Friday, August 15, 2008

Thomas Friedman, somewhat off-target

Thomas Friedman argues here that the U.S. should follow Denmark's good example in conserving energy and changing transportation patterns.

Specifically, he says:
* Denmark has used its taxes on gasoline to wean itself off foreign oil.

* It has also used building and efficiency standards to that end.

* Lastly, it has aggressively expanded wind energy, not only domestically, but exporting such technology at a rate four times faster than the rest of its exports.
The only problem I have with any of the above is that Friedman gives far too little emphasis to the fact that Denmark has only 5 million or so people, and that they are drilling offshore in the North Sea. He mentions that its a small country with North Sea oil, but it's a one-line throwaway.

So I looked up Copenhagen's population on Wikipedia, and Copenhagen turns out to contain 1,835,371 people, or 33.5% of Denmark's total! So of course when your main city has a third of the country's population, you can have advantages in transit efficiency that much bigger countries cannot avail themselves of.

Friedman is dead on about the need for greater energy efficiency in this country. But when he advocates for $10/gallon gas as Denmark has, or using bicycles more to commute in-city as he claims 50% of Copenhagen's residents do, he's ignoring the obvious fact that not every aspect of Denmark's model is going to work here in this vast, sprawling country of ours.


Liam said...

Friedman actually has a book coming out on green tech in a few weeks entitled 'Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution--and How It Can Renew America'. Definitely one you should check out I suspect.

Though he tends in my opinion to be a bit of trendy writer in my view. I'm currently reading his last book -- 'The World is Flat', which is about globalization, the internet, capitalism, etc. and it already seems significantly dated just because of current economic events. I would actually recommend Kevin Phillips new book 'Bad Money: Reckless Finance, Failed Politics, and the Global Crisis of American Capitalism' for a more trenchant analysis of similar themes.

Thunderheart said...

Yeah, Friedman is good, but he sometimes jumps for the cheap and easy tag-lines that obscure as much as they clarify.

Plus, for someone concerned about the environment he's a bit hypocritical to buy a mansion in Maryland that has 13 bathrooms and is an enormous energy guzzler.