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Hot, Flat, and Crowded Why We Need a Green Revolution and How It Can Renew America By Thomas L. Friedman

Jacket: Hardcover
Pages: 448 pages
Publisher:Farrar, Straus and Giroux (September 2008)
Genre:Environmental Studies - Business
ISBN:978-0374166854


Review: Gas prices soar, stock market crashes, Brangelina reproduces. While the rest of us obsess about these crises du jure, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Thomas L Friedman steps back to look at the world-wide correlation and implications. Global warming (hot), expansion of the economic middle class (flat), and exploding population (crowded) pose a triple-threat to planet Earth and, by the way, to those of us who live here.

Friedman's assessment of these factors and their effect on our future paints a gloomy picture. “…we have already passed the tipping point regarding energy supply and demand…climate change… and biodiversity loss,” he points out. “It is not pay now or pay later. It is pay now, or there will be no later.”

Isn't that just the sort of hysterical rant the tree-huggers and Al Gore have been spouting for decades? It is, admits Friedman, and it's the source from which came those early warnings that has prevented development of a feasible strategy for climate protection. Hippies and politicians, have made environmental protection seem like a fringe fad or a campaign year sound bite. Consequently efforts to save the planet have been largely relegated to those individuals who turn off lights, recycle plastic, and ride bikes simply because they feel a moral obligation to do the right thing.

Today there's no reasonable person who doubts the validity of climate disruption. A mountain of scientific evidence is available, and even Rajendra Pacauri, chairman of the UN sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, says “…if there's no action before 2012, that's too late.” But even with the end of the world bearing down on us, we haven't developed a workable plan to save ourselves.

The flower children are already on board the eco-train. Friedman's book speaks to a different and far more important audience -- those who want to make money and those who love America . Friedman's well-conceived and eminently practical plan bypasses high-minded idealism and strikes at the heart of industry and business leaders who –let's face it-- are the only ones who can really make a difference. Environmental protection, says Friedman, is both patriotic and profitable!

The facts presented in Hot, Flat, and Crowded are disheartening at best, terrifying at worst. Still, Friedman's message is optimistic and beaming with national pride. Since 9/11, we have lived as if we are a nation under siege, cowering in anticipation of attack and glimpsing terrorists behind every bush. Friedman is not opposed to sensible precaution, but points out that we have given our full attention to paranoid preparations and failed to move forward. “Even in the Cold War, when we were doing nuclear drills in my school basement, we were also figuring out how to launch men into space….. we must never forget who our enemies are, but we must always remember who we are. ‘They' are the people who perpetrate 9/11s. ‘We' are the people who celebrate the Fourth of July. That's our national holiday – not 9/11.”

When we shrink our world view to a narrow tunnel of fear, it's impossible to see how we are contributing to our own destruction. Our reluctance to rouse ourselves form a lifestyle of oil-addiction, for instance, is an excellent example of self-destructive behavior that borders on tyranny. We purchase oil from Middle Eastern governments and our money eventually ends up financing the very terrorist groups we hide from. It sounds like political business as usual until we bring it down to individual action and responsibility: we send our children off to war, and then every time we fill our gas tanks, we arm the terrorists who shoot at them.

If America is to regain its reputation as a world leader, those old-school capitalists and patriots need to step up, deliver affordable alternatives for energy production, and rake in the profits along the way. T Boone Pickens has already seen the light (and the potential for making even more money); now Friedman proposes plans for other business geniuses to get in on the action. “…the best way to re-energize America , rebuild its confidence and moral authority, and propel it forwards as a society is also by focusing on a green agenda.”

Currently a foreign affairs columnist for the New York Times, Friedman has four previous books, including The World is Flat, in which he addresses the massive changes brought about by globalization. The thoughtful and thoroughly-researched plan he proposes in this book is more likely than all the Go Green public service announces combined to make a real dent in the way Americans view their role in environmental destruction. There's no list of quick and easy planet-saving tips here – Friedman recognizes that we are far beyond the day when backyard gardens can have a real impact on our future. By focusing on issues that appeal to a majority of Americans – money and patriotism—Friedman has targeted the right market. The question remains: does American spirit and financial intelligence still exist?

— Reviewed by: Deborah Adams

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