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Friedman ’75 encourages balance in climate action

Friedman ’75 encourages balance in climate action

By Jess Linde

Section: Featured, News

March 6, 2015

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman ’75 discussed climate change’s effects on conflicts in the Middle East this Monday, March 2 in the second of two talks given to the Brandeis community. Friedman, an active proponent of clean energy and other environmental action, sat down with professor Sabine Von Mering (GRALL/WGS) to discuss activism and global conflict and to conduct a question-and-answer session with students.

The event was sponsored by Brandeis Visions for Israel in an Evolving World (BVIEW); Faculty Against the Climate Threat (FACT); the Environmental Studies Program; the Film, Television and Interactive Media Program; the Center for German and European Studies; the Department of Sociology; the Social Justice and Social Policy Program; the Peace, Conflict and Coexistence Program (PAX); and various student organizations and clubs.

One of Von Mering’s first questions to Friedman expressed surprise at his continued optimism in the face of a consistent stream of bad news about environmental destruction and how he deals with people resistant to the idea of green policy change. “I ask audiences if they want America to be powerful,” Friedman told the crowd of students, faculty and other guests. “How to be powerful? Clean, green, efficient energy.” It is essential, Friedman said, for the United States to lead the world in clean energy innovation, which he predicts as “the next great global initiative.”

Much of the event was dedicated to a clip featuring Friedman in the Showtime Network’s documentary series “Years of Living Dangerously,” in which he travels to Syria and Turkey and examines how a massive drought affected the outbreak of the current Syrian civil war.
About 15 minutes long, the clip documented Friedman in Turkey and Syria, currently the site of one of the world’s most violent conflicts. Friedman explained that four years before the Syrian civil war broke out, a drought struck the region, one of the worst in its history. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s administration refused to properly address the effects of the drought, resulting in massive crop deaths and famine. “This is a revolution of hungry people,” one rebel leader tells Friedman in the clip.

Friedman spoke of his admiration for Syrian environmentalists fighting the government and groups such as ISIS, in order to protect the fragile ecosystem there. “[The environmentalists] see that [the Levant region] is a single hydraulic system,” Friedman said. “The war of ideas in the area is really between ISIS, who want to tell people whom to fear, and the environmentalists, who want to help people share and preserve the biosphere.”

Friedman then answered questions from the audience, including ones submitted on Twitter via the #AskTomFriedman hashtag. In relation to questions about climate denialism and political opposition to change, Friedman advocated tough rhetoric that promoted American leadership in the field. Friedman also encouraged Brandeis climate activists to focus on finding ways the university could invest in progressive reforms, instead of devoting energy solely to causes such as divestment from fossil fuels, which administrators and the Board of Trustees may not take to.

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