Sunday, November 11, 2012

Hot, Flat, and Crowded

Thomas Friedman provides a comprehensive look at how to solve the world’s environmental crisis while revitalizing America in his 2008 book, Hot, Flat, and Crowded. Friedman presents these challenges as opportunities, and offers direction on how to navigate in the new ‘Energy Climate Era.”

Friedman explains the earth is becoming hot, flat, and crowded through global warming, technological innovation, and population explosion, respectively. Furthermore, Friedman goes on to describe how those changes are impacting five major problems: energy supply and demand, petro-dictatorship, climate change, energy poverty, and biodiversity loss.

A strikingly simple way of illustrating the disparity between our energy sources is the discussion of “fuels from hell” vs. “fuels from heaven,” as explained by Rochelle Lefkowitz. Fuels from hell, e.g., coal, oil, and natural gas, come from underground, are exhaustible, and emit carbon dioxide. In contrast, fuels from heaven, e.g., wind, hydroelectric, and solar power come from above ground, are renewable, and produce no harmful emissions.

Another factor to consider is how our fuel choices impact the autonomy of people across the globe. An inverse relationship between freedom and oil prices is demonstrated for populations living in Iran, Russia, Venezuela, and Nigeria. Through our dependence on foreign oil, vast amounts of wealth are being transferred from the west to energy producing countries, and in turn, directly to “petro-dictators.”

The chapters covering climate change and bio-diversity loss are as scary as a horror film. Unfortunately, certain groups of industrial and political factions have worked to “muddy” the issue and delay action. The effect of this non-action will be catastrophic. Friedman notes that “We are the only species in the vast web of life that no animal or plant depends on for its survival - yet we depend on the whole web of life for our survival.”

We have energy politics in the US, not a cohesive energy policy. Frustratingly, ‘liberal environmentalists’ are not effective agents of change; additionally, conservatives have forgotten what that word even means. Our government is lacking leadership and the ability to formulate a national energy strategy that conserves resources and fosters renewable energy. A favorite discussion in the book imagines the US being China for a day. Alas, extreme government efficiency is but a dream.

A Chinese Proverb states, “When the wind changes direction, there are those who build walls, and those who build windmills.” In Hot, Flat, and Crowded, Thomas Friedman makes a compelling case for American ingenuity leading the global charge to harness renewable energy resources in order to provide for and protect our way of life. Everyone, please read this book.

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