by Bill Doughty
In some distant future, will people read Thomas Friedman’s books and think, “So that’s why we’re in this mess”?
That Used to Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back, published in 2011, begins and ends with self-described “frustrated optimism” that we will see, read, understand and heed the warnings all around us -- ecological, political and economic.
The book combines the progression and global perspective of Friedman’s previous works -- Hot, Flat and Crowded and The World is Flat, an original title on the Navy Professional Reading Program.
Friedman and co-author Michael Mandelbaum show that the nation’s energy policy is a strategic issue. Embracing clean renewable energy and reducing the use of fossil fuels would:
- Make troops and supply lines in Afghanistan less vulnerable,
- Free us from economic dependency from despots and radical Islamists,
- Trigger innovation and make us more competitive in the global market,
- Strengthen the dollar and improve our trade deficit, and
- Provide cleaner air and reduce related health-care costs.
Secretary of the Navy (SECNAV) Ray Mabus talks with Sailors and Marines
in Afghanistan about Ground Renewable Expeditionary Energy System (GREENS).
(Photo by MCC Sam Shavers)
Led by Ray Mabus, President Obama’s Secretary of the Navy and the former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, the Navy and Marines are not waiting. Using their own resources, they have been building a strategy for “out-greening” al-Qaeda, the Taliban and the world’s petro-dictators.
The authors amp up their optimism in discussing the historic first flight of a Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter in 2010 powered by a fifty-fifty blend of conventional jet fuel and biofuel. But they express their frustration about how the nation is currently dealing with education and politics.
Last September the U.S. Navy flight demonstration team, the Blue Angels, flew using the fifty-fifty blend for the first time.
Friedman and Mandelbaum show how trust, creativity and innovation are top traits in what they call today’s hyper-connected world and dealing with such issues as global climate change, fossil fuel depletion and a root cause: overpopulation. They report that the world’s population is projected to grow to 9.2 billion by 2050 from 6.8 billion at the time their book was published.
We learn that in the "flattened" world, in which workers from China and India are competing for jobs down the street, we need new ways of learning new skills. Here are the traits employers now want in their work force:
They are looking for workers who can think critically, who can tackle non-routine complex tasks, and who can work collaboratively with teams located in their office or globally.
Creative, innovative thinking is valued not only in the marketplace but also in the classroom.
|EOD Sailors demonstrate IED|
detection. (Photo by J. Johnston)
Dempsey champions wiki doctrinal manuals, for example, on how to deal with IEDs and bridge-crossings in Afghanistan. The manuals are continually updated with new information from the troops on the ground -- literally of the people, by the people, for the people.
The bottom line: “Collaboration is important on the battlefield, and trust is the cement of collaboration,” said Dempsey. “And trust is the prerequisite for creativity. You will never be creative if you think that what you have to say will be discounted. So creativity cannot happen without trust and collaboration cannot happen without trust. It is the essential driver. And that is why you build authority now from the bottom up and not the top down.”
Writing in one voice, Friedman and Mandelbaum do their own teaching, using references to Orson Welles, Galileo, Pasteur, Darwin, Einstein, Lewis Carroll and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed.
They praise two key points in Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother: “The need to hold children to the highest standards that push them out of their comfort zones, and the need to be involved in their schooling.” Like Chua, they encourage strategies that challenge young people to think critically and understand science.
Global warming is a call to action, according to the authors, who explain why the United States has failed so far to meet the challenges of climate change and moving to alternative energy use.
In a subchapter called Of Science and Political Science, they write, “For starters, climate change occurs gradually and may not produce an equivalent of Pearl Harbor -- until it is too late.”
The authors salute President Richard Nixon for creating the Department of Natural Resources and the Environmental Protection Agency and pushing Congress to pass the landmark Clean Air Act of 1970.
Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter addressed the Arab oil embargo of 1973-4 and faced down OPEC. [Memories of 1974, Tower of Power’s Only So Much Oil in the Ground. Lyrics: “There is only so much oil in the ground / Sooner or later, there won’t be much around... / Alternate sources of power must be found / Cause there's only so much oil in the ground / There's no excuse for our abuse...”]
Under President Reagan, then-Secretary of State George Schultz oversaw negotiation of the landmark Montreal Protocol on Substances That Deplete the Ozone Layer. Later, President George H. W. Bush introduced the idea of “cap-and-trade” to address environmental problems.
Navy’s commitment to renewable energy was a key point in President Obama’s State of the Union speech last week. Discoveries of natural gas and safer means of extracting traditional energy sources may be reasons for optimism in 2012. Last year the automobile industry agreed to raise fuel efficiency to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025.
And there appears to be a growing commitment to wind, solar, and energy efficiency and conservation. Can we take advantage of the positive trends and deal with the negative: deficits, educational challenges and marketplace competitiveness?
That Used to Be Us concludes that the American Dream can still be achieved and sustained by reading and re-discovering our history, which brings us back to how Friedman’s books will be read and reflected upon in the future: “So that’s why we're in this mess?” or “Thank goodness we listened to the warnings!”