By Ink Alone: Hot, Flat, and Crowded
by Matt Stevens
Thomas Friedman’s latest is a big step up from his last work. Hot, Flat, and Crowded which first came out in September is as all of Friedman’s writings, a very easy and quick read. Friedman does a great job simplifying subjects and making clear and coherent arguments. Most importantly, this book is significant because Friedman is the first to clearly make the case that our current Economic, Energy, Environment and Foreign Policy (mainly confined to the Middle East, Russia the oil rich parts of Africa) Crisis is actually one problem that a series of small step solutions can solve together. He ties that argument together well.
Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why we need a Green Revolution and how it will renew America (Friedman is in the running for the longest title of the year)
Farrar, Straus and Giroux; September 8, 2008
I’ll the be the first to explain to you that I don’t like The World is Flat, Friedman’s last book, or that I really dislike most of the columns he writes for the New York Times. My feeling is simple: his arguments are simple and he too often argues against straw men, setting himself up for an easy and unqualified success. I’m still very upset with him endorsing the War in Iraq for what I think him trying to appear a moderate more than actual reviewing whether success was even possible or the if the invasion was necessary.
The World is Flat upsets me because while Friedman focuses on the insane growth of the IT industry in Bangalore, I can tell you the rest of India isn’t much like that. Moreover, most of Bangalore is not like Infosys or Satyam or Wipro. He’s argument throughout the book is that all of these countries are becoming competitors with the rest of the world. The sad part it is simply not true. If you take any of the average business within any state in India, whether it is a stainless steel manufacturing company, or a bank and you put them in America, they would fail epically. They don’t have the skills, they don’t have the knowledge, they don’t have know how to solve problems. They compete with lesser firms. Throughout history, there have been firms or individuals that competed world wide in trade in industry. How did the gems and spices of the East Indies get to Europe but through the middlemen of Egypt and Malabar. My point that if you take the average American or European company and plunked them down in any developing country, no matter how along they are, they would out-compete and out skill the local competition.
But that has little to do with this book. This book discusses the coming environmental apocalypse (my words, not his). Due to global warming, pollution and absolute environmental degredation in the western world and through much of the developing world. Friedman main argument that as more people grow richer, they start consuming more energy. China is pumping out a new coal fired power plant every other week. India needs to be doing that as well (though they aren’t, now we’re having up to 10 hour power cuts in part of the country)
As they start to demand more energy they start to release greater amounts of Carbon Dioxide and thus increase the rate of C02 in the atmosphere so that just when we should be stopping the C02 emissions vehicle and backing down the road, we’re actually pressing the accelerator through the floor (it hit the floor after gas prices fell during the Reagan Administration). More so than just C02 emissions though, Friedman discusses the environmental destructions that industrial growth creates in developing nations, from expanded farmland eventually created dessert (the expanding Gobi Dessert in China) to the necessity in the Amazon of farmers to continue moving into the forest to find better land.
Friedman is very clear that he doesn’t fault the developing nations for wishing to grow and have access to the wealth of much of the Western. We can’t begrudge them for wishing to live like us. However, Friedman’s book seeks to lay out a path that America can layout a path so that American can lead the world in reversing this path.
Friedman’s most brilliant argument and he’s the first I’ve seen lay it out so clearly or concisely is that we’re giving trillions of dollars to people who hate us and actually investing in our own destruction rather than using that to invest in America. He wants us to rapidly change how we invest in petrol (gas), oil and generally energy in general. We need to move towards renewable energies (wind, solar, hydroelectric, and possible biofuels) and thus help ourselves reduce our pollution and reduce our dependence on the Middle East and those who would seek to destroy our lives. But more than that, we have to change how we think about energy. We need to start with reducing energy usage through simple reductions such as buying the smaller car to retrofitting houses and buildings so they waste less heat, less water, less energy.
Friedman goes through a variety of samples of ways to start changing our energy and environmental policies, all of which are relatively useful. I also was very glad to hear his non-endorsement of corn-based biofuels to solve the problem. Its a very simple problem that corn fuels take more energy to produce then they output there is actually no savings. More importantly, they do have a significant impact on food supply and rising and falling prices. I am also hesitant (as is Friedman) to endorse sugar cane biofuels. Though much more efficient (in terms of energy converted to do work), they are also extremely destructive to the environment.
The most important part of Friedman’s book is that he is lucid and clear. Something he never lacks in any of his Op-Eds. And in this wonkish book he provides plenty of the backup evidence he so severely lacks on so many of the Op-Eds. But most importantly, he doesn’t over simply the problems and the solutions. He lays out the solutions need to be market based, but they need government intrusion. In Germany, their is a 20 year guarantee for companies that install and use solar power cells so Germany is now the largest solar market in the world, never mind they don’t have that much sun shining. Friedman argues (convincingly) that we can and make America the leaders in renewable energies through some simple market based ways: require greater amounts of energy is made from renewable energy, redefine energy demands so that we don’t have peak development but we have smart energy usage, increase car efficiency and many others. All of these solutions are doable and most importantly, they are all being discussed by the Obama Administartion.
One are that Friedman does not discuss, but that is pet project of mine is the net-metering or every household a energy plant. He discusses it only in passing as a way to provide slightly more power. But what he doesn’t discuss is that the possibility of household having the ability to have their entire roof covered in solar cells, having their back yard full of windmills and having a geothermal system setup in under their home so that they can sell their unused power back to the grid. Too many utilities don’t fully utilize this smart grid and smart energy usage. Too many cities and states don’t encourage the net-metering as fully as they should.
When people have to produce their own power they will only begin to truly reduce the amount of energy they need.
Overall, this is a good book, an easy read, and probably most importantly, it will help set out many of the pathways the Obama Administration is going to pursue in order to re-energize America. I suggest you read it.
Four out of Five Melons!