A Geo-Green Party?

I don’t follow Thomas Friedman as closely as some of my fellow green bloggers (that’s you, Dave…), but my father pointed me to his recent column suggesting a third US political party that took a “Geo-Green” agenda as its centerpiece. Friedman suggests that such a party should call for the implementation of a $1 a gallon gas tax (the “Patriot Tax,” he calls it) to spur alternative energy development, and to eventually bring the price of oil down so oil-rich countries like Saudi Arabia, Venezuala, Iran and the Sudan would “open up.” According to Friedman,

The billions of dollars raised by the Patriot Tax would go first to shore up Social Security, second to subsidize clean mass transit in and between every major American city, third to reduce the deficit, and fourth to massively increase energy research by the National Science Foundation and the Energy and Defense Departments’ research arms.

Most important, though, the Patriot Tax would increase the price of gasoline to a level that would ensure that many of the most promising alternatives β€” ethanol, biodiesel, coal gasification, solar energy, nuclear energy and wind β€” would all be economically competitive with oil and thereby reduce both our dependence on crude and our emissions of greenhouse gases.

In short: the Geo-Green party could claim that it has a plan for shoring up America’s energy security, environmental security, economic security and Social Security with one move.

It could also claim that β€” however the Iraq war ends β€” the Geo-Green party has a strategy for advancing political and economic reform in the Arab-Muslim world, without another war. By stimulating all these alternatives to oil, we would gradually bring down the price, possibly as low as $25 to $30 a barrel. That, better than anything else, would force regimes like those in Iran, Sudan, Egypt, Angola, Venezuela and Saudi Arabia to open up. Countries don’t reform when you tell them they should. They reform when they tell themselves they must β€” and only when the price of oil goes down will they tell themselves they must.

Moreover, by making America the leader in promoting clean power, the Geo-Greens would be offering a credible plan for recouping a lot of America’s lost prestige in the world β€” prestige it lost when the Bush team trashed Kyoto. This would put America in a much better position to galvanize allies to combat jihadism.

It’s an interesting idea, no doubt, but I just can’t see a simple $1/gallon tax changing the oil economy in such fundamental ways. First, to push all forms of alternative energy into more favorable economic positions, wouldn’t we need something more like a CO2 tax? Gasoline and oil are used primarily for transportation, so I’m at a bit of a loss as to how this would affect energy sources used primarily for producing electricity, such as solar and wind… unless we were thinking about ramped-up production of electric and/or plug-in hybrid vehicles (which would be a very good thing). Second (and I’m not an economist), while lower oil prices might put oil-producing countries in a better mood to open up (and I’m still a little fuzzy on what he means by that), wouldn’t that likely kill the alternative development he writes about? We’ve seen a number of times in recent US history how low oil prices bury conservation and alternative energy efforts, and I’m not so sure we’ve reached a higher stage of enlightenment on these issues… And, finally, while I agree with Friedman that we need an alternative to the current two parties, there’s still the “winner-take-all” electoral system that essentially makes a third party a spoiler — remember the Greens in 2000?

On the positive side, I very much like Friedman’s notion of “Geo-Greenism” as a cultural force:

Last, Geo-Greenism could be the foundation of a new American patriotism and educational renaissance. Under the banner “Green is the New Red, White and Blue,” the Geo-Green party would seek to inspire young Americans to study math, science and engineering to help make America not only energy independent but also the dominant player in what will be the dominant industry of the 21st century: clean power and green technology.

Quite frankly, I think a “Green Dog” caucus in the Democratic party (which had the backing of some big players like Al Gore) might have a better shot at making some of these ideas realities. Having had my own flirtations with third parties (I voted for Ralph Nader in 2000), I’ve become a much bigger fan of working within the existing parties. Now that the business sector is embracing sustainability more openly and, to a large degree, more honestly, I think there are opportunities to bring these issues to the front and center. Ultimately, I suppose that’s what Friedman wants to do here, and while I’d quibble with him on some details, I’m glad someone with his audience is discussing these ideas.

Thanks to The Flaming Grasshopper for reprinting Friedman’s column in toto, and, as always, thanks to the old man for pointing it out…

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