Red, White and Blue = Green?

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman has drawn much attention for his declaration last month that “green is the new red, white, and blue.” As a companion to a special on the Discovery Channel, Friedman wrote an article for the Times Magazine arguing that the U.S. must seize the lead in creating and deploying “green,” energy-efficient technologies as the only way to maintain our economic edge while shielding ourselves from radical movements and geopolitical instability. Among those with strong reactions was author James Howard Kunstler, a petro-pessimist whose most recent book predicts the collapse of our oil-based economy. Kunstler ridicules Friedman for appearing to believe that we need not change our automobile-oriented, driving-intensive ways, if only we put our minds to finding an alternative to cheap gasoline.

“At the heart of Friedman’s thesis is his notion that the current incarnation of ‘the American Dream’ is a good thing and can continue,” writes Kunstler in his weekly blog (warning: strong language). “By American Dream he apparently means membership in the Happy Motoring Utopia, with all its accessories, furnishings, and usufructs — the system broadly known as suburban sprawl. Here’s the truth, Tom: suburban sprawl is a living arrangement with no future.” Transporting commuters and consumer goods across ever-longer distances, while building ever-larger, energy-hungry houses, simply can’t be done without burning large amounts of fossil fuels, Kunstler notes.

Deron Lovaas, who has helped to oversee both smart growth and energy security campaigns at the Natural Resources Defense Council, agrees to a point, but finds Kunstler’s pessimism to be paralyzing. “We squandered far too many opportunities to change course in the 20th century, and we have little choice but to pull out all the stops in terms of policy reforms and societal changes. But here’s where I end up in Tom’s camp at the end of the day: His pieces provide perspective on the colossal hurdles we face, while conveying that we’re capable of clearing them if we try hard enough.”