Thomas (Malthus) Friedman

New York Times columnist Tom Friedman is a Malthusian. That’s clear from his latest book – Hot, Flat and Crowded. As such, he’s a wrong-headed fool, in the camp of Paul Ehrlich (a lepidopterist by training), Lester Brown, and the Club of Rome pessimists.

Their view is that the world is running out of resources, soon to be over-populated (whatever that means), and going to a man-made hell. They’ve been pushing that view since the 1960s, with no evidence of results but lots of persistence claims.

Friedman is also a member of the church of global warming catastrophists, as are Ehrlich and Brown. Friedman buys into the green religion that man-made carbon dioxide emissions are going to destroy life as we know it today.

Friedman’s religious views are the foundation of his latest book, which has some valuable points, but is essentially flawed and not a guide to righteous policy for the U.S. or the other nations of the world. Even expected sympathetic reviewers, such as Gregg Easterbrook in the online Slate magazine, have recognized the fundamental flaws in Friedman’s analysis.

Easterbrook is one of the few balanced environmental writers in conventional journalism, although he, too, occasionally falls prey to conventional, unproven, wisdom. Easterbrook wrote,e wroteHe “Global warming is a problem, one that must be managed via greenhouse-gas restrictions and a weaning away from fossil fuels. But in a world of poverty, disease, dictatorships, terrorism, nuclear proliferation, a lack of girls’ education, and more than 1 billion people without clean drinking water or electricity – climate change barely makes the Problem Top 10.”

Right on, brother. But I’d go farther. If the globe is warming, and the evidence for the 21st Century is lacking, there is no evidence that a warming world is a worsening world. It may be a better world. The concept that there is a climate equilibration that is desirable is simply nonsense.

So to Tom Friedman’s book. The guy writes and presents his arguments beautifully, which is why he has won three Pulitzer Prizes. But in his latest book, his arguments don’t hold any kind of water. He clearly has chosen sources that support his pre-existing beliefs. He doesn’t challenge the conventional wisdom, which I believe is the job of journalists, even columnists.

Friedman acknowledges that his understanding of climate dynamics comes from the Pew Charitable Trust, a leading purveyor of the doctrine of man-made global warming (ironically, a foundation funded by 19th century oil money). Friedman provides no evidence that he consulted any skeptics of the Pew-provided conventional wisdom. No references to Richard Lindzen at MIT, Roger Pielke (Sr. or Jr.) at the University of Colorado, or Roy Spencer at the University of Alabama at Huntsville, to name a few. These are not right-wing, ideological nut jobs, but respectable scientists. Tom Friedman appears to never to have heard of them.

Indeed, there are no references of any kind in the Friedman book, either as footnotes or end notes, making it impossible to track his intellectual journey. This is unacceptable scholarship.

Friedman also accepts the conventional green wisdom that a warming world is bad. Maybe. Maybe not. Ask Siberians if a warming climate is bad. In addition, Friedman never looks skeptically at claims that global warming is the worst catastrophe since the claim of global cooling in the mid-1970s.

Easterbrook in Slate comments: “Why does the cocktail-party circuit embrace claims about a pending climate doomsday? Partly owing to our nation’s shaky grasp of science – many Americans lack basic understanding of chemicals, biology, and natural systems. Another reason is the belief that only exaggerated cries of crisis engage the public’s attention; but this makes greenhouse concern seem like just another wolf cry.” Well said.

Friedman advocates a multi-billion-dollar U.S. crash research and development program to boost advanced and green energy technologies, whatever those are. He doesn’t specify what this means. In several radio interviews I’ve heard, he rejects the notion of a government-centric “Manhattan Project” approach to energy technology. That’s right on the mark. Bigger is better hasn’t worked since the 1950s.

What’s the alternative? Friedman advances the notion – which I find laughably vacuous – of “each ark” for each society. He’s unable to spell out just what this means, retreating to the generality that each society needs a “Noah” to energize the building of an environmental ark, with each ark “tailored to each setting, in every case the governments, companies, NGOs, and villagers involved in each ark have to understand that keeping the local ecosystem intact is in their interest.” What the heck does this mean? Kumb Bah Yah ?

In radio interviews, Friedman has advocated the computer revolution paradigm of hundreds of thousands of innovators working in hundreds of thousands of garages to produce new energy technologies. Steve Jobs and Steve Wosniak. Bill Gates. And plenty of garage rock bands, good, bad and indifferent. Kurt Cobain?

This is, put simply, vacuous chattering. It is devoid of meaning. If this is Tom Friedman’s answer to the problem of how the world can cooperate on global environmental problems, then he’s already consigned himself to the dust bin of intellectual history. Should U.S. government policy encourage garage-band technologies? How can the government do that? Didn’t the computer entrepreneurs do their stuff without any government assistance?

Friedman’s analysis of the economic and environmental challenge to the world is flawed at the root. His policy prescription is ludicrous. Do not buy this book.

Thomas L. Friedman, Hot, Flat, and Crowded, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 2008