Comparing and Contrasting the Seminal work of both Mckibben and Friedman - Starting Where Each Author Came from Preceding the Book

To begin a compare and contrast what could be called the seminal (or at least bestselling) works of both Mckibben and Friedman one would have to start with where each author came from preceding the book.

Friedman got into the writing game focusing on Middle Eastern politics and has since wound up the New York Time’s de facto “wise man” on international affairs. Only a few years before “Hot, Flat and Crowded” came “The World Is Flat,” a breakdown of globalization into three phases, Globalization 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0. Globalization 1.0 encompassed the European colonization and development of the Americas up until about the year 1800. According to Friedman, the driving force behind these four centuries was nationalism, religion, and how those two forces led to the race to and through industrialization.

Globalization 2.0 was characterized by increased communication and expansion via fossil fuel driven transportation, driven by the rise of the multinational corporations. In both these phases, the engine of commerce was top-down command structure. Globalization 3.0 kicked in with the widespread adoption of digital communications and the emergence of India, China and the former Soviet block as players in bottom-up surge of global innovation that Friedman ultimately concludes will lift the world into newfound prosperity, tacitly endorsing the notion of the “hyper-individualism” and the modern notion of “progress” that McKibben spends most of his book condemning. Friedman’s perspective is firmly politico, his book written from a high-rise office building in New York City.

Around this time, McKibben published an anthology of writings from the likes of Jonhn Muir and Aldo Leopold, and a piece of literary journalism about his hike from Vermont to upstate New York; he’s a bit of a self-exiled New Yorker, having left the New Yorker under less than amicable terms. McKibben is a philosopher turned conversationalist. Deep Economy, like the Deep Ecology it references, written from the perspective of a log cabin in Vermont.

Both Friedman and McKibben believe that something in the US has gone wrong with Ronald Reagan, namely the ascension of free market dogma. At this point, McKibben lays out his case against “the cult of growth,”: there is empirical research that suggests that more money does not make us happier, the quest for growth has and will always undermine global security and equality, and probably most importantly, the world is going to run out of oil. Friedman, who maintains that the US has lost its competitive edge, introduces his main thesis as “Making American the world’s greenest country is not a selfless act of charity of naïve moral indulgence. It is now a core national security and economic interest.”

Friedman and McKibben agree on a few significant points though; both blame subsidized fossil fuels for our current domestic problems, both agree that the world cannot sustain more of the decadent living promoted in US culture, both find significant merit in the protection of the natural environment. both cite European and Japanese examples of energy efficient planning and both have found virtue in decentralized action—Friedman through the unfettered entrepreneurial spirit and McKibben through social movements like cohousing and community supported agriculture. Both agree that we have limited time to act—McKibben uses peak oil as his metric and Friedman, at least from an ecological imperative, cites climate change. These ecological clocks shape the direction and scope of their solutions.

Early in Deep Economy, McKibben cites the work of the ecological economist Robert Costanza, whose quote probably amounts to what would be McKibben’s most concise critique of Friedman’s call for clean electrons; “the universally appealing notion of unlimited economic growth with reduced energy consumption must be put firmly to rest beside the equally appealing but impossible idea of perpetual motion.” (41). McKibben might also attack the individualist-capitalist motive behind Friedman’s environmental solutions (his critique in Friedman here is more of the prior book, The World is Flat).
McKibben’s solution addresses a wider scope of our classes readings; aside from waving the same banner of localism as Rob Hopkins, he brings up the importance of the commons and how they relate to community relations, addresses several societies which are practicing commons based solutions, and brings up the kind of accountability that Vandana Shiva might call for—that “each American owes the rest of the world between $273 and $1,086 a year” in reparations for pollution.

To the masses, Friedman’s book is the easiest to fathom because it plays into the ascensionist narrative that is written in our history books, sold to us at every single level of socialization. His hope for a better world doesn’t seem to factor in the very real and terrifying implications that come along with the peak fossil fuel predictions and can only serve to mitigate some the negative effects of this new threshold that we’ve pushed ourselves into, one above the 350ppm. All plastic is oil, most paints, pesticides, toothpaste, and toothbrushes—all petrochemicals. There are seven gallons of oil in each tire of a Prius. The edifice built by fossil fuels is the physical reality, the elephant in the room, which undermines Friedman’s global action plan. That said, as a peon in the grand scale, I deeply hope that the powers that be take to heart his message and make the infrastructural changes necessary. If globalism 3.0 is to last longer than 2.0, then there will need to be global cooperation on a scale never seen before and enough power players in the world will have to create an alliance strong enough to undermine the iron-clad grasp that the fossil fuel industries have on ever level of the world economic paradigm. And by Friedman’s own calculation, his vision must happen soon.

Friedman’s book ultimately makes me, the peon, feel powerless. Of course, vote, vote, vote, Friedman would say—I would echo that call. But there’s nothing that anyone of my peers or I can really do to influence the top 1%, the figures in the smoky room, the ones who need to make these fundamental changes happen—at least not in the US. I do think as a country that we are hopeless. And that’s not the worst thing—everyone seems to agree that we need less “Americans” in the world. For thousands of years the Chinese dynasties contained the world’s most advanced civilizations. Western dominance is young and by no means permanent. The collectivist virtues traditionally espoused by Eastern cultures are more conducive towards global stewardship than the individualism of the West. There are very deep and very philosophical questions beneath Friedman’s global map, one’s that are beyond the scope of my understanding at this point…but the decline of our empire may be for the greater good, becoming a third rate country could humble the US enough to perhaps play by its own rules.

McKibben’s plan is ultimately the most useful for the everyday reader, as looks past the impending collapse of the fossil fuel edifice. His economy is one based around, though not mentioned by name, resilience thinking. An economy based on localism and self sufficiency is one that is accessible to the commoner. His shift in mindset is achievable by anyone. The goal of Cuban-like self sufficiency is a national plan that doesn’t rely on powerbrokers, but on the people who really make society function—the farmers, the engineers, the caretakers. Communitarianism can only hope to work in the micro level because, despite what globalization 3.0 would like to believe, the feedback loops that affect people’s every day choices can only be felt by day-to-day interactions. The social norm must manifest itself from the ground up, and that is the only social change that we can honestly hope for; behavior change within friend groups, within families, within communities, in the mindset and values that is the invisible cultural hand that guides our everyday decisions. In many ways, it’s too late to change the habits of our parents and grandparents. But the descentionist story has the capacity to influence my generation profoundly. The recession will have lasting impacts on the echo-boomers. I have accepted the notion that my quality of life may very well not live up to that of my parents. That at least I have accepted.