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Outsourcing, global warming and terrorism are very different problems, but "green power" could wean the West and the developing world off cheap oil and its accompanying problems, New York Times Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Thomas L. Friedman said Wednesday.
Friedman, speaking at a panel discussion at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said that environmentalism is not a moral issue, but a practical one.
"Jobs, terrorism and temperature are the biggest challenges facing America in the 21st century," Friedman said. "Green, as a redefined ideology, could actually bridge Republican and Democratic differences on those issues."
He called on the American government to help companies bring much-touted green technology down to a competitive price. The power of the market, he suggested, would do the rest, ushering in a green revolution.
Cutting carbon emissions and oil prices would work to fight both global warming and regimes that fund terror, he argued. Also, because green products would be by definition "smarter" and more energy efficient, "to the extent that we shift the debate to making 'green' part of the DNA of every product that we make, we in America - and we in Israel - create jobs that cannot be outsourced."
The New York Times columnist spoke mostly about the "green movement" in the US, where environmentalism and alternative energies have been slow to catch on. "Green has gone Main Street," he said, "but it hasn't gone very far down Main Street."
This, he argued, was a problem of cost: because of America's failure to support alternative energy, green power has been unable to compete with fossil fuels. Changing this would take government commitment to green power on a level yet unseen, he said.
While Friedman believes that a mass movement can bring about a green revolution in America, professor and fellow panelist Avner De-Shalit was more cautious. Change would be difficult, he argued, because while Americans know an impressive amount about the environment - what he called "environmental literacy" - they fail to integrate that knowledge into their daily lives. He also suggested that even if they did so, it might not matter.
"To take an example," he said, "Ninety percent of [Israel's] air pollution is the result of only 80 factories. When the problem is that concentrated, it doesn't help to convince me to pollute less."
But while agreeing with the need to be realistic, moderator Yaron Ezrahi cautioned against discounting idealism in favor of "crass realism." "Realism has never affected significant social change," he said. "What has are utopias. Unrealistic dreams. They are, of course, not fully realizable, but they are powerful social motivators."
"We should not discount the power of utopias," Ezrahi added. "Especially in this country."
This, ultimately, was Friedman's solution as well. While global warming, outsourcing, and terrorism are all practical issues, the people who they will most harm - and who a green revolution will most benefit - are still unborn. Thus, it will take idealism to solve the "climate-energy" crisis.
"This issue demands something very unusual of us," he concluded. "We must be stewards and assume sacrifices for a generation that hasn't been born yet. Our parents did this for us. That's why we call them the Greatest Generation. Our kids will not call us the Greatest Generation unless we are also the Greenest Generation."
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