New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, on tour for his new book "Hot, Flat and Crowded," spoke to an industry-heavy crowd at the Hotel Bel-Air this morning, telling them that the shift to a green economy will take much more than good intentions.
He says, "What we are trying to do is the equivalent of trying to launch the NASA space program to put a man on the moon when Southwest Airlines already flies to the moon. Do you think we ever would have gotten funding for NASA, the Apollo moonshot, if Southwest Airlines already flew to the moon and gave away free peanuts? I don’t think so. So that is government’s one role: Shape the market, and then get out of the way. Because then what you will see is 100,000 innovators in 100,000 garages trying 100,000 [environmental technology] things, a thousand of which will be promising, a 100 of which will be way cool and two of which will be the next green Google and green Microsoft."
Friedman’s appearance was sponsored by the Foreign Policy Roundtable, which holds regular salons on international affairs. ICM’s Chris Silbermann was host, with political consultant Donna Bojarsky as one of the chief organizers.
"It is all about price, what will happen if you dont have a price signal?" says Friedman, to a crowd that included Jeff Berg, Taylor Hackford, Helen Mirren, Willow Bay, Peter Roth, Russell Goldsmith, Damon Lindelof and Jon Glickman.
"You will get people to do things. You will get a venture capitalist to try that, but you wont get it at scale. And this is a scale project, and if you don’t have scale, you have a hobby."
He is most skeptical of the efforts of Detroit automakers, noting that they’ve done little innovation even when the writing has been on the wall for decades. He chides Michigan’s congressional and Senate delegations as well, saying that they "deserve to be the pallbearers when they bury Detroit."