Thursday, March 5, 2009

A Review of Flat, Hot and Crowded

I just finished reading Flat, Hot and Crowded by Thomas Friedman. It is an excellent book and is an eye opener when it comes to environmental and conservation issues. Friedman's concept of a flat world comes from his last book The World is Flat which explores how the technological age has leveled the playing field for industry and competition across international borders. This book explores how the world is moving towards more of a monoculture when it comes to consumption of energy. One of his main points is that if everyone in the world aspires to a western standard of living and consumption (which most do) and uses the same energy platforms that we currently employ (which most do) then we will very quickly destroy the world around us especially as the world population continues to grow.

Not only that, but the political and economic consequences of our actions are staggering. Friedman makes a case that in order to be patriotic Americans we need to seek cleaner renewable energies and sustainable lifestyles that will not export large sums of cash to dictators and tyrannical regimes around the world (often the same places whose worldviews entirely contradict democratic governments and human rights). Here are two brief excerpts explaining his theory.

"Unlike its oil-rich neighbors, Bahrain in the 1990s could practically mark the day on the calendar when it would have no more oil revenue to rely upon, so it had no choice but to nurture and exploit the talents of its people instead. I couldn't help asking myself: "Could that just be a coincidence? The first Gulf state that runs out of oil is also the first to explore all these political and economic reforms?" I don't think it was coincidence at all. Also, when I looked across the Arab world, and saw a popular democracy movement in Lebanon evicting Syria's occupying army, I couldn't help saying to myself: "Is it an accident that the Arab world's first and only real democracy- Lebanon- also happens to be one of the few Arab states that never had a drop of oil?" (Page 95)
"...the lower the price of oil goes, the swifter the pace of freedom: Petrolist countries are forced to move toward a politics and a society that is more transparent, more sensitive to opposition voices, more open to a broad set of interactions with the outside world, and more focused on building legal and educational structures that will maximize the ability of their citizens (men and women) to compete, start new companies, and attract investments from abroad. And, naturally, the lower the price of crude oil falls, the more petrolist leaders are sensitive to what outsiders think of them." (Page 96)

Regardless of how you feel about climate change and the idea of over-population, I believe that Friedman makes an excellent point when he talks about the kinds of energy that we consume and who we pay for that energy. It seems like there has never been a more important time than now to invest in alternative forms of energy in our own home states and home countries. The more we invest in infrastructures at home that provide us with clean and renewable energy the less money we will see pour out of our own economies into the pockets of the oil producing countries around the world.

One of the other main things Friedman highlights in his book is China and their race to beat the rest of the world to green energy. This is not a trivial matter. As we look at companies that invest in green technology like Texas Instruments and Sun Microsystems they are not always pursuing green technology purely out of environmental motives, but they often have huge payoffs in cutting costs as the become more energy efficient. China is racing towards this full steam and the question is, "Are we?". It appears that whatever country is the first to come up with the best sustainable and renewable energy platform will be the worlds next super power. Maybe it is time for someone else to pick up that mantle, or maybe it is time for us to invest wisely in our future.