Thomas Friedman: "Green is the New Red, White, and Blue"

As Jamais Cascio over at WorldChanging (oops!) says: "Thomas Friedman in the New York Times [has been] calling for a "geo-green" agenda, making a move away from fossil fuels a national security issue. It's not because we think he's a brilliant writer so much as he's about as mainstream influential as they come; if Friedman is pushing this, it's going to be debated in the halls of power in Washington."  I hope you're right, Jamais.

Anyway, Jamais points us to a blog that was nice enough to pull some of the quotes from a Friedman article from today's NYT (since it is behind the NYT pay fence), so I will point you there to get a taste.  (link)

Thanks for the link to my blog.  I'm glad to have helped.

It is great to see a mainstream writer like Friedman calling for a sustainable energy agenda, even if the piece could be considered a bit partisan (I personally don't mind but then again I agree with Friedman - it may put others off however).

it's good stuff WattHead...thanks.  :)

Damn NYT and its pay fence though.

I have to say that since the NY Times "Select" pay wall emerged, I haven't read (or really missed) Thomas Friedman's column. There is so much good (and free) opinion stuff on the net these days...

But Friedman, despite his flat world flaws (hey no one's perfect), does have a good following in the corridors of power and he has long talked about energy independence being at the core of our national security.

I think we are starting to see a real national energy debate start to take shape and as usual Republicans and Democrats are using the issue to score political points. Here in NY State, Gov. Pataki made incentivizing renewables the heart of an economic development message in his state of the state. Regretably it relies heavily on ethanol

I think our job as Oil Drummers is to add that pragmatic and analytical edge to keep both sides honest and focused on making real improvements toward more sustainable energy policy instead of just pandering to interest groups and demagoguery.

at least friedman has hopefully gotten past that "flat world" imaginative to come up with that in 2005, when it was so if someone with any chutzpah and power would actually take up on his latest "new thing" i sense a new book to flog?
I'm reading a bit from Friedman's "World is Flat" book now and then.  I guess I started the book with some mistrust, as the blog-world-view of Friedman is a bit harsh.  My opinion improved as the book started well ... but then my opinion reversed a bit as he told the dot-com story.  Having been in the computer biz, having used the first on-line services, the first private Internet accounts, and the first NCSA browser ... I KNOW that he is telling the story out of sequence a bit, and getting some of the players wrong.  On the other hand, I suppose I can admit that he gets the broad strokes right.

My current thinking is that the guy is a bit hit-and-miss, but that the hits are enough to make him worth reading ... even if you don't trust him all the way.

Waking up to energy scarcity (a mild way to say peak oil?) is a hit, and worthwhile as such.

Clearly, Friedman has been taking drugs and this has clarified his thinking on energy & economy issues immensely. I am glad he is starting to come over to our side. No more "flat Earth". It is now round.
Friedman finally gets it?  Are we already dead?
on a differet subjet, this article in the houston chronicle by way of bloomburg... the interesting part is the following:
Consumption of gasoline, heating oil and other refined fuels reached an all-time high in the U.S. in December, based on the four-week average in an Energy Department report. Mohammed Barkindo, the acting secretary-general of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, cited strong global demand as a reason the group probably won't cut production.

"The price gets above $60 and OPEC is a dove," said Subash Chandra, an analyst at Morgan Keegan & Co. in New York. "It gets below $60 and it gets hawkish, so the market's got a very good sense of where OPEC wants prices."

sorry to keep hogging the post a comment button, but what i meant to add to the last post putin isn't the only one to be thinking...hey, we don't need to be giving this stuff away.
Friedman could almost have used my piece as a reference, that's how close to my position he is.  This is great.
I think I'd sue if I were you EP.  :)
Sue?  If he used a phrase that was identifiably mine, I'd send him flowers.  I want those ideas out there!
No, I couldn't agree more EP.  That's why we like having you around here, as well as all of the other folks who keep the discourse at such a high level...I mean, I even like having Halfin around!  (j/k :))  

But seriously, if we all agreed, this wouldn't be a very good experience.  I like having my ideas challenged, tested by know?  As long as we keep doing that in a respectful and academic tone, I think this community can keep evolving and doing a lot of good things.

Tested by fire... I think I said something like that about two years ago:
A certain optimism led me to find this forum where they can be posted, and humility leads to the hope that they will be criticised (constructively or otherwise), perhaps even improved.  Should that happen they cease being my own and become part of a collaborative work; where they go from there is out of my hands.
As it should be.
Yes, every so often it is indeed possible for complete fools to speak words of wisdom. Nonetheless, we should be thankful for little things.
  The man has a occational insights that are worth a look,
my hope is that since the MSM seem to give him a lot of airtime that we may be at the tipping point of true public awareness of peak[yesss!]
We will know the liberals are serious about energy independence, and global warming, when they talk about nuclear. Or, to put it in other words, do the math... work out how many square miles, and $, of solar/bio/wind/waves it takes to replace a 600Mw gas fired power plant.
"We will know the liberals are serious about energy independence"- what???

A - Thomas Friedman is hardly a liberal. NY Times has two regular liberal columnists: Paul Krugman and Bob Herbert. It has three centrists: Friedman, Kristof, and Dowd. And two right-wingers: Tierney and Brooks. All part of that mainstream "balance" you know. Plus it has the excellent Frank Rich (liberal), but only on weekends.

B - plenty of "liberals" talk a lot about nuclear power. I've written about it in the "Physics and Society" newsletter referred to here in another recent article. You ask "do the math" - have you "done the math" yourself on nuclear power? I certainly have. 20,000 1 GW-scale nuclear plants are likely needed to meet all world energy needs by 2050 (especially if we go with hydrogen for transportation!) That's 50 times what the world has now. Are you sure that's such a good idea? Do you realize that means we have to find a lot of new sources of uranium, or go to more complex fuel cycles with reprocessing, which nobody has any commercially cost-effective experience with?

On cost - nobody has provable numbers on nuclear power costs that are actually cost effective; the nuclear industry extrapolates, but their extrapolations tend to be 2 or 3 times less expensive than past experience has shown. Meanwhile wind power is already cheaper than nuclear has been in the recent past (comparing apples to apples, i.e. capital costs per annual kWh delivered, and O&M + fuel per kWh). That's why the industry is rushing to install wind all over the world, while almost nobody is actually building nuclear power plants right now.

Even solar, still much more expensive, installed over 1 GW of capacity worldwide last year, and the growth rate for grid-connected solar electric is doubling in less than 2 years; prices are likely headed down soon with new thin-film materials, meanwhile it's alreay a very hot multi-billion dollar business. Have you invested in a nuclear power company recently? Put your money where your mouth is, if you really think nuclear's the future. I know where my money is (literally!)

In response to a query of mine last month, someone did "do the math" here with respect to wind and estimated that it would take a windfarm 1600 square miles in size to meet the energy needs of New York City alone.

And what about heat? The excess heat produced by a nuclear power plant built within 30 miles of the city could be piped in and used to keep New York City buildings warm. Wind and solar aren't going to do that.

Had to look for that post, here it is. Thanks to Tom Deplume:

If we assume an average of 1kw electricity use per capita then New York city would need 8 to 10 Gw supply. At a typical 30% duty cycle that comes to 25 to 40 Gw installed. Using 5MW turbines that works out to 5000 to 8000 turbines spread out over 1000 to 1600 square mile. 1600 sq mi is 40 miles per side.

Tapping into the powerful ocean currents along the east coast maybe the most reasonable option for the the tens of millions who live there. Being under water means "out of sight out of mind."

1600 square miles sounds like a lot of land. But if we take your upper-bound estimates, at 10 million people NY City has 1/30 the total population of the US; so total area requirements by those criteria to power the entire US would be 48,000 sq miles. The United States has a land area of about 3.5 million square miles, so 48,000 is about 1.4% of US land area - about the same as the current artificial "impervious surface area" of the US (roads, parking lots, buildings). And as anybody who's been near a modern wind turbine knows, it's way up high in the air so you can do pretty much anything you want with the land underneath - farming, manufacturing, commerce, etc.

Wind may well not be the ultimate solution - I don't personally believe it is, but throwing around numbers like "1600 square miles" is meaningless without context - are you just trying to scare people, or yourself?

As I mentioned in another reply here (probably was thinking of your post) - electricity can easily provide heating very efficiently through ground-source geothermal (geo-exchange) technology - typically the heating provided is equivalent to 4-5 times the electric energy supplied. Much better than piping hot fluids from neighboring nuclear plants, I would think!

I'm neither anti-wind nor anti-solar, but too often I find people believing that these will be a realistic replacement for the amount of fossil fuel we consume. Wind and sun are inconstant and unreliable. If we have an option to replace existing fossil-fuel powered plants with something that will provide constant, reliable electricity, I believe this will be the foundation of a new energy economy. There will be plenty of room for both wind and solar as well, but they will be marginal compared to the other more reliable source.

I used to live in Holland so I have plenty of experience of being around wind turbines.

There was a lengthy discussion recently about the merits of nuclear versus other alternatives, here.

I would appreciate any information you could provide about the electricity-to-heat technology you describe.

See additional comments linked to your post below.

Ah, the issue of constancy is definitely an interesting one. The short-term solution is stabilization through the grid; fossil fuel plants can be limited to running only when the wind and sun aren't available (nuclear plants have a harder time turning on and off, so aren't really suited to that sort of stabilization role), but that adds to capital costs and means we are still relying on fossil fuels.

There are three long-term solutions: one is to greatly improve electric transmission so inconstancy is averaged over a larger area (ultimately Buckminster Fuller's idea of a world grid). The second is greatly improved (and cheper) energy storage - enabling electric vehicles provides some other incentives for that too, and may actually be part of the solution.

The third long term solution is to go where the sun does shine constantly - off-planet. Space solar power in various forms has been seriously proposed for almost 30 years now, with some minor demonstrations of transmission feasibility etc, but not much real research effort. The Japanese are spending a few million dollars on it right now though - there's a suborbital experiment on zero-g robotic construction coming up in the next few weeks that should be interesting.

So yes we have some real challenges, but so does nuclear power. Let's spend the money on real R&D now, and let them all compete on as fair a basis as we can make it. It's my belief that one of the primary energy technologies (probably not wind, and not once-through nuclear fission) will become the dominant energy source of the future, with a majority of the market thanks to cost effectiveness. But none of them are there yet; we need a lot more R&D.

Oh, I forgot to add a link on the geothermal solution:

The Comparing Systems page gives some useful numbers.

Thanks for the link. I'll keep it. I do know of one company up here in Vermont that has that type of system (it's a wind measurement company), which I think they use mainly for cooling. They refer to the pond at their energy-efficient headquarters as a "heat sink."

I asked Stoneleigh, a person with some first-hand knowledge about these types of systems, for his perspective with regard to providing heat, especially in colder climates. Our exchange is under the Open Thread News Drop section.

Here's the link to the company up here NRG Systems.Just passing it along in case you haven't seen this particular site.

You make several points.
First, I classed Friedman as a liberal because he did not mention nuclear power. Very substantial expansion of nuclear power is coming soon because we do not have sufficient alternatives to replace hydrocarbons.
Most people who object to nuclear (or any other option) first state that the disliked option can't do it all. Wind and solar might help at the margin, but wind will never do it all, and solar seems likely to remain substantially more expensive than nuclear for at least a long time. The future will no doubt use multiple streams to replace the dwindling oil one. Speaking specifically of wind, the best locations, with the best wind, are being exploited first, just like oilfields. Fairly soon we will be looking at second rate locations, many of which have NIMBY and environmental objections, just like other solutions.

We have two problems, reduced hydrocarbon supply and the need to replace hydrocarbon use, which is poisoning the planet. Nuclear solves both, fission is proved and economically competitive, so this is the near term solution. The US could replace the existing coal and ng plants with  350 nukes, then use the coal to produce liquid fuels. The net is a substantial reduction in co2 emissions while coal consumption remains constant. 1 nuke/month would get us there by 2040, maybe fast enough to replace sufficient oil, and which is less than the peak rate when nukes were being built in the seventies.

Longer term, we will have to go to either solar or breeders because of limits in the scarce U235. Breeders can consume all the actinides in spent nuclear fuel, and either/or consume the plentiful U238 and/or thorium actinides. The former reduces the amount of nuclear waste around 99%, and also reduces the time required for the waste to decay to background from hundreds of thousands to hundreds of years. Total available fuels would be sufficient for at least 1000 years, maybe more.

A very interesting type is described in the Dec. 2005 issue of Scientific American. Interestingly, metals are plated out, then cadmium is removed, the non-metallics become the waste, the new metallic fuel consists of a mix of actinides which remain highly radioactive and is therefore no more attractive to terrorists than existing spent fuel. It is true that we don't know the cost to build these plants, but consider - no expensive mining, no expensive U235 enrichment, and a credit to dispose of both nuclear wastes and the nuclear waste problem (the latter will annoy the liberals the most.) Meanwhile, we are moving into a higher cost environment, so wind, solar and breeders will all look more attractive.

A solar breakthrough might come at any time, or never. We should continue this research, and expand solar wherever it is cost effective to do so. We should also be prepared for a future with less and less oil and prohibitively expensive solar.

You say "Friedman [is] a liberal because he did not mention nuclear power.", while I stated that many liberals do indeed "mention nuclear power". More than that, many prominent "liberals" as usually defined have made strong statements in favor of nuclear power recently - Stewart Brand for instance (founder of the Whole Earth Catalog), Gaia inventor James Lovelock, Greenpeace cofounder Patrick Moore, Friend of the Earth Hugh Montefiore, etc. etc.

So I suggest you first check your definition of "liberal"...

The Dec 2005 Scientific American article is indeed interesting; I worked for a time at Argonne National Lab which was closely associated with a major project to create such a "fast breeder", though the project basically shut down (thanks in part to cheap oil) in the 1990s. All these high-tech project ideas are fine - in fact the one I most strongly favor is fusion, which I think should receive a lot more money than it does, given the promise and how close we are now.

But the problem is, high tech is expensive, and it's never clear until we well after we start bringing things to market how competitive they will eventually be. Both "liberals" and "conservatives" these days recognize market realities (and no liberal I know would be annoyed by nuclear waste disposal credits for a reactor that actually physically destroys nuclear waste). The fact is that current nuclear technology is not suitable for large scale expansion, it is already too expensive (nobody's building it anywhere in the world without government subsidies) and the new nuclear solutions are still in early R&D stages, decades away from large-scale deployment.

Wind and solar also rely on government subsidy for the moment, but the total amounts they receive are tiny compared to government investments in fossil and nuclear capacities; economies of scale and the learning curve alone will easily bring them to competitive levels; it's simply false that "the best locations, with the best wind, are being exploited first" - the best locations are offshore, and the US has NO offshore installations yet, though several are being planned.

Wind and solar (or any electric source) can provide heating very efficiently through geothermal/geo-exchange electric heat pump technology; are you seriously proposing piping steam from nuclear power plants to heat cities in winter??

I don't have a problem with government investment in advanced nuclear R&D and particularly fusion technology. I don't have any problem with the power industry investing in new nuclear power plants to meet needs, as they see market conditions warrant. What I do have a problem with is people going around hyping nuclear as the "only" solution and forcing my taxpayer dollars to go to a mature technology that is simply not cost-effective. No "liberal" or "conservative" should like that.

Cogeneration to heat buildings in New York City is nothing new - the steam coming from beneath the streets is waste heat from existing power plants. Whole neighborhoods used to be heated this way. In Sweden, waste heat is transported great distances for residential and business heating.

I'm no scientist, so please tell me what's wrong with the idea, and are you proposing that a 1600 square mile windfarm be built out in the ocean, to power just one city? The investment necessary to build all of those turbines and create the infrastructure, which will have to weather the ocean climate and storms, seems preventative to me compared with building more nuclear reactors, using new and improved technology.

The fact is, such a collection of wind turbines would be no more capital-intensive than an equivalent collection of nuclear power plants. 1600 square miles is a tiny fraction of Earth's surface, and NYC contains a considerably bigger fraction of the planet's population. You spend the money on one, or on the other. With the nuclear plants, you still have to pay for fuel, which may start running low if everybody's doing the same thing. With wind, you have maintenance costs, but so far those seem not too bad.

 One nuke a month!  What are you smoking!  We are talking the NIMBY USA here.  This all says that the USA will wake up in time to see the light and KNOW we are about to hit the WALL which I do NOT think we are seeing yet.

 OH SURE WE ARE GOING TO HIT THE WALL,  but no one is telling us that we are, so for all intents and purposes we aren't.   UNTIL of course we hit the wall!!, then it will be to late to do anything about it.

 We can't afford 350 NUKE plants let alone a few dozen, haven't you read anything about the state of the union??

 WE are in dept up to our EYEBALLS and still going strong, We are dooming ourselves to failure.

 PS. I just spent 9 days in the hospital with something that kills 50% of those that have it, And I know that I have some reason to live today, but 350 nukes is not it.

One nuke per month. Considering it takes maybe 8 years to build one nuke that means being able to have nearly 100 nukes under construction simultaneously. Settling on a standard design like the Integral Fast Reactor could cut average build time in half which results in the need for 50 projects at once. Since we built the Interstate Highways in a similar amount of time it just might be doable. But look at the pickle building those highways put us in.
I was wondering when this sort of thing would start

Becoming an oil exporter, should give Brazil's economy greater stability, economists say.

But while self-sufficiency in oil is welcomed by nearly everyone in Brazil, becoming a net oil exporter stirs bitter criticism from an odd coalition of right-wing nationalists and leftist trade unions.

Exporting oil is "an act of treason," reckons Heitor Manoel Pereira, president of the Association of Petrobras Engineers, or AEPET, with 3,923 members in the active work force.

"Brazil is no Saudi Arabia that can export as it wishes. This will reduce our possibility for development in coming years," Pereira said. According to specialists consulted by the association, oil prices will hit $100 a barrel in 2010, and continue to rise "astronomically" after that. Simultaneously, Brazil's oil reserves will decline rapidly, forcing the country to resume oil imports but at much higher prices, Pereira fears.

Pereira says his position is not only unanimous among AEPET members, but is also supported by oil workers' unions, the country's engineering associations, a large number of congressmen and the Brazilian Military Club, which represents navy, army and air force officers.

Luciano Zica, a congressman from Sao Paulo and member of the governing Workers Party, or PT, agrees: "The difficulties we will face later will be far greater than the benefits derived from exports now. A country like Brazil needs to think long-term. Oil companies need to submit themselves to strategic government decisions."

Exporting oil is "an act of treason,"

If we hear this phrase often enough over the next few years, the energy future for the USA is a dire one.

I doubt that this is a danger for nations which depend on oil income, like Venezuela.  Chavez's destruction of the business sector will leave nothing to do with the oil except export it, and the export of government-owned oil is much more attractive to a dictator than trying to tax a business sector with its own agenda.  Other oil exporting countries will be similar.

Nations with small amounts of oil, like Brazil, don't matter much.  To the extent that they throttle output now to save it for later, they're already accelerating and flattening the peak.  Didn't we agree this is a good thing?

the day when oil is no longer fungible is the day the US dies.
Yes, it appears that oil is getting less fungible by the day.  As more and more future oil is already spoken for via long-term contracts between countries, such as between Iran and China, the size of the open short-term market for oil will get smaller and more nasty.

The US effort to forcibly establish a long-term 'contract' between itself and Iraq has turned into an enormously costly disaster. Tragically, the US is in so deep, and has already committed so much, that The Powers That Be dare not pull out, lest it bring upon their own demise. So, it appears that we are going to continue to try to maintain a large 'Fort Apache' in the extremely hostile environment of Iraq in the hope that we will eventually gain control of some more Middle Eastern oil. A military expert I've corresponded with believes that in the long run it is virtually impossible to maintain a large military base in a country that is actively hostile to such a presence. It just becomes a never-ending and highly expensive attrition of resources, both human and materiel.

Also note that some of these oil-rich Central Asian countries are getting chummy with everybody else but the US.

I believe the US has really screwed up big time on this one!  

Agree with you that we screwed up big time, but I think we will pull out.  The American public has turned against the war, and it's hurting our ability to deal with real threats.  Perhaps more importantly, Iraq doesn't have nearly as much oil as we thought they had, and clearly, what they do have won't be readily produced by us.  

We'll be pulling out.  Or driven out.

Outlining what he called the "drawdown", one American official said: "US reconstruction is basically aiming for completion [this] year. No one ever intended for outside assistance to continue indefinitely, but rather to create conditions where the Iraqi economy can use reconstruction of essential services to get going on its own."

I see no indication that oil is no longer fungible, just that one nation with an economy much bigger than just oil (Brazil) isn't going to pump more than they consume.  This says little or nothing about Venezuela, Nigeria, Algeria, or the exporting part of the world.

From what I've read, the US currently has most of the world's capacity for refining sour crudes.  Until there is more refinery capacity than pumping capacity, producers will have no choice but to sell to us if they want money.  This can change, but slowly.

Last, Brazil throttling back will cause a rise in prices and a gentler downslope of the production curve.  This may be the one thing which gets the US serious about alternatives, and we've got a pile of them ready to hand starting with PHEV's.  The gentler downslope means that we'll have time to get efficiency measures in place instead of having to cut back on the consumption of product (vehicle-miles).

China is trying to put a lock on Africa's oil:

It's an even better thing when countries learn to start thinking long term. If enough of that starts to happen around the world, it might start to make an impression on the US.
It's true: autocratic rulers of resource rich nations are not accountable to their citizens because the ruler's wealth is not derived from the citizentry but rather from mineral exports.

Is it really plausible that in a world of diminishing supply, that it can be in the US Imperial interest -- as Friedman professes --  to promote democracy in the oil rich ME, Nigeria, Algeria or Venezuela?

I certainly agree that flattening out the supply curve is helpful because it results in a price warning farther in advance of a serious decline in supply.

Surely there are many in leadership positions in Russia and the Middle East who share Pereira's view, even if they have the sense to be cautious about voicing such opinions in earshot of western reporters.  The Saudi royals are a very precarious situation - they have a burgeoning population to appease and have almost no income source beyond oil revenues; if they were to curtail production in favor of preserving resources for future generations they could loose internal and western support and find their heads in a basket.  But Russia is in a different position.  Not only are they one of the largest exporters, they also have a significant industrial base that uses a significant amount of oil and a strong desire to climb back up to superpower status.  Is Russia's flattening output in the last two years due to geology, or Putin's desire make sure his government controls the commanding heights of oil production and that Russia will still have plenty of juice left for internal use after the peak?

Over the holidays I had the opportunity to talk to an acquaintance who is an economist and business owner who splits his time between the US, Sweden and Russia.  He told me that in Russia the press routinely reports that Putin's goal is to make sure most of Russia's energy production is firmly under the control of the Kremlin and that Russian energy needs come first; this plays very well to his nationalist supporters.  However, his stance is much more diplomatic in front of the international press - in most of what I've read in the NYTimes, Washington Times, CNN, MSNBC etc Putin reassures that rights of international oil companies will be respected and that Russia is a reliable exporter.  After the global oil production peak becomes apparent I am certain that we get a better idea about Putin's true intentions.

Europe has had a minor wake up call concerning the risks of being at the end of the gas pipeline.  When will the US wake up about the fragility of our position at the end of the oil bucket brigade and get serious about domestic renewables?

It's a good thing for the peak!

It's not a good thing for the USA!

I'm sorry, but the last time I read this guy, he was busy cheerleading us into a horrible quagmire.

In fact, I think he's STILL doing that.

Friedman is a man with an agenda, and it's basically an imperialistic view of the world.

Agreed. In my book, he's a neoliberalcon and one of the greatest dangers to humanity.
All this talk about the US energy independence is the same old scrap almost every American politician has been telling the last 30 years, after the US oil production peaked. The dependence has been deepening all the time.
RE: Freidman a "Liberal"
Seems to me that one of the real diseases of US society is stereotyping everyone as "Liberal"," Conservative" or some permutation like "Progressive" or "Neocon". I understand why the MSM does it, they  like 30 second sound bites with enough emotional charging to hook people to watch their commercials. Surely most of TOD readers/contributers are smart enough and objective enough to realise that most solutions proposed have some benefits and some consequences and that examining all points of view might help come to some plan that will work.
  This is a B.S. part of this thread and I would like to see it drop. All it can do is alienate people and waste precious time.
  I personally believe that we all have two main duties, to reduce our energy consumption as much as possible and to restrain our instinct to breed more humans. And beyond that to get others  educated on the issue and solutions.