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Europe’s experience of the Bush years means that we have tired of looking to American for initiatives on climate change. We think of America as the dirty sluggard of the world. This could be a mistake. Like it or not, America remains the world’s powerhouse of innovation, if only it could wake up to the urgency of the situation.

Europe’s experience of the Bush years means that we have tired of looking to American for initiatives on climate change. We think of America as the dirty sluggard of the world. This could be a mistake. Like it or not, America remains the world’s powerhouse of innovation, if only it could wake up to the urgency of the situation.

Anyone who sniffs at America’s more positive potential for ingenuity should read Thomas L. Friedman’s Hot Flat and Crowded, a book bristling with visions of ways to see around the problem. Friedman is a New York Times heavy-hitter, a several-times Pulitzer winner. He incurred the wrath of the American left by his early support of the Iraq war, which he's since backed down on, but inspite of that, he remains one of the bigger cultural figures looking the problem of climate change squarely in the eye. He writes scathingly, “I have read or heard so many people saying, ‘We’re having a green revolution.’… ‘I can’t resist firing back, ‘Really? Really? A green revolution? Have you ever heard of a revolution where no one got hurt?’” We’re not yet having a green revolution, he says. We’re having a green party, and that’s not enough.

It has to stop being a party and start getting serious. Friedman has trawled the world looking for workable solutions. His main point is that governments aren’t going to be able to legislate their way out of this mess.

We need a real twofold revolution. The first one, and the one he’s better at leading us towards, is technological. Don’t go looking for a one-size fits all solution like carbon capture or biofuels. He suggests we need change right across the board, one driven by American ingenuity. “We can only innovate our way out, and the only way to do that is to mobilize the most effective and prolific system for transformational innovation and commercialization of new products ever created on the face of the earth – the U.S. marketplace.” His hopes rest on market creativity, and in particular the development of an ingenious real market in clean energy. It is above all an American solution; culturally a million miles away the way we’ve been used to do things here in Europe, where our more socialised ideals dream of a William Morris-esque return to the simple life. But when it comes down to the nuts and bolts of the innovative ideas he lays down there’s a lot that’s impressive. He argues for an urgent need for the intelligent electric grid, governed by an internet-style technology that switches on domestic devices only when there’s enough renewable wattage being poured into the grid. Like many technophiles, he firmly believes that the only economies that will prosper into the 21st century are those that are encountering green technology.

Interestingly for RSA Arts and Ecology the second revolution he suggests is a cultural one. It’s almost an afterthought for Friedman, who prefers more solid subject matters like auto-manufacture and , but there’s a small section towards the end when he identifies the massive problem of how we get people to move politically on climate change. He draws the electrifying parallel between the climate change movement and the civil rights movmement – of which Obama’s victory is the grandchild.

In the civil rights movement personal activism led, eventually, to national change; the same has to happen again, except that unlike that time around, the enemy is less visible. It doesn’t pit American against American, it pits the present against the future, and the future is hard to imagine.

Which is where those who work in the cultural sector come in. The task isn’t so much to imagine some post-apocalyptic future, though there are artists doing that, like Cormac McCarthy in his endlessly bleak novel The Road, or Margaret Atwood in Oryx and Crake, or Dominique Gozalez-Foerster in her TH:2058 installation, or the New York New Museum’s recent exhibition After Nature. But it’s to fire the imaginations of the rest of us with the sense of possibility, urgency and as the civil rights movement’s writers and songwriters did during the bleakest days, with a sense that something great might come of all this, and there is a possibility of real change coming soon.

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