Other segments from the episode on September 8, 2008
DATE September 8, 2008 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Thomas Friedman on the candidates' stands on global
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
Where do the candidates stand on our energy future, on drilling for oil and on
creating new sources of cleaner, more sustainable sources of energy? My guest
is New York Times columnist Tom Friedman. He's written a new book called
"Hot, Flat and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution, and How It Can Renew
America." "Hot" refers to global warming, "Flat" to the global economy that
has put the American middle class in competition with workers around the
world. "Crowded" refers to rapid population growth. Friedman says hot, flat
and crowded have converged to tighten energy supplies, expand the extinction
of plants and animals, deepen energy poverty, strengthen petro-dictatorships
and accelerate climate change.
Friedman has won three Pulitzer Prizes for his work with The New York Times.
His best-selling books include "From Beirut To Jerusalem" and "The World Is
Tom Friedman, welcome back to FRESH AIR. Now, I was reading your book last
Wednesday night while I was listening to the Republican convention, so as I
was reading your thoughts on ending our oil addiction, I heard Rudy Giuliani
lead a chant of, "Drill, baby, drill." And as I listened to everybody chanting
"drill, baby, drill" at the Republican convention, I was wondering, what will
Tom Friedman have to say about that? So what do you have to say about that?
Mr. THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Well, I started to imagine a column where the Saudi,
Russian and Venezuelan observers at the Republican convention were watching
this. And what would they be saying to each other? They would be up there in
one of those sky boxes high-fiving each other. It is happy days are here
again. Drill, baby, drill! Because what basically Giuliani was leading that
crowd into saying is, `Let's stay addicted to oil.' And boy, that is the best
news in the world for the Venezuelan, Russian and Saudi delegates. They
couldn't have scripted a chant like that better themselves.
Mr. FRIEDMAN: Because basically, what is it that they want? They're looking
for the United States to remain focused on fossil fuels and not throw
everything--and I mean everything, Terry--into innovation around clean energy
technologies and a clean energy system. You know, when I think about that
"drill, baby, drill" mantra, Terry, you know what I'm reminded of? It's as if
that Republican convention, on the eve of the birth of the Internet and the
personal computer, was up chanting, `Let's stick with IBM Selectric
typewriters! IBM Selectrics forever! Type, type, type!' OK? We're on the
eve of a new technological revolution. It's as if on the eve of the PC and
the Internet, the entire convention was standing up and chanting for IBM
Selectric typewriters. What a wonderful bridge to the 20th century.
GROSS: Well, I'd love to hear your brief takes on where the candidates stand
on energy. So let's start with John McCain.
Mr. FRIEDMAN: Well, you know, I'm very disappointed in John McCain, I have
to tell you, Terry, because he's someone I respect as a leader, as a political
figure, and someone who, as I thought about this campaign before it began, I
thought, `Wow, this is great. For the first time we're going to have two
green candidates.' And I don't think that anymore. There has been a bill
pending before the US Senate for the last year. It's been voted on, or
attempted to pass, eight times. This gets a little technical, but it's very
important. It's a bill to extend the production and investment tax credits
for wind and solar energy. So if Terry Gross wants to start a company to put
solar panels up, you would get this tax credit that would make it enormously
beneficial for you to do that. Or if Terry Gross wanted to start a wind
company, you'd get this production credit. What's happening is, on December
31st, the existing tax credits are going to expire. And for the last year,
the US Senate has been trying to pass an extension of these tax credits; and
it has failed now eight times, and all eight times that bill was voted on,
John McCain failed to show up, including one time when he was actually in
Washington, DC, and wouldn't come to vote, and it failed by one vote, 59 to
And that is very disappointing to me, especially since the biggest
concentrated solar project in the world right now is on paper, ready to go,
outside of where, Terry? Phoenix, Arizona. It involves something between
1500 and 2,000 jobs, as much steel--these are big manufacturing blue-collar
projects--as the Golden Gate Bridge. And yet John McCain did not show up one
time. Obama showed up three times and voted in favor; McCain did not show up
once. That's one disappointment I have.
Second disappointment is he supported a lifting of the federal gasoline tax
for the summer driving season, which is such a absurd, ridiculous giveaway of
federal tax dollars to encourage the worst kind of behavior--summer
driving--which would only drive up demand for oil and make us more addicted.
And lastly, he has been out--I'm really sorry to say--really misleading the
American people, making them stupid by telling them that if we just drill,
drill, drill today, your gasoline price at the pump will come down today. And
therefore if Obama doesn't say drill, drill, drill too, he is for raising your
gasoline price at the pump today. It is bloody dishonest. It is making
people stupid. And frankly, I find it disgusting at this critical moment.
GROSS: Wow, you have strong feelings.
What about Barack Obama? What are you hearing from him about energy?
Mr. FRIEDMAN: You know, what I feel comes from Obama is, all the right words
are there. I read his Web site, his energy platform. When he speaks, he does
speak in these terms of transformative a energy revolution and having it be
the foundation of a new American industry and more jobs, but I don't feel like
it's the core of what he's about. I don't feel it's really central. I feel
like it's a box he's checked, you know, along with health care and
immigration. So, you know, I give him, you know, high marks for, I think,
understanding the importance of the issue. But I don't give him very high
marks for real passion or talking really honestly about what we're really
going to need to do if we're going to lead this revolution.
GROSS: Let me quote something that you've written. You've said, "It's more
important to change your leaders than your lightbulbs." What do you mean by
Mr. FRIEDMAN: What we need, Terry, to solve this problem is like in the IT
revolution. We need 100,000 innovators in 100,000 garages trying 100,000
things, 100 of which will be really promising, 10 will be workable, and three
will be the next Google. How do you trigger that? Well, the only way you
trigger that, in my view, is if you have a market. And we have a market, but
that market's got to be shaped with the right price signals and the right
standards, right rules and regulations. And basically, my argument is that
it's leaders who write the rules. They're the ones who pass the tax law, the
carbon tax, the gasoline tax, raise it or lower it. They're the ones who
write the rules for energy standards and efficiencies. And only if you get
the rules right in the market so it produces fuels from heaven--that is clean
fuels, not fuel from hell, dirty fuels, you're really not going to have this
explosion of innovation that we need. So that's why I say...
GROSS: So you're not discouraging us from using energy-efficient lightbulbs
and appliances, but with everything we can do as individuals, it's not enough.
You're saying we need a leadership that will have the right energy policies to
create a green energy future.
Mr. FRIEDMAN: Exactly.
GROSS: So you really stress taxes and incentives, taxes on oil and incentives
for alternative energy. And why is that such a centerpiece of what you think
is really essential to the future?
Mr. FRIEDMAN: Well, it goes back to, you know, one of the central arguments
here, which is that this is a huge scale problem. This is the biggest
industrial project, to try to move from a dirty fuel system; and that's what
we have now, we have a dirty fuel system based on coal, oil and natural gas.
And Terry, it's a system, and it works really well. Six blocks from your
studio, there's a gasoline station that will fill up your car for $3 a gallon,
or $4 a gallon, whatever it is today. OK? And that system works really well.
If we want to replace that, that is a huge scale project. And if you don't
shape the market, all right, to give you the kind of innovation at scale that
what we need, you've really just got a hobby. I like hobbies: I used to
build model airplanes. I play golf. I don't believe in trying to work with
others to save the world as a hobby.
GROSS: But, you know, with taxes on gasoline, that puts an extra burden on
people who are struggling to get by. It makes it difficult just to get to
work. So does a tax on gas unfairly burden the working class?
Mr. FRIEDMAN: Absolutely, which is why I believe it should be revenue
neutral. And that is that we should tax what we don't want, which is people
consuming fossil fuels--we should raise taxes on that--and we should lower
taxes on what we do want, which is people working, which is why whatever tax
increase we impose on oil, coal and natural gas, we should take off on the
other side from people's weekly payroll deduction. To me it should be revenue
neutral, or if not revenue neutral, you know, revenue neutral for all but the
GROSS: Now, you offer Denmark as a country that you visited that you think
got it right awhile ago. What did they do that's right?
Mr. FRIEDMAN: Well, basically, you know, after the 1973 war and the first
Arab oil shock, let's look at what America did and what Denmark did. You
know, what we did was say, `Wow, we've got to really take on this issue.' So,
you know, beginning with President Ford and President Carter, we said, `We're
going to double the fuel efficiency of American cars from--it was about 13
miles a gallon then to'--I believe it was 27.5. `And we're going to do that
over 10 years.' And we did that. And we were so successful in doing that,
Terry, that we helped break OPEC in the late '80s and early '90s and really
crater the price of oil. Well, that worked out so well that Ronald Reagan,
when he came along, said, `That's enough of that,' and he ripped off the solar
panels that Jimmy Carter had put on the White House roof--they were recently
auctioned online from a government warehouse--and he put a stop to all that
regulatory efficiency. And we just kind of stopped. In fact, we have not
raised our fuel efficiency standards--we didn't raise them for basically
30-odd years--until just last year.
Now Denmark, by contrast, well, they fortunately had discovered some oil and
gas in the North Sea, but that wasn't the key. They basically put a huge tax
on gasoline. For a while they said people couldn't even drive on Sunday.
They imposed a CO2 tax. Actually, if you go to your electric bill in Denmark,
you can actually see a CO2 tax down there. And they invested in huge amounts
of energy efficiency, new systems to basically capture the heat from burning
coal and from incinerating waste products and use it for home heating.
They did a whole series of efficiency steps and taxes and incentives, the net
result of which was, what? Their economy must have been crushed, right,
Terry? Unemployment in Denmark today: 1.6 percent. Oh, but their companies
must've absolutely been hammered. The leading wind company in the world
today, Vestas, one out of every three wind turbines in the world today
produced by Denmark. Novozymes and Danisco, the two leading ethanol enzymatic
companies in the world, out of Denmark. In other words, what these rules,
prices and taxes did was shape the market in Denmark that stimulated all this
innovation around energy efficiency, which produced new Danish companies to do
this, which then went global, and they actually ended up buying the American
wind companies that went bust in the '80s when Reagan basically took the
subsidies away from wind and the US Congress, Democrats included. Well, they
were bought by Denmark, and today they're major Denmark companies.
By the way, some of those solar companies that we spawned in the '70s and
'80s? They went bust also when we removed our subsidies and taxes. They were
bought by Japan. So I can't tell you how grateful the innovators and the
corporate leaders of Japan and Denmark today are for all the money America
invested in the research in wind and solar which spawned companies here, which
went bust in the '80s when we removed the subsidies for them, and they were
bought by Japan and Denmark. `Thank you very much.' One of the leading wind
innovators in America, in fact, was given a medal of honor by the government
of Denmark because basically all his technology ended up there. Have a nice
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Tom Friedman. He's a columnist
for The New York Times. And he has a new book called "Hot, Flat and Crowded:
Why We Need a Green Revolution, and How It Can Renew America." Let's take a
short break here, and then we'll talk some more. This is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Tom Friedman. He's a columnist
for The New York Times, best-selling author, and his new book is called "Hot,
Flat and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution, and How It Can Renew
Here you write a lot about the problems we're creating by not innovating our
energy system and by relying on oil. And you write about how our oil
addiction is supporting petro-dictatorships, funding terrorists and supporting
the most intolerant, anti-modern, anti-Western, anti-women's rights,
anti-pluralistic strain of Islam, the strain propagated by Saudi Arabia. This
is what you say in your book. And you add that our oil addiction is helping
to finance a reversal of the democratic trends in Russia and Latin America
that was in set in motion by the fall of communism. How is our oil addiction
helping to reverse democratic trends in Russia and Latin America?
Mr. FRIEDMAN: Well, you know, just really look at Russia and Europe since
1989, Terry. We thought that the fall of the Berlin Wall was going to really
herald and usher in an irreversible era of sort of democracy and peace in
Europe. And for the first 15 years, it really did that. But those 15 years
really coincided with oil in the 20 to 40 to even $50-a-barrel range. But as
we exploded out of that range into the 80, 90, 100 and all the way up to
$140-dollar-a-barrel oil, it basically has galvanized, enriched and empowered
a whole group of petro-dictatorships that are now forming a countertide, a
petro-dictatorship tide, to the free market democracy tide unleashed by the
fall of the Berlin Wall. And you can see that in Putin's Russia today.
I coined, in the book, what I call the first law of petro politics, which
argues that the price of oil and the pace of freedom operate in an inverse
correlation. And what I did was simply graft the price of oil from the late
1970s until 2005. And if you do that, it basically looks, you know, in rough
numbers, like $80, then fell in the '90s down to as low as $10, and then back
up to $80 in the early 2000s. So it looks like a V if you do that. Well, if
you then--what I did was I went to Freedom House and got the Freedom House
indexes for Russia, Venezuela, Iran and Nigeria, and I just overlaid, you
know, the Freedom House indexes, which are indexes of parliaments open, free
and fair elections, women's groups begun, NGOs, etc. And if I overlaid it on
top of that, what it looks is just like the opposite. And so what you see is
that the price of oil and the pace of freedom actually operate in an inverse
GROSS: Now, when you talk about Russia, you also, you know, point out that a
lot of people credit Ronald Reagan with the fall of the Soviet Union. But you
say the fall of the Soviet Union had to do with the price of oil.
Mr. FRIEDMAN: I believe that was--and I mean, it wasn't me saying it, I'm
clearly quoting Russian economists Vladimir Mao and Yegor Gaidar as really
making that point. You know, I gave a talk in Moscow a couple years ago at
the US embassy about this issue; and in the talk I said that it was, you know,
with all due respect to Ronald Reagan, it was $10-a-barrel oil that brought
down the Soviet Union, which, after all, was the world's biggest oil producer.
And after the talk, a Russian economist in the audience, Vladimir Mao, I was
talking to him and I said, `Vladimir, I'm right, it was $10-a-barrel oil that
brought down the Soviet Union.' He said, `No, Tom, you're wrong. It was
$80-a-barrel oil followed by $10-a-barrel oil that brought down the Soviet
Union.' And what he meant was, what $80-a-barrel oil did in the '70s was
really sucker the Soviet state into thinking it was stronger than it was. It
extended itself into all kinds of areas, subsidies, imports and whatnot; and
then when $10-a-barrel oil came and they had to withdraw from all those areas,
the whole system collapsed.
By the way, Iran is ripe for the exact same phenomenon.
GROSS: Oh, how so?
Mr. FRIEDMAN: A couple of years ago Iran exported $44 billion worth of oil,
and that was probably 80 or 90 percent of all Iranian exports or foreign
currency earnings. The rest were probably carpets and pistachios. And in the
same year, Iran's government spent $25 billion on subsidies--subsidies of
fuel, gasoline, in Tehran at the time was like 30 cents a gallon; subsidies of
housing, education, all kinds of building; subsidies of food, etc. Now
imagine if the price of oil were cut in half and suddenly Iran's total amount
of subsidies was the same amount as the entire government budget. What would
that--there's a term for that in economics. It's called unsustainable. So
Iran, which has about 12 percent unemployment today at $110-a-barrel oil,
imagine what happens to that regime--which basically is just using this oil
money to buy off its people--imagine if that regime suddenly has to deal with
$40 or $50-a-barrel oil.
Imagine what it does to Hezbollah. You know, Hezbollah launched a war against
Israel a couple years ago with an attack across the border, and then Israel
came in, bombed all these Shiite neighborhoods in Beirut, smashed up the
place. And suddenly, the morning after the war, Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed
militia, was out there telling its people, `You know, no problem. We'll
rebuild your homes.' You know, they reminded me of a group of kind of rich
college students who rent a house on the beach, you know, for a weekend and
smash up the place completely and then tell the landlord, flip him the keys
and say, `No problem, Dad will pay.' Well, Iran was Dad. And Dad had tons of
our oil money. And so Hezbollah could launch a war, get their housing areas
in south Beirut, excuse me, completely ravaged and then say to people, `No
problem. Dad will pay.'
GROSS: So in that respect, you think our oil addiction is indirectly funding
Mr. FRIEDMAN: Oh, absolutely. It's absolutely doing so. It's funding just
about every bad trend in the world today. I mean, if we could find a way to
truly get off our addiction to oil, as Michael Mandelbaum says in the book, it
isn't just win/win, Terry, it's win/win/win/win/win/win. Think of the things
that happen. Our trade deficit dramatically improves. Our dollar
strengthens. We weaken the worst regimes in the world. We mitigate global
warming. We clean up our air. We become healthier, more secure, more
economically strong, competitive and respected in the world. And people are
out there saying, "drill, baby, drill." What planet are these people
inhabiting? What am I missing here? What planet are you on exactly?
GROSS: Tom Friedman will be back in the second half of the show. His new
book is called "Hot, Flat and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution, and
How It Can Renew America." I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with Pulitzer Prize-winning
New York Times columnist Tom Friedman. We're talking about his new book,
"Hot, Flat and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution, and How It Can Renew
America." Friedman says we have to end our addiction to oil.
Well, if we are addicted to oil, who do you see as the real enablers in that
addiction? Why aren't we changing?
Mr. FRIEDMAN: Well, I mean, the oil companies are enablers, number one.
They are huge campaign contributors to all parties, frankly, but they've
certainly been longtime and deep contributors to the Republican Party. And
they have no interest--Terry, let me ask you something. Doesn't it strike you
as odd that here we have this bill before the Senate, OK, for extending--it's
just a simple thing--extending the renewable energy tax credits for wind and
solar. And by the way, it's just--for solar it was for eight years, for wind
it was one year. And by the way, in the solar and wind industries, they are
completely frozen now, OK? Because these tax credits haven't been extended.
So people are finishing projects that will be covered by this year's tax
credits, and virtually nobody's starting new projects--unless you're T. Boone
Pickens and have $4 billion--into the future. You couldn't make that up, OK,
that at this key time in America, all right, we are basically grinding down
our wind and solar energy industries.
Now, we got a president named George Bush, went out and told us we're addicted
to oil. So do you think that president might lift a finger, just one little
pinky, to invite the people in Congress, Democrats and Republicans, after
eight times trying to pass these extenders for wind and solar, might invite
them to Camp David for a weekend and say, `Guys, gals, can't we work this
out?' Have you heard the president slamming the table for that? No, it's
"drill, baby, drill." It's crazy.
GROSS: So you said the oil companies are standing in the way. Like, who
else? Why isn't a bill like that getting passed?
Mr. FRIEDMAN: Basically it's two things, frankly. It's oil companies, and
you also have the Republicans in the Senate who have not wanted this bill to
be passed, if you ask the people in the solar industry, OK. They haven't
wanted it to be passed because they don't want the Democrats to get a victory
in this election year. And so you have some really interesting things going
on here. Our premiere solar company, First Solar, is in Toledo, Ohio, OK?
And their own senator, Voinovich, voted against extending solar tax credits.
So what did First Solar do? And as I'm watching this campaign, all this stuff
and Ohio and everyone denouncing NAFTA. While everyone was out there
denouncing NAFTA, you know, and talking about poor, working-class jobs being
lost in Ohio, First Solar was opening its newest factory in Frankfurt Oder,
East Germany, because the East Germans were providing the tax credits and the
market for a solar industry. And so 300 great engineering jobs move from Ohio
to Frankfurt Oder, East Germany; and their own senator, Voinovich, voted
Sununu from New Hampshire voted to defeat the solar energy tax credits when
the best solar equipment company in the world, maybe, GT Solar, is in his own
state. Now, how many times do you think oil senators vote against oil
companies in America? Never. But when it comes to solar or wind, no problem,
baby, because the solar and wind, they don't give campaign contributions, you
know, they can't twist your arm, they can't fly you on their airplane. They
don't do that. They're not big enough yet.
GROSS: Outside of the people who really committed to a green energy future, I
think a lot of people assume, when you start talking about a green energy
future, that it's going to boring. There's all these kind of like crunchy
granola stereotypes about anybody who's interested in a green energy future.
What's your approach to kind of shattering that?
Mr. FRIEDMAN: Well, it's really what the whole book is about. You know, I
mean--see, the problem with the issue of green was, for all these years, the
term green was really owned by its opponents, you know. I'm a big
believer--and we may have talked about this before--to name something is to
own it. You know, if you can name an issue, you really own the issue. And so
the people who basically named green were basically its opponents and critics,
and they named it a liberal, tree-hugging, girly-man, sissy, unpatriotic,
vaguely French. Vaguely French. And basically, what I'm really out to do in
this book is to rename green: geopolitical, geostrategic, geoeconomic,
innovative, competitive, patriotic. Green is the new red, white and blue.
Because this is all of those things.
To conservatives, I say, look, this book is a plan to make America stronger,
more energy secure, more nationally secure, more competitive, more
entrepreneurial, and more economically healthy and more respected in the
world. Oh, and by the way, all that stuff Al Gore talks about, we'll take
care of that as a byproduct. To liberals and to greens, I say, I've got a
plan to make America greener. Oh, and by the way, all that stuff that Dick
Cheney talks about, we'll take care of that as a byproduct.
Now, why am I doing this? Is this some cute conceit? No, it's because I
honestly believe that this is an issue that joins both of these things; and
not only does it intellectually, but it must. Because if you don't do that,
if green is just owned as a kind of Birkenstock, sandal-wearing, hippy,
wine/cheese-eating issue, OK, and isn't seen as an issue about national
security and growth and making America stronger, healthier, more competitive,
economically healthy and secure, then we'll never have scale, Terry. And
without scale on this issue, you really got nothing.
GROSS: I know you think our energy future really relies on good leadership,
on a government that gets it when it comes to an alternative energy plan, an
alternative to our oil addiction. But at the same time, you want to encourage
people to do the right thing in their own lives. So what are some of the
things that you think are easiest to do to, you know, lead a more greener
Mr. FRIEDMAN: Yeah, I mean, you know, I think, again, that what I really try
to argue in the book for is that we need a clean energy system. Because only
a system will allow ordinary people to do extraordinary things. That, you
know, ordinary people who are struggling with a mortgage to get through their
day, OK, they can't think of the 205 easy ways to go green. And therefore we
need a system that, you know, turns off the lights for you, you know, when you
leave the room or go down the hall, you know. We need a system that will
create all this energy efficiency for you automatically. That's why a system
is so important.
But what can individuals do? I think there's things you want to do personally
and things you want to do politically. You know, personally, the thing you
can do--and this is what we try to do in our family, in my own, is be a work
in progress. You know what I mean? Nobody's perfect. Man, I'm sure not,
I'll tell you that. I got plenty of energy hoggery, you know, in my life.
But we're trying to be a work in progress. So I can afford to buy a hybrid
car, buy a hybrid car. I can afford to install a solar system, I do that.
Everyone may find something else. Maybe they'll take the subway once a week,
maybe they'll ride to work when they can. Maybe their kids will, God, walk to
school again and not have mom or dad in their SUV, you know, drive them and
then sit in the parking lot with the car idling, you know, for 30 minutes
waiting for them to get out.
And so, you know, Amory Lovins, I once asked him, you know, the great
environmental entrepreneur, I said, `Amory, you know, what do you do, and how
do you be, you know, an environmentally energy conscious?' And he had a really
good answer. He just said, `Pay attention.' So that's on the personal level.
On the political level, really what you want to hear from a politician is, you
know, `Are you ready to impose a, you know, a tax on carbon or gasoline and
offset it with a reduction in payroll taxes so we're getting people to--we're
incentivizing them to work more and to consume fewer dirty fuel. Are you
ready to do that? Are you ready to support these investment and production
tax credits that make it a no-brainer to invest in alternative energy? And
are you ready to support what are called'--this is a sort of technical
gobbledygook, but very important--`renewable portfolio standards?' And those
are the standards that say to your utility in your state, `By the year 2025,
you have to produce 30 percent of your energy from renewable power.' Why is
that important? Because it creates a huge market. So the EU today, the
European Union, already has a renewable energy portfolio standard for all of
Europe, and that's why all these energy companies are going over there,
renewable energy companies, to try to do business and start companies. What
do we have? We have 26 states, I think, that have renewable portfolio
standards and another 24 that don't. So we have this completely vulcanized
market which doesn't, then, attract the companies, you know, you need.
The third thing you need to do--or third or fourth, I don't where I am on the
list--is that we need to change the bargain between you and your utility. For
100 years, our electric companies have gotten rich by getting you to consume
more energy. Now, remember when your mom and dad, when you left the lights
on, came into your room and said, `Excuse me, Terry, but do you own stock in
the electric company?'
GROSS: Yep, they said that.
Mr. FRIEDMAN: They said that!
GROSS: They said that.
Mr. FRIEDMAN: And there is a reason they said that: Because when you left
the lights on, the electric company's stock went up. We need to change that
bargain--this has already begun in California and in Idaho--where your
electric utility gets rich doing the right thing. That is, it gets rich in
terms of how much energy it gets its customers to save year over year rather
than how much electricity it gets them to consume. We need to change that
bargain for every utility in the country.
So those are the things I'd focus on in terms of legislation. And in your
personal life, do whatever you can because whatever you do, Terry, when you
buy different lightbulbs and you buy a different car, when you demand
different insulation, you know, when you look for energy efficient products,
you're creating another little opening and widening of the market for those
goods. And that's a really good thing.
GROSS: The first day of the Republican convention was, you know, virtually
canceled as a result of Hurricane Gustav. Now, you can't say that any one
hurricane is the result of climate change, but I think a lot of people who
study these things believe that the pattern of extreme weather is connected to
climate change. So as the Republican convention is being affected so
profoundly--not to mention the residents of New Orleans and other places along
the Gulf Coast--we learn that the vice presidential Republican nominee, Sarah
Palin, doesn't believe that climate change is affected by human behavior. So
what went through your mind when you heard that?
Mr. FRIEDMAN: Well, the northern edge of Alaska's busy, you know, melting
off into the ocean, and she doesn't believe that, you know, mankind has
anything to do with climate change. I would just have to ask her a very
simple question: Have you studied this issue? Have you read the literature?
Have you talked to climatologists in your own state about it? Or is this
simply a political mantra, you know, that you've gotten because it's
convenient and fits with your expedient political needs at the moment? I
mean, on what basis are you making that claim? We have before us the
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate, the world's top 2500 climatologists, who
have concluded that mankind is in fact interfering with the climate. Do you
have science to the contrary?
You know, the point, Terry, is that this is not global warming. The chapters,
you know, in the book I have on climate is called "Global Weirding," which is
a term coined by Hunter Lovins, because I think that's a much better
description of what's going to go on. The weather's going to get weird. It
isn't just going to get warm. What happens with climate change is you get
more extremes. You get hotter hots, longer droughts, wetter wets. You know,
more frequent, forceful hurricanes, tornadoes showing up in cities where
they've never showed up. That's what's going to happen. To think it's oh,
this gentle little global warming, that's not what's going to go on. The
weather's going to get weird, and in case you haven't noticed, the weather's
And, you know, to me the really unnerving kind of thing about this moment, and
I relate this discussion I have in the book with Nate Lewis, who's an energy
chemist at Caltech, is I came to Nate one day, who was really one of my
tutors, and said, `Nate, you know, what is it about Katrina that kind of
bothered us so much?' And he rolled that idea around in his head for a minute,
and he said, `Who made it hot?' And I said, `What?' And he said, `What's going
on now is we've introduced so much CO2 into Mother Nature's operating system,
we don't know anymore the difference between an act of God and an act of man.
Who made it hot? We don't know anymore.'
GROSS: Tom Friedman, thanks so much for talking with us.
Mr. FRIEDMAN: It is my pleasure.
GROSS: Tom Friedman is a columnist for The New York Times. His new book is
called "Hot, Flat and Crowded."
Coming up, J.J. Abrams, the co-creator of "Alias" and "Lost," discusses his
new series, "Fringe," about investigations into the secret world of fringe
science. This is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Interview: J.J. Abrams on his new TV series, "Fringe," and his
TERRY GROSS, host:
J.J. Abrams is a writer and producer of TV shows and films that tend to be
filled with lots of action and even more twists and turns. His first TV
series, "Felicity," didn't fall into that category, but "Lost" sure did. So
did "Alias," "Mission: Impossible III," and "Cloverfield." Next year, Abrams'
new "Star Trek" movie will be released, with the hope it will reboot that
franchise the way "Dark Knight" rebooted Batman. And tomorrow night on Fox,
Abrams presents his latest TV series, "Fringe." Before we hear the interview
he recorded with our TV critic David Bianculli, let's hear a scene from
"Fringe." "Fringe" is about an FBI agent named Olivia Dunham, played by Anna
Torv, who teams up with a father/son team to investigate unusual phenomenon.
The father, played by John Noble, a somewhat mad scientist, has been locked in
a mental institution. The estranged son, played by Joshua Jackson, believed
his father was working on more mundane things like toothpaste, until Olivia
explained what was really going on. Well, she sort of explained it.
(Soundbite of "Fringe")
Ms. ANNA TORV: (As Olivia Dunham) He worked out of Harvard, but not on
toothpaste. He was part of a classified US Army experimental program called
Kelvin Genetics. They gave him the resources to do whatever work he wanted,
which was primarily in an area called fringe science.
Mr. JOSHUA JACKSON: (As Peter Bishop) When you say fringe science, you mean
Ms. TORV: (As Olivia Dunham) I suppose. Things like mind control,
teleportation, astral projection, invisibility, genetic mutation, reanimation
Mr. JACKSON: (As Peter Bishop) Whoa. Excuse me for a sec. Reanimation?
Really? So you're telling me, what, my father was Dr. Frankenstein?
(End of soundbite)
DAVID BIANCULLI, host:
That was Anna Torv and Joshua Jackson in a scene from the pilot of "Fringe."
J.J. Abrams, welcome to FRESH AIR.
Mr. J.J. ABRAMS: Thanks. Thanks for having me.
BIANCULLI: So J.J., why don't you start by explaining that explanation.
What's going on in your show?
Mr. ABRAMS: "Fringe" takes place in this sort of weird gray area, where what
we know to be true and what we know to be possible is sort of pushed just far
enough that it's preposterous; and at the same time, every day, you know, you
read in the paper online, you read about insane medical and scientific events
that are occurring, or breakthroughs that are made. And so we wanted to make
sure that it's clear in the show that these are the kind of things, this is
the sort of world that we will be playing with.
BIANCULLI: It seems like the pilot draws a little bit on "The X-Files" and a
little bit on "Altered States," and maybe even on some weird things that you
wouldn't want to take credit for, like "The Cell." What's the tone you're
trying to set, and how much emphasis are you placing on the show's look and
Mr. ABRAMS: I think that, first of all, the show, without question, was
inspired by a whole slew of things. I was a huge fan of David Cronenberg
films when I was a kid.
Mr. ABRAMS: I loved "Altered States." "The Twilight Zone" was my favorite
show of all time; and certainly the, you know, idea of doing a series that is,
on the one hand, a procedural--that is, some mystery or crime that is solved
every week--mixed with some kind of odd science fiction or genre, leads you
without question to "The X-Files." So the influences were enormous, and all
those shows, you know, "The Night Stalker" and those movies, relied heavily on
the look and the sound.
Mr. ABRAMS: Even the Cronenberg films, you know, the early ones may not have
been as obviously stylized as something, you know, like "The Cell," for
example. The fact is that the visuals were the things that really landed,
often. You know, "Scanners," the guy's head exploding and, you know, the
things that he would do that were so insane. "Videodrome" having, you know,
characters reaching into their bodies and pulling out, you know, VHS tapes.
It was ridiculous.
Mr. ABRAMS: So to me, what you see and what you hear--I mean, it's a visual
medium and an aural medium, so I think that, you know, obviously we're trying
to use that stuff as well as possible.
BIANCULLI: The first time you directed, I think, on television was an episode
Mr. ABRAMS: Mm-hmm.
BIANCULLI: And that's not that long ago. Is that correct?
Mr. ABRAMS: Yes. It was two episodes of "Felicity," yeah.
BIANCULLI: So you just jump ahead not too many years, and instead of
directing Keri Russell, whom you helped make a star, you're directing Tom
Cruise in "Mission: Impossible III."
Mr. ABRAMS: With Keri Russell.
BIANCULLI: With Keri Russell, yes. So what's the difference between becoming
a director on a giant, giant movie set like that, with such an established
movie star, and still doing this sort of directing that you want to do?
Mr. ABRAMS: With "Mission: Impossible," it was an incredible thing. From
the very beginning, Tom said to me, `This is going to be your movie.' And I
was warned by a lot of people, smart, experienced people, who said, `You know,
listen, you got to be careful. I know so-and-so who worked with this other
guy over here, and that was a nightmare, and this is an actor-producer, and
that was--'--you know, and I was like, `It's not going to happen this time.' I
can just tell. And I have to say, there was not a day on the set of that
movie where he didn't stand by his word.
And so the answer to your question, honestly, is, when we did "Felicity," and
it was the first series that I was involved with, the actors were completely
game, and were wonderful and worked with Matt Reeves and myself to make the
thing as good as it could be. And I found myself on the set of this big
Hollywood blockbuster with my name on the director chair, and I was surrounded
by actors, including, you know, one of the biggest in the world, who was doing
nothing but trying to realize that vision I had. And I have to tell you, it
is--as surreal as the moment was when he asked me if I wanted to do it, the
entire experience of directing the movie was equally surreal, because it was
the dream version of what you'd want. And I am beholden to him for that
GROSS: We're listening to J.J. Abrams speaking with our TV critic David
Bianculli. Abrams' new Fox TV series "Fringe" premieres tomorrow night. More
after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: Let's get back to the interview our TV critic David Bianculli recorded
with J.J. Abrams, the co-creator of "Alias," "Lost," and the new show
"Fringe," which premieres tomorrow night on Fox. When we left off, they were
talking about "Mission: Impossible III," which Abrams directed.
BIANCULLI: There's a dramatic technique you use at the beginning of that
movie that you like a lot. I certainly like it a lot, watching it as a
viewer, which is throwing you into some point of the action at the very start,
and then doing flashbacks to get you back up to speed. I mean, "Lost" is
virtually based on it. You did it in some episodes in "Alias," and here it is
starting this huge movie. What about that appeals to you?
Mr. ABRAMS: I guess I like the puzzle nature of it. I love throwing an
audience into a situation that you have to scramble to figure out; and then
just as you're watching something that is a cliffhanger, you pull out of the
scene and go to 48 hours earlier, and you're suddenly engaged in the minutiae
of a moment in a way that you wouldn't be otherwise because it's been informed
with some sort of, you know, climactic moment yet to come. And there's
something that is inherently fascinating to me about watching something with
the awareness of where it goes. I mean, it's sort of, you know, when you
watch, you know, news clips from the past, and you're aware of the fate of
that particular person.
Mr. ABRAMS: Or you know, you know, how it ended for that couple, or you
know, you know, whatever the situation. And there's something that sort of
stirs emotions for me. And so it's not--look, I mean, ultimately, what it is
is a gimmick, and we all, you know, have our gimmicks and things that we like
to do, and you got to be careful. You can't do that kind of stuff too often,
and I think, you know, I probably do, and it's one of those things that I, you
BIANCULLI: I enjoy it. I'll stick by it.
Mr. ABRAMS: God bless you, first of all. And secondly, you know, at a
certain point, you know, there are certain things that I guess begin to define
the kind of work that someone does, and so maybe that's one of my, you know,
stupid tricks. But the thing I like about it is that, you get to sort of have
little mundane moments have real meaning, and you also start, as the audience
member, you're figuring out how you get there at the same time as you're
trying to figure out, `Well, how the hell is he or she going to get out of
that one?' So I just, I like that it kind of engages your brain on a couple
levels. And when it works, I think it can be a really effective device.
BIANCULLI: If you're just joining us, we're talking with
writer/director/producer J.J. Abrams.
You seem very, very interested in plot and the intricacies of plots and
puzzles and things like that. Who are some of the authors that you enjoyed
growing up? Who influenced you?
Mr. ABRAMS: I have to say that the thing that was the most impactful to me
was--it was more television than literature. And Rod Serling is the one
author I can really point to. I mean, it's funny, with "Fringe," which was
very much inspired by the movie "Altered States," the sort of world of it,
which was written by Paddy Chayefsky, who was a contemporary of Rod Serling's.
BIANCULLI: Of Rod Serling's, yeah.
Mr. ABRAMS: And there's something about the use of heartbreaking character
in incredibly unusual and often scary situations that just, you know, gets me
every time. And you can look at, you know, so many episodes--because most,
you know, have some incredible thing in them, and many of them are just
masterpieces--but you look at "The Twilight Zone" and you see how often he was
able to, whether he wrote them or produced them, take characters who are
broken or deeply troubled, and he put them in situations that were so strange
and so frightening; and there were two things going on. One thing was, you
know, you thought what you were getting was the impact of, you know, the
genre, the kind of science fiction or the sort of the twist of it. But the
thing that you were really investing in was the heart of these people, So that
to me was really inspiring. The other thing he was doing was he was writing
about things that actually mattered to him. Mr. Serling had gotten into
incredible trouble with the censors and with networks and advertisers...
Mr. ABRAMS: ...writing about things that really mattered, socially conscious
issues, you know, race, politics; and when he did "The Twilight Zone," you
know, the decision he made to essentially make it about aliens instead of
African-Americans. You know what I mean? To take the thing that was
important to him and hide it in genre, allowed him to continue to write, but
in allegory, about things that really were critically important. So I think
that the thing that "The Twilight Zone" did was connect these dramatic, sort
of heart-wrenching characters, with situations that were just creepy. And I
think that either element without the other would never have been as
impactful. But together, it was this kind of perfect kind of peanut butter
cup thing, where you had your chocolate, you had your peanut butter, but
together it was just undeniable.
BIANCULLI: J.J. Abrams, thank you for being here.
Mr. ABRAMS: Always a pleasure. Thank you, David.
GROSS: J.J. Abrams speaking with our TV critic David Bianculli. Abrams' new
TV series, "Fringe," premieres tomorrow night on Fox. David Bianculli writes
about television for Broadcasting & Cable magazine and tvworthwatching.com.
You can download podcasts of our show on our Web site, freshair.npr.org.
GROSS: I'm Terry Gross. And we're happy to welcome John Sheehan to our
staff. You've probably heard his name before in our credits because he's
often worked with us as a freelancer. It will be a pleasure to have him with
us full time.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.