Friedman: “The only meaningful response to this man-made disaster is a man-made energy bill that would finally put in place an American clean-energy infrastructure that would set our country on a real, long-term path to ending our addiction to oil.”


Bottom line: This bill has no chance to pass unless President Obama gets behind it with all his power, mobilizes the public and rounds up the votes. He has to lead from the front, not the rear. Responding to this oil spill could well become the most important leadership test of the Obama presidency.

The president has always had the right instincts on energy, but he is going to have to decide just how much he wants to rise to this occasion “” whether to generate just an emergency response that over months ends the spill or a systemic response that over time ends our addiction. Needless to say, it would be a lot easier for the president to lead if more than one Republican in the Senate was ready to lift a finger to help him.

Tom Friedman had a good NYT column yesterday, “No Fooling Mother Nature” on the implications of the BP oil disaster.  He joins a long list of folks pleading with the President to seize this leadership moment (see “Is Obama blowing his best chance to shift the debate from the dirty, unsafe energy of the 19th century to the clean, safe energy of the 21st century?“).

Here’s more:

There is only one meaningful response to the horrific oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and that is for America to stop messing around when it comes to designing its energy and environmental future. The only meaningful response to this man-made disaster is a man-made energy bill that would finally put in place an American clean-energy infrastructure that would set our country on a real, long-term path to ending our addiction to oil.

That is so obviously the right thing for our environment, the right thing for our national security, the right thing for our economic security and the right thing to promote innovation….

This oil spill is to the environment what the subprime mortgage mess was to the markets “” both a wake-up call and an opportunity to galvanize a constituency for radical change that overcomes the powerful lobbies and vested interests that want to keep us addicted to oil.

If President Obama wants to seize this moment, it is there for the taking. We have one of the worst environmental disasters in American history on our hands. We have a public deeply troubled by what they’ve seen already “” and they’ve probably seen only the first reel of this gulf horror show. And we have a bipartisan climate/energy/jobs bill ready to be introduced in the Senate “” produced by Senators John Kerry, Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham “” that would set a price on carbon and begin to shift us to a system of cleaner fuels, greater energy efficiency and unlock an avalanche of private capital to the clean energy market.

American industry is ready to act and is basically saying to Washington: “Every major country in the world, starting with China, is putting in clear, long-term market rules to stimulate clean energy “” except America. Just give us some clear rules, and we’ll do the rest.”

The Kerry-Lieberman-Graham bill is an important step in that direction. It is far from perfect….

As the energy consultant David Rothkopf likes to say, sometimes a problem reaches a point of acuity where there are just two choices left: bold action or permanent crisis. This is such a moment for our energy system and environment.

If we settle for just an incremental response to this crisis “” a “Hey, that’s our democracy. What more can you expect?” “” we’ll be sorry. You can’t fool Mother Nature. She knows when we’re just messing around. Mother Nature operates by her own iron laws. And if we violate them, there is no lobby or big donor to get us off the hook. No, what’s gone will be gone. What’s ruined will be ruined. What’s extinct will be extinct “” and later, when we’re finally ready to stop messing around, it will be too late.

Time to act.

5 Responses to Friedman: “The only meaningful response to this man-made disaster is a man-made energy bill that would finally put in place an American clean-energy infrastructure that would set our country on a real, long-term path to ending our addiction to oil.”

  1. Jeff Huggins says:

    “When fortune comes, seize her firmly by the forelock, for I tell you, she is bald at the back.”
    – Leonardo da Vinci

    “Your goodness must have some edge to it—else it is none.”
    – Ralph Waldo Emerson

    “… the fierce urgency of now …”
    – Martin Luther King Jr.

    “Character is destiny.”
    – Heraclitus

    “What good am I then, to others and me,
    If I’ve had every chance and yet still fail to see
    If my hands are tied, must I not wonder within,
    Who tied them and why, and where must I have been?”
    – Bob Dylan, “What Good Am I?”

    “The wise man does at once what the fool does finally.”
    – Machiavelli (a paraphrase)

    “Time is swift, it races by;
    Opportunities are born and die …
    Still you wait and will not try—
    A bird with wings who dares not rise and fly.”
    – A. A. Milne

  2. accelerate the transition says:

    Maybe there is something in this image from Wednesday, May 5:

  3. Will Greene says:

    Friedman’s my hero, but what’s with the bashing of the 100,000 plus who showed up for the climate rally on the 25th? I think I know what he meant with that comment…that we need a massive, long-term, prolonged climate movement, not just people getting together on Earth Day to hear music. But I strongly disagree with bashing the amazing level of support we saw at the rally.

    Also, saying if we don’t drill here there will be more drilling somewhere else is a backwards statement. Can China say the same about their coal? Keep the oil in the ground should be the montra!!

    PS: Keep up the great work Tom!

  4. Stephen Watson says:

    “Hell is truth seen too late”

  5. MarkL says:

    I appreciate Friedman’s good intentions and his op-ed is mostly common sense but he keeps getting stuck in the mantra that some great innovations are gonna preserve a more sustainable version of the status quo. “You can’t fool nature!” he says and how right he is. First: It’s obvious that we can’t innovate our way out of the laws of thermodynamics. Secondly, technology is not energy, which should be obvious but is quite subtle. Technology needs a steady flow of highly-concentrated energy but it can replace that energy only in a very limited way. One can see this all the time when looking at the alternatives to fossil fuels, oil in particular. All the alternatives need oil but mostly produce electricity which is not a one-to-one replacement for a high-quality liquid fuel. There is nothing that compares in terms of quantity and quality to oil at the current levels of consumption.
    Yet he keeps touting energy technology, “E.T.” – an apt name because if we want to keep going and make a “smooth” transition to whatever he imagines, we will need extraterrestrials.

    It all adds up to curtailment of energy use – forced by nature – as the main device by which change will come.

    That is not to say that alternatives and more technology are unnecessary. We will need all that we can get, just to get by. But let’s not pretend some magic technofixes via some glorious Manhattan project (a project of technology) or magic market innovations will have us riding into a happy sunset. A profound change only comes because of a profound crisis with lots of casualties (not an oil spill). But things could turn out quite good at the other end of it.