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

4 Star, Environment (Problems), Environment (Solutions), Geography & Mapping, Politics, Threats (Emerging & Perennial), Values, Ethics, Sustainable Evolution

Hot Flat5 for intent, 3 for immaculate conception, 4 on balance, September 29, 2008

Thomas L. Friedman

I was not going to buy this book, having become generally disenchanted with the journalists style of ignoring the past 10-20 years of pioneering work by others, and instead interviewing one’s way toward an immaculate conception of the same stuff.

HOWEVER, I was won over by his appearance on television, his passion for going green, and his articulate summarization of complex ideas. If you read a great deal, the book is a fast read with way too much detail. If you do NOT read a lot, this is a 5 star book with a wealth of detail you will not find in any one place elsewhere, buy it, read it SLOWLY, and be all the better for it.

A few notes for my failing memory and those who follow my reviews:

1) Better than average index, indeed, quite good and a real pleasure.

2) President Reagan undid most of the energy conservation progress made in the 1970’s, costing us the equivalent of everything we are so desperate to get now.

3) Denmark is an example of getting it right, and of energy policy producing jobs and savings and quality of life beyond most people’s wildest imagination.

4) George Bush Junior blew it (but the author is careful not to mention Dick Cheney’s obsession with secret meetings with Enron and Exxon to plot the invasion and occupation of Iraq). The new president chose deliberately–and the author is compelling in quoting the White House press person on this point–to continue cheap gas and profligate energy waste as an American birthright of sorts.

5) Cradle to Cradle and Divesity are hot now. Duh. I quelch my annoyance as not seeing any credit to Herman Daly or Paul Hawkin or Club or Rome or Limits to Growth and so on, because later in the book he discusses how localities can become Noahs and Arks, and I like this section very much.

6) Energy Poverty is HUGE and I am thoroughly impressed by this section, which includes a discussion of how energy intersects with every other threat and policy (see my own new book on Amazon,Election 2008: Lipstick on the Pig (Substance of Governance; Legitimate Grievances; Candidates on the Issues; Balanced Budget 101; Call to Arms: Fund We Not Them; Annotated Bibliography) for more details and good graphics).

7) Energy Internet, Where IT Meets ET is quite special and alone worth the price of the book for those of us that do read a great deal.

8) Innovation *is* happening, and I am extremely impressed by his account of how the US Army has been discovering the value of going green, for instance, using renewable energy to power remote outposts so as to dramatically reduce the need to truck fuel over roads, reducing both targets and costs for the entire force.

9) US Government has no energy policy, and the private sector desperately needs one if the private sector is to make the 30-50 year bets on nuclear, wind, solar, bacteria, biomass, and so on.

10) China has 106 billionaires, and the balance of the book on China, both its challenges and its potential to go green and not make our mistakes, is also very valuable and provides coverage I have not seen elsewhere.

I found a number of gifted turns of phrase in the book, and they helped to balance the verbal vomit of facts and figures stuffed into the book.

Here are two quotes that I consider worth highlighting:

“American energy policy today, says Peter Schwartz, chairman of Global Business Network, a strategic consulting firm, can be summed up as ‘Maximize demand, minimize supply, and mmake up the difference by buying as much as we can from the people who hate us the most.'” [Schwartz forgot to mention that we borrow the money with which we buy….] p. 80.

“All the human energy and talent is here [in the USA], ready to launch. Yes, it can go a long way on its own…[b]ut it will never go to the scale we need as long as our national energy policy remains so ad hoc, uncoordinated, inconsistent, and unsustained–so that the market never fully exploits our natural advantages.” p. 375

The author appears to ignore or not include the extreme greed and the predatory capitalism that characterizes the energy companies, for example, Exxon eternalizing $12 in costs to the public for every $4 in gas we buy [i.e. they did NOT make a $40 billion windfall profit this past year, they instead stole this money from the public now and in the future.]

Here are some books that I read before this one, and that I recommend very highly for those who wish to delve into the pioneering ideas of others. The author is himself a distiller and obsever, not a pioneer, but unlike his other books, on this one, I give him extra credit for being relevant, on target, and passionate in the most positive way.

Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Social Movement in History Is Restoring Grace, Justice, and Beauty to the World
Plan B 3.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization, Third Edition
The Future of Life
The Biodiversity Crisis: Losing What Counts (American Museum of Natural History Books)
Green to Gold: How Smart Companies Use Environmental Strategy to Innovate, Create Value, and Build Competitive Advantage
Leadership and the New Science: Learning About Organization from an Orderly Universe
How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas, Updated Edition
The leadership of civilization building: Administrative and civilization theory, symbolic dialogue, and citizen skills for the 21st century
Collective Intelligence: Creating a Prosperous World at Peace