Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The possible future

Tom Friedman had an important article on the need to advance a Green agenda in our politics and society in the NYT Magazine on Sunday, important primarily because the prominence of the author and the publication will help to extend the debate to the mass of voters, the people who need to be mobilized if real, hard political changes are to become reality.

Friedman does an effective job at sketching the scale of the problem we face if we are to avoid a global climate disaster, and at showing the economic challenges that must be met in order to bring China and India--already important sources of pollution, their contributions to warming growing daily--into the fold of nations truly dedicated to reducing greenhouse gases. But where the article shines is in showing that an enlightened, environmentally-responsible policy is not only possible, but is the way to restore the American manufacturing sector.

One example that Friedman uses is GE's locomotive manufacturing plant in Erie, PA. Erie might be thought of as the buckle on the rust belt, but as the manager of the plant points out, “Our little town has trade surpluses with China and Mexico.” How does an American plant, paying American wages and making a heavy-industry product of the kind that has long since fled to foreign makers, compete with--and actually sell to--the nations that have sucked so much manufacturing away? By producing engines that are lighter (thus more economical to run) and cleaner in both current (NOx) and future (CO2) pollutants than their foreign competitors. Oh, and as the plan manager also notes, "they don’t stop on the tracks.”

My favorite line in the article is a quote from John Gardner, founder of Common Cause, likening climate change to: "a series of great opportunities disguised as insoluble problems."
We need to wake up the can-do attitude that characterized American enterprise for so many decades to take on those problems.

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