Book Review – Hot, Flat, and Crowded


You’ve probably heard about global warming quite a bit.  It’s a major issue that has the potential of impacting just everyone, and everything, on the planet.  Still, I don’t know about you, but I wasn’t completely sure exactly what was going to happen when the globe got warmer, to say nothing of how to handle the issue.

Hot, Flat, and Crowded looks closer at just what global warming will entail.  Thomas Friedman’s view of the future, both how it could end up particularly unpleasant (that’d be the ‘hot’, a reference to global warming), and what we can do to minimize the bad results.  He maintains that if done right, we can even start a ‘Green Revolution’ that will revive the American economy, spark a whole new technology boom and improve living conditions the world wide, even following the impact of global warming.  Does it come close to presenting such a plan?  Let’s find out!

Summary

Part I: Where We Are

1. Where Birds Don’t Fly

Hot, Flat, and CrowdedHot, Flat, and Crowded opens by pointing out three trends in America that are influencing how things are proceeding in the world.  Two are pretty bad: We are building up more walls between other nations than ever before (particularly in wake of September 11th) and there is a trait of ‘dumb as we wanna be’, that is, not encouraging learning as a nation.  There is a good trend, though, in that we are exploding with innovators who wish to make major changes to how things work in the world.

2. Today’s Date: 1 E.C.E. Today’s Weather: Hot, Flat, and Crowded

This chapter’s title refers to two things.  The ‘1 E.C.E.’ part references the ‘Energy Climate Era’ that Friedman maintains we need to enter in order for our world to survive (and describes throughout the rest of the book).  The ‘Hot, Flat, and Crowded’ part is about what the world is becoming: hot due to global warming, flat due to advancing technology that allows people from around the world to be more connected and have more equal lifestyles, and crowded due to increasing world population.  This chapter also introduces five big problems we are facing: energy supply, petrodictatorship, climate change, energy poverty, and biodiversity loss.

Part II: How We Got Here

3. Our Carbon Copies (or, Too Many Americans)

Part II covers those big problems in much more detail.  Chapter three looks at how the rising population is having a much greater effect on the environment thanks to the increasing style of living by larger amounts of the world.  As increasing numbers of people throughout the world gain larger amounts of available money (which is not a bad thing, of course) and want to spend that money on more things, it will necessarily have a greater, usually negative, impact on the natural world.

4. Fill ‘Er Up With Dictators

A particularly bad thing to use those increasing dollars for is to the support the dictators in nations like Saudi Arabia and Iran, particularly when they support terrorist groups in turn.  However, as long as the price of oil remains high, such dictators and terrorists are able to get plenty of money from oil sales, and often are able to do so without taxing their own citizens (which helps prevent said citizens from rising up and overthrowing the dictators).

 5. Global Weirding

Global warming is a major impact of continued pollution on the planet, but as chapter five notes, its effects are frequently misunderstood by people in general.  It will not be a simple matter of the average temperature increasing by a few degrees, some polar ice melting, and otherwise everything staying the same, but rather, the weather will start to get, well, weird, as this chapter notes, giving several examples.

6. The Age of Noah

The sixth chapter looks at maintaining biodiversity, that is, keeping a large number of different species alive in a variety of biomes.  It examines just how many species have been going extinct as a result of our actions (or inactions) in recent years, and how that lose of biodiversity will negatively affect us in turn.

7. Energy Poverty

Energy poverty is the lack of (consistent) energy that exists in many parts of the world, most notably in Africa. This chapter looks at this situation in much more detail, and considers how important it is to rectify the situation in order to help those people improve their lifestyle throughout the world, to ‘flatten’ it out even further.

8. Green Is the New Red, White, and Blue

With all those problems outstanding, there needs to be a major plan for moving forward, which Friedman calls a Clean Energy System.  It involves three major components: generating clean electrons (clean energy), promoting energy efficiency, and practicing conservation.  Code Green, then, is the goal of achieving all those goals within only a few years in order to save the planet, the economy, and our lifestyles.

Part III: How We Move Forward

9. 205 Easy Ways to Save the Earth

When discussing methods to save the Earth, there are lots of sources that reference quick, easy, and otherwise painless ways to accomplish that goal.  Such methods won’t be enough for a full ‘Code Green’; while there are methods that can save the planet, they all require money and effort, more money and effort by nations as a whole than can be represented as ‘easy ways to save the Earth’.

10. The Energy Internet: When IT Meets ET

Within Information Technology, there is increasingly a ‘smart grid’ where everything is interconnected and able to communicate with each other.  To successfully have a green revolution, we need to do the same thing with energy technology, creating a smart grid where all electricity is linked and passed along intelligently.  Most of this chapter shares a vision of the future where such a grid has come into existence, and then notes some ways where it has already started.

11. The Stone Age Didn’t End Because We Ran Out of Stones

In order for things to progress toward a greener future, there needs to be something influencing the marketplace, which otherwise won’t move in that direction given the currently entrenched powers of fossil fuels.  This chapter looks at how to use taxes, subsidies, and other motivations to move the marketplace toward the desired outcome.

12. If It Isn’t Boring, It Isn’t Green

The title is taken from a Naked Gun 2 1/2 quote, and it mainly looks at how innovation can be stimulated by standards and regulations, as dull as they might seem.  The chapter notes that two particular areas that could use improvement are to increase energy efficiency standards and to reshape how electrical utilities operate, neither of which are particularly exciting, but each of which are vital.

13. A Million Noahs, a Million Arks

The reference to Noah is a reminder that preserving wildlife is important to our own survival.  There is the suggest of creating ‘arks’, areas where we support policies in order to maintain biodiversity.  This chapter sets out some requirements for those arks, as well as how to ensure that they are integrated into the world around them, both the natural world and human areas, to ensure that they are maintained.

14. Outgreening al-Qaeda (or, Buy One, Get Four Free)

‘Outgreening’ is the concept of making an effort to be more environmentally friendly than your competitors, be they other governments, other companies, or if you happen to be the U.S. Army, al-Qaeda.  This chapter looks at how doing so can be even more beneficial than it might initially seem, in many cases leading to numerous other advantages (‘get four free’) on top of the intended goal (‘buy one’).

Part IV: China

15. Can Red China Become Green China?

This part of the book looks at China’s recent efforts to go green.  It covers some of their successes, some of their failures, and areas where they need to improve their work.  It does stress that China unfortunately does not have the luxury that the US does, of being able to spend a century or more using fossil fuels to fuel their growth, and instead must skip right to ‘green growth’.

Part V: America

16. China for a Day (but Not for Two)

America is a great country overall, but the political system allows many groups, from fossil fuel companies to farm agencies, to exert undo influence on how policy is made, and as a result, the policy made is not always the best for our future needs.  The chapter’s title refers to Friedman’s desire to exert China’s top-down influence on policy for just one day, allowing the creation of the necessary standards, taxes, and subsidies, before reverting to America’s freer country.

17. A Democratic China, or a Banana Republic?

Starting with a speech from 12-year old Severn Suzuki expressing her fear that the planet will be ruined by the time she grows up, the final chapter looks at how to proceed with everything.  It emphasizes the need to overcome BANANA (‘build absolutely nothing anywhere near anything’) feelings throughout the country that prevent almost any form of power source from being built.  It references using the civil rights movement and the gear up for World War II as inspiration for how the Green Movement should proceed.

Pros

  •  Insightful: Hot, Flat, and Crowded raises quite a few interesting concepts about what sort of the problems the world will be facing soon, as well as some useful suggestions as to how to handle said problems.
  • Cites Many Sources: There are numerous sources that are cited, quoted, and referenced throughout the book, supporting the points that are made.
  • Impressively Foresightful…: The book has more than a few suggestions that are being made into reality even as we speak, particularly those in chapter ten (about creating an electric smart grid).

Cons

  •  …Although Missing Some Changes Already Starting: There are quite a few things that have gone in essentially the opposite the direction laid out in the book, albeit usually for reasons outside Friedman’s predictive range.
  • Overly Preachy: Friedman has a tendency to write as if he knows exactly what should be done in just about every part of the world, which gets a bit annoying at times.
  • Overuse of Abbreviations and Phrases: Speaking of annoying, there are a lot of phrases and abbreviations in the book that are used over and over and over again; it’s understandable, I suppose, but did drive me slightly mad at times.

Overall

Hot, Flat, and Crowded is an interesting look at the future in general and how to deal with the environmental situation in particular.  Friedman’s writing style is a bit grating at times, but the information he is trying to convey is very useful and quite important.  While not a personal finance book, per se, if you want an idea of a major area the government might (and dare I say, should) try to tackle in the near future, it’s definitely worth a read.

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