Nina's Reading Blog

Comments on books I am reading/listening to

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

Posted by nliakos on August 6, 2009

by Tom Friedman.  Farrar, Straus and Giroux 2008

I loved both The Lexus and the Olive Tree and The World Is Flat, so I was looking forward to reading Friedman’s newest book.  I found it harder to read than the other two, mainly because it is quite depressing, especially in the first part where he outlines the problems facing us: first and foremost, global warming (which Friedman would prefer to call “global climate disruption” because it sounds less cozy); and this is exacerbated by “petrodictatorships” nourished by our addiction to dirty fossil fuels which are driving global warming,  a skyrocketing world population with increasing demands for decreasing energy and other natural resources, “energy poverty” for what we used to call “the third world”, and a skyrocketing loss of biodiversity.  The “flat world” described in the previous book refers to the rise of the middle class around the globe, made possible by the internet; this is turn gives rise to the problem of “too many Americans,” which does not refer to the U. S. population but to the many millions, soon to be billions, who aspire to live our lifestyle.  Who can blame them?  But the Earth is simply not big enough, and we have no place else to go.  Reading about this, as well as being reminded of the United States’ ostrich stance in the face of the threat (“We’ll deal with it when we get around to it”), depressed me. I look around my own neighborhood and observe how most of my neighbors turn on their airconditioners without even venturing outside to see if they need them.

But Friedman’s point is that instead of being depressed and pessimistic, we should be seizing the opportunity to do what America does best: innovate and lead by shining example.  In Part III, “How We Move Forward,” he provides many examples of how we could do this, but notes that without the government to pass serious legislation and set serious policy, we cannot succeed.  He was writing during the last years of the Bush administration; now we are in the first year of the Obama administration, but Obama’s government is hogtied by the economic crisis brought on by the previous administration’s addiction to tax cuts + expensive wars.  It’s difficult to see how anything can be accomplished (as I write, healthcare reform is taking a beating) in this atmosphere of partisan politics and looking the other way.  Americans want Obama to solve their problems without inconveniencing them.  As Friedman points out, 100 (or however many) Easy Ways to Save the Earth won’t cut it without the policies, laws, and regulations that seem impossible to establish.

I hope President Obama has read this book, but even if he has, and even if he wants to do the right thing, I can’t help but think it will be too little, too late.  It seems that no one has the power to make it happen.

Friedman’s site is here, with links to reviews and excerpts you can read and listen to.

The Wikipedia entry is incomplete but has many links to audio or video interviews.

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