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Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution--and How It Can Renew America
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Thomas L. Friedman’s phenomenal number-one bestseller The World Is Flat has helped millions of readers to see the world in a new way. In his brilliant, essential new book, Friedman takes a fresh and provocative look at two of the biggest challenges we face today: America’s surprising loss of focus and national purpose since 9/11; and the global environmental crisis, which is affecting everything from food to fuel to forests. In this groundbreaking account of where we stand now, he shows us how the solutions to these two big problems are linked--how we can restore the world and revive America at the same time.
Friedman explains how global warming, rapidly growing populations, and the astonishing expansion of the world’s middle class through globalization have produced a planet that is “hot, flat, and crowded.” Already the earth is being affected in ways that threaten to make it dangerously unstable. In just a few years, it will be too late to fix things--unless the United States steps up now and takes the lead in a worldwide effort to replace our wasteful, inefficient energy practices with a strategy for clean energy, energy efficiency, and conservation that Friedman calls Code Green.
This is a great challenge, Friedman explains, but also a great opportunity, and one that America cannot afford to miss. Not only is American leadership the key to the healing of the earth; it is also our best strategy for the renewal of America.
In vivid, entertaining chapters, Friedman makes it clear that the green revolution we need is like no revolution the world has seen. It will be the biggest innovation project in American history; it will be hard, not easy; and it will change everything from what you put into your car to what you see on your electric bill. But the payoff for America will be more than just cleaner air. It will inspire Americans to something we haven’t seen in a long time--nation-building in America--by summoning the intelligence, creativity, boldness, and concern for the common good that are our nation’s greatest natural resources.
Hot, Flat, and Crowded is classic Thomas L. Friedman: fearless, incisive, forward-looking, and rich in surprising common sense about the challenge--and the promise--of the future.
Thomas Friedman and Fareed Zakaria: Author One-to-One
Fareed Zakaria: Your book is about two things, the climate crisis and also about an American crisis. Why do you link the two?
Thomas Friedman: You're absolutely right--it is about two things. The book says, America has a problem and the world has a problem. The world's problem is that it's getting hot, flat and crowded and that convergence--that perfect storm--is driving a lot of negative trends. America's problem is that we've lost our way--we've lost our groove as a country. And the basic argument of the book is that we can solve our problem by taking the lead in solving the world's problem.
Zakaria: Explain what you mean by "hot, flat and crowded."
Friedman: There is a convergence of basically three large forces: one is global warming, which has been going on at a very slow pace since the industrial revolution; the second--what I call the flattening of the world--is a metaphor for the rise of middle-class citizens, from China to India to Brazil to Russia to Eastern Europe, who are beginning to consume like Americans. That's a blessing in so many ways--it's a blessing for global stability and for global growth. But it has enormous resource complications, if all these people--whom you've written about in your book, The Post American World--begin to consume like Americans. And lastly, global population growth simply refers to the steady growth of population in general, but at the same time the growth of more and more people able to live this middle-class lifestyle. Between now and 2020, the world's going to add another billion people. And their resource demands--at every level--are going to be enormous. I tell the story in the book how, if we give each one of the next billion people on the planet just one sixty-watt incandescent light bulb, what it will mean: the answer is that it will require about 20 new 500-megawatt coal-burning power plants. That's so they can each turn on just one light bulb!
Zakaria: In my book I talk about the "rise of the rest" and about the reality of how this rise of new powerful economic nations is completely changing the way the world works. Most everyone's efforts have been devoted to Kyoto-like solutions, with the idea of getting western countries to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions. But I grew to realize that the West was a sideshow. India and China will build hundreds of coal-fire power plants in the next ten years and the combined carbon dioxide emissions of those new plants alone are five times larger than the savings mandated by the Kyoto accords. What do you do with the Indias and Chinas of the world?
Friedman: I think there are two approaches. There has to be more understanding of the basic unfairness they feel. They feel like we sat down, had the hors d'oeuvres, ate the entrée, pretty much finished off the dessert, invited them for tea and coffee and then said, "Let's split the bill." So I understand the big sense of unfairness--they feel that now that they have a chance to grow and reach with large numbers a whole new standard of living, we're basically telling them, "Your growth, and all the emissions it would add, is threatening the world's climate." At the same time, what I say to them--what I said to young Chinese most recently when I was just in China is this: Every time I come to China, young Chinese say to me, "Mr. Friedman, your country grew dirty for 150 years. Now it's our turn." And I say to them, "Yes, you're absolutely right, it's your turn. Grow as dirty as you want. Take your time. Because I think we probably just need about five years to invent all the new clean power technologies you're going to need as you choke to death, and we're going to come and sell them to you. And we're going to clean your clock in the next great global industry. So please, take your time. If you want to give us a five-year lead in the next great global industry, I will take five. If you want to give us ten, that would be even better. In other words, I know this is unfair, but I am here to tell you that in a world that's hot, flat and crowded, ET--energy technology--is going to be as big an industry as IT--information technology. Maybe even bigger. And who claims that industry--whose country and whose companies dominate that industry--I think is going to enjoy more national security, more economic security, more economic growth, a healthier population, and greater global respect, for that matter, as well. So you can sit back and say, it's not fair that we have to compete in this new industry, that we should get to grow dirty for a while, or you can do what you did in telecommunications, and that is try to leap-frog us. And that's really what I'm saying to them: this is a great economic opportunity. The game is still open. I want my country to win it--I'm not sure it will.
Zakaria: I'm struck by the point you make about energy technology. In my book I'm pretty optimistic about the United States. But the one area where I'm worried is actually ET. We do fantastically in biotech, we're doing fantastically in nanotechnology. But none of these new technologies have the kind of system-wide effect that information technology did. Energy does. If you want to find the next technological revolution you need to find an industry that transforms everything you do. Biotechnology affects one critical aspect of your day-to-day life, health, but not all of it. But energy--the consumption of energy--affects every human activity in the modern world. Now, my fear is that, of all the industries in the future, that's the one where we're not ahead of the pack. Are we going to run second in this race?
Friedman: Well, I want to ask you that, Fareed. Why do you think we haven't led this industry, which itself has huge technological implications? We have all the secret sauce, all the technological prowess, to lead this industry. Why do you think this is the one area--and it's enormous, it's actually going to dwarf all the others--where we haven't been at the real cutting edge?
From Publishers Weekly
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Having set the scene, Friedman then launches into a solution which involves a greening of the world. And this should occur not just in the USA and other industrialised countries but must reach into China and the newly developing world. Again, hard to argue here. However, I feel that the means that he proposes this greening is somewhat wishy washy. Greening will require significant market reforms. The world will need a carbon tax at least; more likely, there will be a need to develop a full carbon trading system. But herein lies the problem. The US has already rejected "cap and trade". Not a great start. Here in Australia where this reviewer resides, there is a fierce debate at present as to the need for any intervention at all. The government seems to be losing popularity by the day as it pushes a market based agenda. This is a shame. Hard choices need to be made.
In spite of my reservations, I enjoyed Friedman's book. He is a fine journalist at the top of his craft. His influence is significant and he has a loyal fan base. I only wish that he could be more hard headed. We are facing a serious challenge at the global level. This will require severe medicine. Friedman could have produced a better book by recognising this fact with greater determination.
The thesis of the book is that the world has major challenges, as does the United States, and that it would be best for the United States, and for the world, if the United States played a primary role in figuring out how to deal with these challenges, which include, of course, global warming, excessive/inefficient use of sources of energy, deforestation, and problems with safe drinking water.
America got off track under Reaganism, which taught us that government is generally wrong, while private enterprise is more likely right. But what we found out was that what was good for General Motors (short-term) was not always good for the United States. "George W. Bush came into office bound and determined not to ask the American people to do anything hard when it came to energy," says Friedman. And, quoting a poet: "The trouble with our times is that the future is not what it used to be." And, from Friedman: "Our young people are so much more idealistic than we deserve them to be."
He warns us that we had "better understand this new era we're heading into." As for "crowded," he says that in 1800, the most populated city was London at one million. Today, there are more than 300 cities of one million or more. And, the world's current total population is about 6.5 billion, with a projection of about nine billion by 2050. As for "flat," the potential bad news is that more and more countries feel entitled to live the "American Dream," which may lead to an impossible demand for dwindling energy supplies. And, as for "hot," he tells us that global warming in for real, but that we humans continue to increase the amounts of carbon dioxide we are sending into the atmosphere.
When flat successfully meets crowded, another part of the world moves toward for the "American Dream." "We invented that system. We exported it. Others are entitled to it every bit as much as we are," he says, adding "To tell people they cannot grow is to tell them they have to remain poor forever." As an example, China is on course to have 130 million cars by 2050. And, in India, there are already gated suburban communities with golf courses, big homes and all the other amenities.
Currently, of course, Americans are by far the biggest energy hogs, consuming 9-to-30 times more energy than average folks in China or India now consume. And we are doing relatively little to curb our addiction to oil. We send hundreds of billions of dollars per year to Arab states for the stuff. Going green, per Freidman, "is now a national security imperative." And, per Friedman, Al Gore owes us an apology for his effort to alert the world about climate change and global warming. He underestimated the importance of his message.
Today, says Friedman, we have three varieties of those who deny global warming: First, those who draw a paycheck from companies with a vested interest in the status-quo; second, a small group of scientists who really believe that global warming is not true; and, third, those who see the issue mainly in political terms, hating government intervention and controls more than any possibility of global warming being for real.
So, where are we today? China is building another polluting coal-fired power plant every week. Forests are disappearing as we speak. Safe drinking water is a scarcity in many parts of the world. Twenty-five percent of the world's population has little access to electricity. And approximately 2.5 billion of the world's 6.5 billion people earn less than $2 per day.
Per Friedman, "Our environmental savings account is empty....It is pay now, or there will be no later....In a flat world, everyone can see what everyone else is doing, and the harm it is causing."
But there is hope. "The green economy is posed to be the mother of all markets," he says. "And the world is waiting for America to lead in this energy-climate issue." From the Japanese comes the Prius, which Friedman says" is not a better car. It's a better system." He adds, "We need many more people, companies, and universities trying many more things." We need "breakthrough innovation." But he says "real energy innovation is hard....We are not going to regulate our way out....we can only innovate our way out....We need 10,000 innovators, all collaborating with, and building upon, one another to produce all sorts of breakthroughs in abundant, clean, reliable, and cheap electrons and energy efficiency....Bottom line: America needs an energy technology bubble just like the information technology bubble." But Friedman knows that China is also a major player, saying "As China goes, so goes Mother Earth."
Ending the book, Friedman calls himself a "sober optimist," saying that we are all "Pilgrims again." "But if we rise to the challenge....we, and the world, will not only survive, but thrive, in an age that is hot, flat and crowded."
Early chapters cover the relationship between the price of oil and relative freedoms inside countries like Iran and Russia, and Friedman makes some remarkable points such as "$70-a-barrel oil followed by $10-a-barrel oil killed the Soviet Union." The author's petropolitical analysis is worthy of a Nobel in economics, and he then moves on to discuss ways the U.S. can move forward on a new Green path, and how our current, painless "green party" comes up well short of being a Green Revolution.
Biologist E.O. Wilson has been writing about biodiversity for decades, but Friedman's new synthesis will bring these perspectives to a much wider audience. Mention of a "Sixth Extinction" currently being felt around the planet brings to mind Richard Leakey's 1995 book by the same name. Friedman includes quotes from Jared Diamond ("Collapse" "The Third Chimpanzee") and a host of other experts to bolster his case, and he then revisits China to measure their Green progress. Freidman's point is that if we don't get on it soon, China will outgreen the U.S. with its authoritarian advantage. Beijing has eliminated the two-stroke motor scooter and replaced it with millions of electric scooters and bicycles, and each night citizens carry their batteries inside to charge. Plastic supermarket bags have been banned, yes in one day, potentially 1.3 billion people stopped using plastic bags at the supermarket checkout.
"Hot, Flat, and Crowded" is Mr. Friedman's most important work to date, the summation of all of his previous thinking that has led to a grand insight about an American renewal fueled by Green. "Code Green" should be a cabinet-level department in the new administration and extraordinary powers handed out to meet an extraordinary financial and climatological crisis, and opportunity.
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