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Hot, Flat, and Crowded 2009/12/09

Posted by sbouckaert3 in Economic Development, Uncategorized.
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Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why the world needs a green revolution – and how we can renew our global future by Thomas L. Friedman

Reviewed by Stan Bouckaert

“Making America the world’s greenest country is not a selfless act of charity or naïve moral indulgence. It is now a core national security and economic interest.” In his book Hot, Flat, and Crowded, Thomas Friedman does not waste any time in setting the tone for his stance on renewable energy. As titled, Friedman explains how the world has become hot, with the onset of the industrial revolution and the invention of the internal combustion engine, flat, as the invention of the Internet and the personal computer have brought about an age of globalization, and crowded, as the world population approaches 9.2 billion people by 2050.

He signifies the importance of the modern world’s predicament by claiming that we are leaving behind our old era and entering the “Energy-Climate Era.” According to Friedman, today’s date is 1 E.C.E. and we are facing the biggest challenge of our lifetime. His book addresses five key problems as to how our hot, flat, and crowded world is dramatically intensifying. These are: the growing demand for ever scarcer energy supplies and natural resources; a massive transfer of wealth to oil-rich countries and their petrodictators; disruptive climate change; energy poverty, which is sharply dividing the world into electricity haves and electricity have-nots; and rapidly accelerating biodiversity loss, as plants and animals go extinct at record rates. Through these problems, Friedman leaves the reader with a number of reasons for supporting renewable energy.

While the differing reasons for supporting renewable energy are all valid in their own right, a large portion of the book is dedicated to this idea of petrodictators. Friedman explains that of the twenty-three nations that get a clear majority of their export income from oil and gas, not one is a democracy. Even more alarming is a graph depicting the inverse relationship between the price of oil and individual personal freedoms in those countries. This presents a slight dilemma for those advocating against imported oil in the U.S. Yes, as oil prices go down then the freedoms of those in oil-rich countries go up due to the lack of wealth in the hands of the dictator. However, in order for Americans to wean themselves off oil, we must first see a dramatic spike in prices to the point where the public is no longer willing to tolerate. As such, we can see how a shortsighted human rights activist might support lower oil prices now but a longer-term view from environmentalists, human rights activists, and security analysts alike would acknowledge our need to completely free ourselves from the bonds of foreign energy dependence. No matter what vantage point one has on the issue of global warming, Friedman presents an almost indisputable and inspirational take on America’s need for energy independence.

Not only would independence from foreign oil, and oil in general for that matter, reduce global warming and increase national security, but renewable energy promises to bring an entire new aspect of economic development to the foreground. Imagine the poorest villages in Africa or Asia. At the village level, energy poverty means that families cannot pump clean water; they have no communications, no adult literacy classes, and no computers or connectivity to the outside world, essentially leaving them farther and farther behind in the ever-expanding gap between the rich and the poor in the world. Without having to put in the expensive infrastructure of trying to connect these villages to the electrical grid, renewable energy would give these people some of the basic luxuries of modern countries. Energy in these villages would not only help the poor, but it would create a better balance in the world. It would lead to an explosion of innovation and create the world’s first truly level playing field. Renewable energy, aside from creating the potential to connect people from all walks of life and from every corner of the globe, also presents economic opportunities for those back home in the United States. Friedman points out that there is an entire field of “green”-collar jobs for lower class Americans that is waiting to be tapped. With some government-aided investment and incentives, renewable energies could be exactly what America needs to bring down the unemployment rate and ease tensions created by the recent economic hardships. With all the advantages, it is hard to see why the U.S. has not done more in the way of renewables.

While renewable energy will play a critical role in solving the problems of the modern world, it is not the magic bullet that will save our planet. As Friedman puts it, we must put in place a system of government policies, regulations, research funding, and tax incentives that would stimulate a system for innovating, generating, and deploying clean electrons, energy efficiency, and resource productivity, along with an ethic of conservation. In order to truly make a difference we need a Clean Energy System that is always trying to optimize three things at once – innovation and generation of the cleanest and cheapest electrons, the most efficient and productive use of those electrons and other natural resources, and constant attention to protecting and conserving our natural systems and educating people about their material, spiritual, and aesthetic value. So, whether your interest lies within global warming, human rights, or national security, Thomas Friedman presents an inspiring argument as to why we must kick our addiction to oil and rethink the way we live as Americans. As such, Hot, Flat, and Crowded provides phenomenal insight and it would behoove all Americans, specifically politicians, to thoughtfully consider Friedman’s ideas.

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