Tom Friedman, the New York Times’ great foreign affairs columnist and a former colleague of mine wrote this in a must read Sunday Magazine article yesterday: “After World War II, President Eisenhower responded to the threat of Communism and the “red menace” with massive spending on an interstate highway system to tie America together, in large part so that we could better move weapons in the event of a war with the Soviets. That highway system, though, helped to enshrine America’s car culture (atrophying our railroads) and to lock in suburban sprawl and low-density housing, which all combined to get America addicted to cheap fossil fuels, particularly oil. Many in the world followed our model.
Today, we are paying the accumulated economic, geopolitical and climate prices for that kind of America. I am not proposing that we radically alter our lifestyles. We are who we are — including a car culture. But if we want to continue to be who we are, enjoy the benefits and be able to pass them on to our children, we do need to fuel our future in a cleaner, greener way. Eisenhower rallied us with the red menace. The next president will have to rally us with a green patriotism. Hence my motto: “Green is the new red, white and blue.””
Nobody is capable of putting a smarter geopolitical frame on issues than Tom. It’s been satisfying to see how he discovered, dug in, and joined the global green movement over the last several years. When I worked in Washington with him in the 1980s and early 1990s, where I served as a national correspondent and one of the Times’ environmental policy specialists, he sniffed at things green. The environment was interesting but not the province of writers seriously interested in advancing the world’s interests. That assessment came in spite of the persistently grim reporting in the Times and elsewhere about the consequence of global climate change, population growth, deforestation, fresh water scarcity, diminishing fisheries, desertification, and other man-made calamities enveloping planet earth. Those of us reporting on the findings of the scientists, non-profit research organizations, advocates, and communities affected knew that eventually the environment would be the story of our age. And we knew that would occur when deteriorating global conditions produced economic malfunctions that affected international relationships and trade. That’s where Tom picked up the green story a few years ago.
In a way Tom has attained some of the same stature as Walter Cronkite during the Vietnam War. When Walter broadcast his doubts about America’s ability to win in Vietnam the nation knew it was over. When Tom Friedman calls for a “New Green Deal” in the United States, that is the can do American centrist left talking, the very same segment of the ideological spectrum that is almost certain to win the White House in 2008. And when he calls for a “green president,” that’s the cell phone vibrating in Al Gore’s pocket.