Opposition for Opposition’s Sake? Thomas Friedman Gets a Pie in the Face (w/video)

  • Published on April 24th, 2008

thomas_friedman_charles_haynes.jpg[social_buttons]As if on cue, the kind of oppositional tactics used by radical environmentalists at a few Earth Day 1970 events that I just wrote about, emerged on Earth Day 2008 when Thomas Friedman took a pie in the face at Brown University [jump to video]. Friedman, of the New York Times and author of the bestselling The World is Flat, was ambushed just as his Earth Day talk on the politics and economics of global energy use had begun.

The action, as well as the ensuing discussions over at the blogs It’s Getting Hot in Here, and the Huffington Post, underscore the longstanding divide within the environmental movement between those who believe we should work within the system to address our most pressing environmental issues, and those who believe that the system itself is the cause of the environmental problems.

From the Brown Daily Herald:

“A female audience member ran on stage last night and threw a green pie at New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, who had just begun a lecture on environmentalism in Salomon 101. The woman had been sitting in the south side of the auditorium’s front row when she pulled the pie out of a Brown Bookstore plastic bag that had been tucked in a red backpack and leapt out of her seat.

At the same time the woman threw the pie, a male accomplice seated a few rows back ran down the aisle and onto the stage, throwing small pamphlets explaining the actions into the crowd.

…The pamphlets thrown by the male accomplice identified the pair as the “Greenwash Guerillas,” who wrote that they were acting “on behalf of the earth (sic) and all true environmentalists.”

One side of the pamphlet contains an excerpt from a September 2006 review of Friedman’s book, “The World is Flat,” written by Raymond Lotta for the journal “Revolution,” which styles itself as the “Voice of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA.” The review is highly critical of Friedman, who the review claims cannot see his own errors while “seated in the business class of his analytical jetliner.”

The other side contains five bullet-points explaining why “Thomas Friedman deserves a pie in the face,” which include reasons like “his sickeningly cheery applaud for free market capitalism’s conquest of the planet,” and “for helping turn environmentalism into a fake plastic consumer product for the privileged.”

The pamphlet declares “Thomas Friedman’s ‘Green’ as fake and toxic to human and planetary health as the cool-whip (sic) covering his face.

Personally, I think it was a pretty bush-league maneuver. And watching the video, I feel bad for Friedman as a human being, regardless of how I feel about his politics. Running time is 1:39.

[kml_flashembed movie=”http://www.youtube.com/v/sv6nvMUq10U” width=”425″ height=”350″ wmode=”transparent” /]

I found one comment at It’s Getting Hot in Here particularly poignant, it reads:

“Had you stayed and listened to the speech, you would have learned that Friedman has one of the most comprehensive characterizations of the challenge than I’ve heard in a long time. He spoke about the scale of climate change, global justice and petro-dictatorships, biodiversity loss, energy poverty (i.e. global inequality), and the need for conservation. In fact, he directly addressed most of your complaints, making you come off as reactionary and uninformed. Of course Friedman has major flaws, but if your intention was to start discussion about them, you failed. Instead, you’ve started a discussion on the inappropriateness of your tactics, and left everyone confused as to what you were trying to say.”

See also: “Crazy Acts or Civil Disobedience” :: Green Options (7/2007)

Photo: Charles Haynes

About the Author

is the founder of ecopolitology and the executive editor at LiveOAK Media, a media network about the politics of energy and the environment, green business, cleantech, and green living. When not reading, writing, thinking or talking about environmental politics with anyone who will listen, Tim spends his time skiing in Colorado's high country, hiking with his dog, and getting dirty in his vegetable garden.


  • The problem is that capitalism and eco-suatainability are not congruent because in order to survive and thrive in capitalism, one must exploit all resources around them, be it labor, or the earth. The erosion of environmental laws that has accompanied the destruction of trade barriers is proof enough that globalization is changing the world for the worse. Besides that, there are a million problems with industrial farming an monoculture, which causes eco-devistation and a loss of traditional culture in the global south.

    And on top of all of that, we have too much shit. We have too many people making too much shit, controlled by too few people who make too much money off of all those people making all that shit. And in order to make shit, you need to fuck shit up to accumulate resources. Plastic is from oil. Wood ad rubber from trees. Metal from inside the earth. How is this mass production of shit any different from imperialism?

  • First of all – we would not have learned anything if we had stayed, we have read friedman's works and know what his statements are.

    Second – his critique of corn-based ethanol is used as further justification for other forms of agrofuel, such as second generation cellulosic ethanol which still involves the conquest of land and adds the element of dangerous genetic modifcations

    Third – the main point is that friedman is defining green as THE key to save US imperialism, and those most offended have the most to gain from such imperialism. They set the entire framework, and you cannot enter into debate once it is already framed. This action was aimed to disrupt the framework and cause discussion about the actual issues, which it has done on a national level.

    -last of all:

    The video was removed because you-tube censored it. this is strange, given the many other pieing videos you can find online. this says quite a deal about how free "free speech" is, when it is used to effectively confront Power.

    The video has been uploaded to http://www.greenwashguerrillas.org, along with a press release explaining the action and censorship.

    Ta ta,

    Colonel Custard,

    Greenwash Guerrillas.

  • Hey thanks for the great blog, I love this stuff. I don’t usually do much for Earth Day but with everyone going green these days, I thought I’d try to do my part.

    I am trying to find easy, simple things I can do to help stop global warming (I don’t plan on buying a hybrid). Has anyone seen that http://www.EarthLab.com is promoting their Earth Day (month) challenge, with the goal to get 1 million people to take their carbon footprint test in April? I took the test, it was easy and only took me about 2 minutes and I am planning on lowering my score with some of their tips.

    I am looking for more easy fun stuff to do. If you know of any other sites worth my time let me know.

  • Video no longer available!? I missed out.

    Jeff, I second your assessment of Friedman. I have a number of problems with his overall philosophy, but don't think that means we should overlook his many contributions to the dialogue on sustainability.

  • Adam: The net of globalization is positive. Everything you describe existed before globalization. The only thing that's changed is that a billion people were lifted from poverty. It's hurts the US more than the developing world, and there are ways to deal with that w/o resorting to protectionism. Just as capitalism has gone global, so has humanitarianism and other social and environmental movements. You don't get one without the other.

  • Although I do not agree with throwing pies, I completely understand the frustration and reason why they through the pies. Friedman truly is a dangerous force. He manipulates globalization and with his rhetoric anesthetizes people. This is so frustrating because he convolutes the truth. The food crisis, slum growth, loss of indigenous knowledge, and marginalization of most of the global south, and horrible environmental implications of globalization is disgraceful. Friedman, tells us that the solution to our problems lies in globalization. However, globalization is the source itself! How can an individual find a voice against such a powerful force. The students wanted to make a point… and make it they did. It took balls but it got the idea across.

  • Totally disrespectful and ridiculous.

    It's too bad some people aren't smart enough to find a cordial way to be heard, that they have to resort to stupid stuff like this to make a point. Whatever point they were trying to make is automatically discounted by the method they chose to make it.

  • The most effective environmental organizations I've been a part of or worked for are those that have lunch with the opposition and talk out their differences. No meaningful change – or policy – will happen when we sit around and yell at each other. This is embarrassing.

  • I'm a big fan of Friedman. I'm a realist, a cautious optimist, a capitalist, and an environmentalist. This breed of green fundamentalism gets us nowhere. It's no better than their religious counterparts. What next? Fly planes into buildings? What is the logical end to these tactics and strategies?

  • Friedman has the rare ability to conflate any set of complicated issues into a series of trivial metaphors. He is to intellectual analysis what Velveeta is to cheese.

  • I've got a lot of respect for activists in general, but this is just lame. If bad slapstick is the best they can come up with, perhaps it's time to find some other ways to fill there time…

    More importantly, while I definitely don't agree with every position Thomas Friedman's ever taken, he's doing a stellar job of bringing a comprehensive view of sustainable development to a broader audience… that's something we should praise, and then engage with the details. Pies in the face hardly get a discussion started…

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