Introducing himself as a "proud member and active participant at the University of Minnesota's Hillel house," two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Tom Friedman warned a packed room of Hillel professionals, university faculty and administrators and Jewish communal leaders that the world's reliance on fossil fuels "is not your parents' energy crisis" and encouraged them to press their universities to develop new technologies to combat this global concern. Friedman, a columnist on world affairs for The New York Times, was the keynote speaker at the first Hillel Summit on the University and the Jewish Community, held earlier this week in Washington, D.C.
After sharing that he has "always had a real soft spot for Hillel," Friedman spoke with the more than 600 Summit attendees about his current area of focus -- energy. Noting the rising influence of populous nations like China and India, he underscored the need to find alternatives to fossil fuels and the emergence of green technology as "the new industry of the 21st century."
"The energy question is the key to inspiring a new generation of Americans to study math and science," Friedman said.
And while many talk about a fear that America will no longer set the pace for the modern economy, Friedman said he was encouraged during visits to home-grown labs and forward-thinking universities around the country while doing research for the updated edition of his best-selling book "The World is Flat."
"We have this incredibly open, competitive economy still," he said. "I'm not quite ready to cede the 21st century to China, but we also must not assume that we will dominate it by default.
"Your job is to invent the future. We will or will not dominate the 21st century depending on our ability to maximize your ability" to support outstanding students and the innovative ideas and technologies they will develop, he added. He recognized a recent conservation campaign at Williams College as an example, in which students and faculty were urged to "do it in the dark" and reduce their energy consumption with a campus-wide competition.
Oil-rich countries, Friedman observed, "use their money to drill oil and not drill people and unlock their educational and entrepreneurial talent." The United States can help maintain its edge by continuing to promote innovative thinking and research projects throughout the academic and industrial communities.
Friedman also appealed to the audience to help him meet his goal of redefining the meaning behind the term green from "liberal, unpatriotic tree-huggers" to a patriotic response to a new global reality.
"Green is the new red, white and blue," he declared.