Reviewed in the United States on July 6, 2009
I read and reviewed Friedman's earlier book "The World is Flat," which I enjoyed very much. I like "Hot, Flat and Crowded" even better.
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."