Thomas Friedman: We need a 'Green Real Deal' — stat

Thomas Friedman. (AP Photo/Stephen Chernin)
Thomas Friedman. (AP Photo/Stephen Chernin)STEPHEN CHERNIN

Here's some news you may have missed. Southeastern Africa got hit in March with a cyclone that United Nations officials say was one of the worst weather disasters to ever strike the Southern Hemisphere. "Ever" is a long time.

The storm swept through Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe, killing hundreds. My friend Greg Carr, who runs the Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique, told me that the lions, elephants and zebras sensed the storm coming and moved to higher ground to avoid the flooding. Among the people who survived, many lost their homes.

While this historic weather disaster was unfolding, President Donald Trump was urging Republicans not to kill the Democrats' Green New Deal proposal — not because Trump wants to work with it, but because he wants to run against it in 2020.

Trump wants to take the Green New Deal, co-sponsored by Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of the Bronx, and mock its aspiration to urgently decarbonize our electric grid, transportation sector, industries and buildings, while pairing all that with programs to ensure that every American can get a job and have access to health care and "safe, affordable, adequate housing," as well as other social goods.

AOC's rejoinder: "For everyone who wants to make a joke about that: You may laugh, but your grandkids will not."

She is right. And given the choice between a "Green New Deal" that envisions scaling justice for all and Trump's "Black New Deal," which protects profitable pollution for the 1 percent, my heart is with the greens. But my head says you can't transform our energy system and our social/economic one at scale all at once. We have to prioritize energy/climate. Because for the environment, later will be too late.

And if Democrats approach this right — with a barrage of political ads paired with a focused green strategy, like the "Green Real Deal" proposed by Ernie Moniz, Barack Obama's energy secretary, and Andy Karsner, George W. Bush's assistant energy secretary for renewable energy — they can win on this issue in 2020 and make Trump the laughingstock.

Here are the kinds of political ads I'd run:

The Department of Energy's 2017 U.S. Energy and Employment Report revealed that solar energy was employing more workers than the traditional coal, gas and oil industries combined. But Trump says he prefers big, beautiful coal. How do your kids feel about that?

The heartland of America's wind energy system today is Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Wyoming, North Dakota and Iowa, which all voted for Trump in 2016. But Trump says noise from wind turbines "causes cancer." Do you buy that?

Cyclone Idai devastated some of the greatest wilderness areas in Africa. Trump couldn't care less. Do you? Because another decade of storms like that, and the only lions, elephants and zebras your grandkids will ever see will be in a Disney movie.

I'd pound Trump with these points, but they will be effective only if married to a "Green Real Deal." For Moniz and Karsner, that would involve every state or city adopting its own version of a plan California approved last year called S.B. 100.

S.B. 100, which was spearheaded by state Sen. Kevin de Leon, an unsung hero of the green movement, mandated that power companies steadily increase carbon-free electricity on their grid until it reaches 100 percent by 2045.

A Green Real Deal would be a nationwide effort to inspire and enable Democrats and sensible Republicans to come up with state and local versions of S.B. 100 and thereby stimulate America's earth race — not space race — to get to national net-zero emissions by 2045 or earlier.

It could garner a lot of GOP support in wind states, businesses could make money off it, and it would put Trump totally on the defensive.

As Moniz and Karsner wrote in an essay on "Climate deniers, as well as those with demonstrably impractical, short-term, feel-good solutions, are moving us sideways when forward motion is essential."

I repeat: Later will be too late.

A Green Real Deal — if framed and focused properly — could wipe that smirk right off Trump's face.