The RSIS Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies' Blog

Friedman: The World Needs a Green Revolution

In a recent lecture in Singapore, Thomas Friedman spoke about climate change and the urgent need for breakthroughs in clean energy research, and drew parallels between two major non-traditional security issues in recent years – the economic crisis of 2008 and the ongoing ecological crisis. According to Friedman, New York Times columnist and three-time Pulitzer Prize winner, these two issues are two sides of the same coin, in which unsustainable economic growth patterns are a primary factor. Citing the example of his home country, he noted that America’s growth pattern has been both financially and ecologically unsustainable.

In highlighting the similarities between the economic and ecological crisis, both contexts – market and Mother Nature – have experienced similar accounting practices, primarily the way in which risks have been underpriced, gains privatised and losses socialised. Underpinning these practices has been a short-term mindset, which Friedman observes to have led to a breakdown of sustainable values into situational values. This, he notes, is dangerous because the only way to moderate the market and Mother Nature effectively is by adopting sustainable values.

Friedman also noted that world was becoming increasingly Hot, Flat and Crowded – Hot due to global warming; Flat due to the increasing mobility of people thanks to globalisation; and crowded to due to population increase. There were five pressing problems that have resulted in this situation – (1) increasing demand for energy and natural resources, (2) Petro-dictatorship, which highlights the inverse relationship between the price of oil and freedom, (3) energy poverty, (4) biodiversity loss, and (5) the adverse effects of climate change.

Friedman nevertheless noted that the solution to these five problems is the need to provide abundant cheap clean non-carbon emitting energy. He emphasised that the main drivers of change in this process would not be regulators and policymakers, but rather innovators and engineers. Friedman also noted that while such calls from clean technology and adopting a more green lifestyle have been increasingly reiterated, he cautioned the tendency of green washing, where stakeholders such as businesses and policymakers have only made incremental changes that suit their comfort levels and justified their actions with “green” as a pre-fix to their existing activities. Friedman likened these trends to having a Green Party rather than a Green Revolution. Friedman also noted that effective change will only occur in a Green Revolution, when the term Green disappears. Moreover, similar to revolutions, certain stakeholders of the status quo will have to lose out.

Friedman’s last point here would certainly be a bitter pill for many in policymaking circles, but is nevertheless necessary. The dosage of these pills would certainly be much more for developing countries in Asia, which face a host of developmental and governance issues in addition to  managing their economic growth and as well as the needs of their large populations. The Green Revolution that Friedman calls for would, therefore, perhaps be the most revolutionary in the developing world. Whether stakeholders in the developing world are ready for this remains to be seen.


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