Thomas Friedman: Brief Analysis of Energy Dependency

TFNew York Times writer and author Thomas L. Friedman brings attention to a critical element of the climate and energy dilemma that many overlook.  In his keynote presentation as part of the 2010 Wake Forest University Energy Conference, Friedman stresses the need for a true revolution in our thinking towards energy consumption.  He presents a compelling argument that emerging energy technology is not a component of the global climate change debate.  Rather, it is a matter of necessity to address the growth in global population, the stagnation of the U.S. economy and the security and prosperity of the world.

Friedman provided some fascinating numbers about population growth to make his case.  Friedman’s discussion on the explosion of people on the planet intrigued me.  According to Friedman, the amount of people has more than tripled in the past 50 years and looks to jump another 30-50% within the next 50 years.  The amount of energy consumption it would take to sustain these masses will become a major issue when strain on supply becomes too much to bear.

Friedman’s idea of ‘petro dictatorship’ appears very logical.  It reminds me of the same linear progression of freedom and repression that appears in our studies of Latin American history.  The idea posits a direct correlation between pace of freedom spreading through the world and the price of oil.  In other words, the dependency on oil for energy alone allows for influence by those with the oil over those without.  The idea resembles dependency theory in Latin America.  Simply replace petro-dictatorship with industro-dictatorship.  Europeans had the industrial capacity that Latin America lacked, coercing Latin American countries into becoming producers/exporters of raw materials that fed the factories in Europe.  European businesses then sold finished goods back to Latin American countries, creating markets of dependency.  Therefore, foreign influence was pervasive in local Latin American affairs.  This theory is similar to Friedman’s view of oil dependency as it relates to its pervasive influence on freedom in the world.

Finally, Friedman expressed the dire need for true revolution, not just the use of “green” as convenient marketing and catch phrasing.  He stresses the need to bring back innovation within the U.S. economy.  To do so, he emphasizes that it is more important to “change your leaders than your light bulbs.”  Then, those leaders of government must create an “ecosystem of energy innovation” that will foster new technological developments in order to fund the research and creation of cleaner, cheaper abundant energy.  It would solve the stagnation of the U.S. economy, sustain global population growth as it relates to energy consumption (supply/demand), bring security to the world and slow or stop climate change.