Entire server farms have been set aside dedicated solely to articles exposing, detailing, and documenting what an unmitigated fraud Friedman is. But, like herpes, his grating presence will be with us indefinitely, and ignoring the flare-ups of corporatist sophistry won’t make the symptoms any less excruciating. That there exists some theoretical and sizable group of literate adults who unironically still read him (the super wealthy and jorts-wearing “centrist” wonk types is my guess) makes calling out his most brain-dead assaults on discourse and decency still a worthy enterprise. And since, I’ve been told, any aspiring lefty blogger is required by law to write at least one Friedman polemic I figured I’d get mine out of the way early.
In last Sunday’s column, Friedman thought it clever and funny to advocate that Russia cut off Ukraine’s gas supply because it would, in some unknown and entirely glossed-over way, spur “investment” in “green tech” here in the United States.
“If I’m actually rooting for Putin to go ahead and shut off the gas, does that make me a bad guy? [ed note: yes] Because that is what I’m rooting for.”
“Because such an oil shock, though disruptive in the short run could have the same long-term impact as the 1973 Arab oil embargo — only more so.”
Like the "I don’t mean to be racist but...” guy who invariably follows this preface with something terribly racist, the “am I a bad guy for saying [blank]” guy is, in fact, a hundred times out of a hundred, a bad guy who thinks couching his stupid and vulgar opinions in faux-edgy qualifers will delude this obvious fact. Making matters worse, his entire premise makes literally no sense. Even if one accepts the ham-fisted logic at work, that punishing Ukraine and ramping up the likelihood of war is justified because of some vague appeal to America Getting Serious About Global Warming, using the 1973 oil embargo, which actually affected the United States, as an historic analog to punish an entirely different country in the hopes that through some geopolitical osmosis it will achieve the same effect is either breathtakingly dumb or cravingly disingenuous.
“A gas embargo by Putin would also reinforce the message of the United Nations’ latest climate report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which warned with greater confidence than ever that human-created carbon emissions are steadily melting more ice.”
Huh? How the hell would a gas embargo “reinforce” the IPCC’s latest climate change? What does this even mean? How does B follow from A? How do you have a job writing for the New York Times?!?
There’s another name for advocating the indiscriminate suffering of civilians in the interest of an unrelated political goal. But, unlike those of the low-tech and Jihadi variety, Friedman isn’t actually the least bit sincere in his casual embrace of needless human misery. Indeed, his “advice” to Putin ends up being little more than a cheap hook that’s abandoned almost entirely once it fulfils its true purpose: lending faux-gravitas and “newsy”-ness to a column otherwise comprised entirely of breathless tech company press releases.
A rather cynical approach to addressing an international crisis, but one entirely consistent with a man whose family wealth could have, at its peak, afforded to pay Ukraine's $2.2 billion gas bill with change left over.
Friedman’s preferred method of pulling statistics out of his ass is “interviewing” random CEOs and industry hacks and having them assert entirely decontextualized numbers to prop up whatever half-point he's trying to make. Of course, there’s never an ounce of skepticism or any way of knowing -- because Serious Newspapers don’t need to cite shit - if any of what’s being alleged is true. What matters is that Serious People have Serious Things to say in Serious Newspapers, and copying and pasting industry press releases is much easier than actually formulating a position. First up is long-time Friedman block quote all-star Hal Harvey, who goes from being the "CEO of Energy Innovation" to "energy and climate expert" to "independent energy expert" depending on what Friedman's pushing that week, but who, not surprisingly, is never referred to as the "chairman of a $10 Billion bank holding company," even though that sounds like a fairly impressive qualification.
Solar cells, for example, have dropped in cost by more than 80 percent in the last five years.
While possibly true, the claim that solar costs have “gone down 80 percent over the past five years” has been made once a year, every year, over the past several years by industry experts - including once when, as one commenter points out, they clearly did so by only 20%. So, again, while perhaps true, the popularity of this trope, combined with a complete lack of citation, makes this claim suspect.
Texas now has enough wind to power more than 3 million homes.
According to a wind power lobbying group, wind power makes up 8.3 % of Texas power. As there are 9.5 million homes in Texas, this would mean that wind powers roughly 790,000 homes. It’s possible that he confused this statistic from the same report: "Equivalent number of homes Texas wind farms now power: over 3.3 million average American homes." Although it's not quite clear what that means, it is clear it's not what was said.
Putting all its customers together since it was founded in 2007, said Laskey, Opower has already saved about “4 terawatt hours of energy” (...) The Hoover Dam produces about 4 terawatts hours of energy a year.
This “Hoover Dam” claim has been made before but never in the same way. The day after Friedman’s own column, the cofounder of Opower, a Virginia-based company that lets utility users (and third-party data companies) know their energy consumption, claimed in the Washington Post that it had generated “half” the energy of the Hoover Dam. And, in 2013, Alex Laskey’s report to the Department of Energy claimed that Opower "would soon generate" 2 terawatt hours in one year, which is equal to the Hoover Dam. All of these claims contradict one another. The purpose, of course, like any talking point, is to say "Hoover Dam" enough times, because saving people money is abstract and needs a concrete visualization. Fair enough, but still P.R. fluff.
Now, the point isn't that these gentlemen or their respective organizations are bad, or even that their technology can't help provide cleaner and more efficient energy in the coming decades. The problem is that corporate talking points strip the conversation of both urgency and axiom. They make our response to catastrophic climate change, by defintion, superficial - subject to the whims of price points and profit, rather than the other way around. With recent studies warning that we very well may already be beyond the point of no return, the unquestioned techno-fetishism at the core of both Friedman’s pitch and America's broader climate policy - that we can fend off climate disaster and promise universal first-world status for all with no change to our standard of living, no change to the dogma of unfettered capitalism, and no money down -- leaves us wanting. That it's couched in calls for conflict escalation and the sweeping punishment of Ukraine's poor makes the hollowness of this ideology and the moral shallowness of its advocates that much starker.
As Friedman's infamous “suck on this, Iraq” moment illustrated, when people in power ingest the absolute righteousness of their goals without bothering to question the virtue of their means, they begin not only sounding like sociopaths, but reasoning like them too. The world becomes a RISK board, the people affected by these decisions, faceless blue and red pieces at the whim of dice rollers - the most arrogant of whom see their friends’ “green” portfolios as interchangeable with environmentalism writ large. That public belief in man-made climate change has decreased over the last eight years is, of course, the fault of misinformation and economic hardship but it’s also, undoubtably, exacerbated and cemented by the Friedmans of the world for whom the love of green and the love of green are impossible to distinguish.