspectives, but from the national security de-fund the terrorists perspective. It's the national security (energy independence + ...) justification that makes his position seem schizophrenic, but there is a certain logic to it.


By the way, for those interested, I've been helping get a new alternative energy site going, intended to post detailed analyses of energy issues, backed by real numbers - we have a few things already, but it's still under construction here: http://www.altenergyaction.org/
- things that need to be added are some data on specific resource issues, and things like the excellent recent post here on thin-film batteries; contributions on these or other issues are welcome!

Arthur Smith


Posted by: Arthur Smith on 30 Jan 05

Reducing prices introduces more demand and usage of the product. A good idea would be to reduce fuels for renewable energies. If prices of methanol were lower than that of oil, you would expect many more people investing into fuel cell transportation. It seems that oil companies want as much money they can get out of the consumer of oil. The expansion of nuclear facilities would logically cause more damage to the environment. I certainly wouldnt want the future generations to be living to deal with the half-life of a substance.

An easier idea would be simply turning energy almost into an open source. Providing communities, kits to expand their own creation of renewable resources. The renewable resources are practically infinite, the sources could pay themselves back. Thus the new community could then help expand another one. Almost a sort of "Open Source" of energy.


Posted by: James on 30 Jan 05

By the way, Shell just annouced record profits - $30 billion pre-tax. The largest in corporate history I think. Is oil at an all time historic low? It doesn't sound like it from Shell profits.


Posted by: Zaid Hassan on 31 Jan 05

One thing that this discussion highlights which Friedman seems to forget is that oil is a finite resource. This is the underlying reason that there is such a divide between rich and poor in the world in which we live. Western countries have known for a long time that fossil fuels give them an incomparable advantage over others in all areas of life where energy is required. So it's ok to keep people in poor countries alive by giving them medical assistance, but it's personally detrimental to let them consume oil at the rate we do - because it's going to run out. So they live in a kind of purgatory, fighting for whatever scraps those who run the world economy allow them. This situation is finally changing in China and India (there's only so long you can fool all the people) but it makes the problem of finite oil even more acute. So what can possibly provide all the energy the world might need safely and without problems of scale? There is really only one and Germany and Japan are the only countries to have woken up to it - solar!


Posted by: Daniel Johnston on 31 Jan 05

There's ALREADY such a thing as "OPEN SOURCE ENERGY": solaroof (OpenEco) + ZERI + "let's share what works"!

That's what ants and scientists do: research all directions simultaneously + leave information on the ground = smell of what works attracts others = we win.


Posted by: lugon on 31 Jan 05

Of course, this column's huge error is not mentioning the growing oil appetite for oil in China, India, etc. Any reduction in the United States will be met, and more, by expanded use in China and other developing countries.

Not that he isn't right that the United States should be doing everything it can to conserve, for other reasons - i.e. reduce dependence on oil, for example. But a reduction to $18 a barrel, isn't going to be happening anytime soon, and this is out of the U.S. hands.


Posted by: JC on 31 Jan 05

While I'm generally a Friedman fan and am all for ending dependency on a dead end energy source, Friedman needs to take a brush up course in Econ 101. The supply demand leg of the equation is changing so rapidly and dramatically that his fix for all the world's ills does not hold. With energy demand from China and India coming on line, oil will never see teens a barrel again - or at least not for any meaningful rolling average. It's a nice idea and certainly I'm all for kicking the oil habit - however, with oil men in the whitehouse,net world demand increasing and NO new major reserves found or likely, it's time for Mr. Friedman to look for another catchy catch all cure.


Posted by: D J Kadagian on 31 Jan 05

I thought that historically more money is invested in renewable alternatives when fossil fuels are priced higher rather than lower.

Oil is fuel but oil is also power. Control the flow of oil and you control whose country gets to have industry and mobility, factories and cars.

Friedman has always bothered me. On TV he sounds like he's talking to kindergarteners. What I've read of his columns makes me believe that he thinks like a kindergarten kid too. I was once interested in reading _The Lexus and the Olive Tree_ but then I saw him speak about it on Charlie Rose's PBS show and realized he didn't understand the difference between a Lexus and an olive tree: you can eat the produce from an olive tree.

What a maroon!


Posted by: gmoke on 31 Jan 05

I think Friedman's theory is that consumer demand for oil is defined by the pump price. Since the pump price is determined by both crude oil prices and taxes, raising taxes by a dollar a gallon would result in a) higher pump prices and thus lower demand, b) no change in pump prices due to a drop in crude prices (to bolster demand), or c) a combination of the two.

Would it work? Hell if I know.


Posted by: jlw on 1 Feb 05

Arthur Smith:  Your site requires clicking on tons of links to read anything.  Sites like yours rarely motivate me to dig deeper; how about some meat on the main page?

It looks like Friedman and I have similar ideas, though I wonder who came to them first.


Posted by: Engineer-Poet on 1 Feb 05

The Talibans had no oil, and they weren't exactly good to women. Saudi Arabia has open markets and is still oppressive to women. His ideas never bear the weight of scrutiny. He is really a hack.


Posted by: Jennifer on 3 Feb 05

Geo-Greens or Neo-Cons. Neo cons came into existence after the complete destruction of the conservative (Republican) movement by Bill Clinton and our good American friend James Carvelle. It is an admission of complete defeat and came into existence, like most things in America by the Dems(who chose, even before unions destruction and death as the vehicle to power-terrorism speaks for itself, 9-11 was a 'Bill.'). Neo repubs never eixted because the dems did not want this. Neo was also a character in a movie. 'The ONE.' Matrix was a good movie, but its really about a computer geek that goes insane and is sent off into a neat little world where he can exist-the office scene at the beginning is the beginning of his journey into a computer world he sees when he closes his eyes instead of dreaming or, even worse going into REM compromise. I don't know much about the UN and seeing camera or computer worlds when I close my eyes, but its probably just another way to write off insane humans.

Good luck with the new 'tag!'

Oh ya, all this stuff started when the FBI started trading, so it looks like that may be a good ooption for any Geo Cons out there.

One World?


Posted by: Reeves is CIA, Really! on 7 Feb 05

Geo-Greens or Neo-Cons. Neo cons came into existence after the complete destruction of the conservative (Republican) movement by Bill Clinton and our good American friend James Carvelle. It is an admission of complete defeat and came into existence, like most things in America by the Dems(who chose, even before unions destruction and death as the vehicle to power-terrorism speaks for itself, 9-11 was a 'Bill.'). Neo repubs never eixted because the dems did not want this. Neo was also a character in a movie. 'The ONE.' Matrix was a good movie, but its really about a computer geek that goes insane and is sent off into a neat little world where he can exist-the office scene at the beginning is the beginning of his journey into a computer world he sees when he closes his eyes instead of dreaming or, even worse going into REM compromise. I don't know much about the UN and seeing camera or computer worlds when I close my eyes, but its probably just another way to write off insane humans.

Good luck with the new 'tag!'

Oh ya, all this stuff started when the FBI started trading, so it looks like that may be a good ooption for any Geo Cons out there.

One World?


Posted by: Reeves is CIA, Really! on 7 Feb 05



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