Review

Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution -- and How It Can Renew America

by Thomas L. Friedman

What a timely book! Following an election in which the future of
the planet was hotly debated, the market is ripe for this
accessible yet information-packed treatise on the perilous state of
the environment, how we got here and how we must proceed if we are
to avoid catastrophe.

Thomas L. Friedman, the Pulitzer Prize-winning foreign affairs
journalist for the New York Times, is known for his
ability to synthesize information from diverse sources. He uses the
first half of the book to thoroughly convince us that we do indeed
have a problem, and a very grave one. In his past books, Friedman
has argued that globalization is “flattening” the
world, making competition between countries more possible and more
fair. China and India’s booming economies are giving millions
more people opportunities to move up to the middle class. These
millions feel they deserve a better life --- better being defined
as more comfortable, consuming more resources like their American
brothers and sisters.

The problem is that we are quickly running out of the cheap,
dirty fuel that allowed the first world countries to develop. But
increasing carbon dioxide emissions from dirty fuels like oil and
coal are contributing to what Friedman terms “global
weirding.” Add to this mix burgeoning population growth, and
you get a world that is hot, flat and crowded. Friedman provides
plenty of scientific support to back up his claims that life as we
know it (cheap gas, cheap energy, a human-friendly climate) is
endangered, one way or another. As he puts it, “if we
don’t make the hard choices, nature will make them for
us.”

The second half of the book is a guided tour through what some
of those “hard choices” may be. “Green”
must be more than a fad, he argues, and every magazine article that
touts “easy” ways to save the planet does a disservice
by trivializing what may in fact be deadly serious. Yet Friedman
believes we are up to the task and that America must lead the way
in both innovation and conservation. He describes a new
Energy-Climate era in which information technology meets energy
technology. In his vision, our washer, dryer and refrigerator
become smart appliances that communicate with a revolutionized
energy grid to buy electrons when they are cheapest. No matter
whether our cars are plugged in at home or in a parking lot, they
can both buy and sell electricity, depending on whether they need
it or have it.

But to get to this sustainable utopia, our government and
culture need to make investments now. We have to engineer our
economy so that alternative energy innovations are made because
industry knows they will be competitive. If that means keeping
gasoline prices above $4/gallon in order to do so, so be it. If we
doubt that will work, we need only look to Europe, where gas prices
are astronomical and small, energy-efficient cars are the norm.

America must lead, Friedman argues, or we’ll be forced to
play catch-up with China and India. He introduces us to some
American companies and universities already innovating toward a
clean, sustainable future and examines what other countries are
doing as well. We need a course correction, and with HOT, FLAT, AND
CROWDED, Friedman has provided a manifesto for our times.

Reviewed by Eileen Zimmerman Nicol on January 22, 2011

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

  • Publication Date: September 8, 2008
  • Genres: Current Affairs, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • ISBN-10: 0374166854
  • ISBN-13: 9780374166854