Editor’s note: This is a special edition of The Roundup, going out to all Aspen Journalism contacts, wrapping up our event last Friday at the Hotel Jerome — a conversation with Thomas Friedman co-hosted with the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies. If you are not a subscriber to our weekly newsletter, we’d love to have you join us by subscribing here.
The green movement could suffer a debilitating setback if further energy price shocks come to pass in the fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman warned at an event hosted by Aspen Journalism and Aspen Center for Environmental Studies on July 22 at the Hotel Jerome.
With the European Union on Jan. 1 set to boycott Russian oil, some economists have predicted that such a sharp drop in supply could lead to $7-a-gallon gas in the U.S. and a global recession, as reported earlier this month in the Times.
Environmentalists must be “hard headed” in this moment, Friedman opined, and accept trade offs to keep cheap oil and gas flowing in the short term, while continuing to push toward scalable clean energy technology so the planet can radically and rapidly decarbonize, a strategy he dubbed the “green transition.” To pretend there is no trade off — no imperative to induce more domestic production in the interim — is to think you’re flying for 99 floors when jumping off a 100-story building, he said.
“If we don’t have a cheap energy solution, and you force Europeans or Americans to choose between heating or eating, or cooling or eating, that is going to kill the green movement,” Friedman said.
This framing of a narrative on the geopolitical forces of energy, foreign policy and technology, combined with earnest policy appeal, was characteristic of Friedman, and on display throughout the 50-minute presentation, billed a a conversation on the intersection of geopolitics, climate and democracy. It was an honor to interview Friedman, the three-time Pulitzer Prize winner and author of seven best-selling books, along with co-moderator and ACES CEO Chris Lane.
Friedman, who joined the New York Times in 1981 as a reporter and for the last 27 years has written a twice-weekly opinion column, weaved insights on the practice and value of journalism with observations about where we have been and where we are headed, shaped by his decades of experience asking the world’s business and political leaders hard questions.
I knew we were off to a great start when Friedman, asked what compels him to write, referenced Aspen Journalism’s motto. He started by explaining that “first and foremost” he writes to learn. A reporter’s inquiry lies at the heart of his columns and books. He likened the process to starting with a big block of granite — an intuition he has about the nature of our affairs — and then chipping away by reporting, such that the true shape becomes visible.
He added that he writes “because it is my form of idealism.”
“It is something that Ann [Friedman’s wife] and I were remarking that you and I have in common,” he said. “It is actually your motto: well informed citizens make better decisions. So I live by a variation of that motto, it’s by Marie Curie: Now is the time to understand more so we may fear less. … We live in an age where it has become an industry to make people frightened and stupid. It has actually become a big, big business now. … So people ask me what it is I do for a living, and I tell them that I am a translator from English to English. I take really complicated topics and break them down so I can understand them and then hopefully share them to others so they will understand more and fear less.”
When asked about the receding wave of liberal democracy as the modern world’s preeminent form of governance, Friedman pointed to new technologies emanating from social media and artificial intelligence, which he said have been a boon to autocrats.
“These technologies are making inefficient authoritarians more efficient and they are making efficient authoritarians super efficient. And they are making democracies ungovernable,” he said. “That is the paradox of these technologies.”
Friedman referenced his observation from the early days of the internet, that cyberspace is a place where we are all connected and no one is in charge — a state affairs that China and other regimes are committed to pushing back against.
“They have projected their authoritarian values into cyberspace and we have fundamentally failed to project our democratic values into cyberspace, and that is a real problem,” he said.
At the same time, a collapsing local press in the United States leaves too many Americans unable to find common ground with their neighbors. Friedman retold an anecdote President Barack Obama shared with fellow New York Times columnist Ezra Klein about the shift in the nation’s news ecosystem. When Obama began running for higher office in Illinois, he would travel to small, conservative towns downstate where he would meet with the editor of the local paper. Despite differences in cultural background or political leanings, Obama often left such meetings with an endorsement. Now, too many of those editors, and their small-town papers, are gone, victims of a contraction in local newsgathering capacity that has seen 360 newspapers lost in the last two and a half years, along with 58% of the journalists employed in local newsrooms since 2006.
“No one is covering city hall, no one is covering the school board, no one is covering the high school football team,” he said. “And so what happens instead is you’ve lost a buffer and now it goes directly from Sean Hannity to the local barbershop, or from MSNBC to the local barbershop, with no buffer at all, and so every issue gets nationalized. And that is why we cannot have a healthy democracy without local journalism.”
He said he has suggested to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg that the social media company could make up for the turmoil it has bred in our civic discourse by committing to purchasing 100,000 digital subscriptions to two local papers in each state for five years, to help more news organizations make the digital transition. He also referenced his wife Ann Friedman’s work opening the Planet Word museum in Washington, D.C., as being “built on the same premise.”
“Without a literate public, we’re not going to be able to maintain a democracy, and without local journalism — by the way, left right or center, I don’t care, as long as it’s anchored in this community, and starts there, in the Tocquevillian sense of that is really ground zero of our democracy — it’s not going to work. So we gave [Aspen Journalism] a donation last year and I hope every person in this room goes home and goes on their website and writes you a check. I mean that.”
Watch the entire conversation here, thanks to event sponsor GrassRoots Community Network, which livestreamed and recorded the event.
Thank you for reading, and supporting, Aspen Journalism.
– Curtis Wackerle
Editor and executive director
Lake Powell’s elevation has dropped two feet since last week.
By Laurine Lassalle | July 27, 2022
• June paid occupancy reached 63.4% in Aspen and 42.7% in Snowmass, down from last year’s 64.3% and 47.6%, respectively.
• The Fork below Maroon Creek ran at 51.7% of average on July 24, up from 50.8% last week. • Lake Powell’s elevation is down to 3,536.9 feet.
Documenting COVID-19 in Pitkin, Eagle and Garfield counties
By Laurine Lassalle | July 26, 2022
With 47 new cases since Monday, Garfield County’s seven-day new COVID-19 case incidence rate is at 180 per 100,000. Eagle County, with 36 news cases, is at 104. Pitkin County’s 19 new cases gives it a rate of 225. About 16-20% of the reported COVID tests in Eagle and Pitkin counties are positive.
“By contrast, Colorado has historically denied that it even has navigable rivers. In 1912, the state’s Supreme Court opined that the state’s waterways — steep, rushing, canyon-bound — were “nonnavigable within its territorial limits.” By that logic, the beds of even major rivers belonged not to the state, but to the owners of adjacent private properties, who often didn’t look kindly on the intrusions of the hoi polloi.”
Source: hcn.org | Read more
“Around two newspapers in the U.S. are closing every week, according to a new report, suggesting the local news crisis spurred by the pandemic will worsen in coming years. Why it matters: Hyperlocal communities are being disproportionately impacted by the fall of local newspapers compared to bigger cities, deepening America’s economic divide.”
Source: axios.com | Read more
“Even if the federal government’s ability to mandate water use restrictions in the Upper Basin does exist, Fleming said, it is completely untested. The whole watershed could soon find itself in uncharted legal territory, and that kind of uncertainty gives way to lawsuits, he said. ‘Whether it’s in the Lower Basin or the Upper Basin if the Secretary shuts off the valve, I think they know there’s going to be litigation that follows,’ Fleming said.”
Source: kunc.org | Read more
“While Lake Mead National Recreation Area touts on its website how it ‘offers Joshua trees, slot canyons and night skies illuminated by the Milky Way,’ the park has also had to contend with challenges such as previously sunken boats now exposed in the low water levels. But the multiple discoveries of human remains at the park has captured headlines in recent months.”
Source: washingtonpost.com | Read more
“The Bureau of Land Management says horses are unhealthy and causing poor rangeland conditions. Wild-horse advocates who visited the area say the animals are healthy and not to blame for land degradation.”
Source: aspenpublicradio.org | Read more
“The former editor and publisher of the Vail Daily, Rogers said he is eager to help turn around The Aspen Times newsroom, which has been reeling from a mass exodus of employees, reader complaints of stories and opinion pieces not being published, an uninformed public due to a reporter shortage, a public elations crisis from settling a defamation lawsuit that its ownership would not let the newsroom cover, and the termination of editor-to-be Andrew Travers, among other setbacks. As well, the Pitkin County government, in response to the firing of Travers, moved its legal advertising to the Aspen Daily News, and by doing so made it the city’s paper of record, stripping the Times of the distinction.”
Source: aspentimes.com | Read more
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