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Hot, Flat, and Crowded

By Thomas L. Friedman. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008. 421 pages, $27.95.

Reviewed by Cody Adams

Thomas L. Friedman, best known for his editorial opinion column in The New York Times, as well as several previous policy books, forcefully argues for a comprehensive sustainable overhaul of the world’s attitude toward and relationship to the environment in Hot, Flat, and Crowded. The book’s subtitle, Why We Need a Green Revolution – And How it Can Renew America, is an apt summary of the project as a whole. Friedman walks the reader through a plethora of topics, explained and extrapolated by a large cast of energy experts, businessmen, ecologists, technicians, policy makers, and more.

Hot, Flat, and Crowded
Image courtesy Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Hot, Flat, and Crowded
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Friedman breaks the book up into five sections, with headings as direct as the subtitle: Where We Are, How We Got Here, How We Move Forward, which assesses the current state of the world’s economic and environmental health, along with solution outlines; and China and America, which apply the previous criticisms and suggestions to the world’s two super-powered super-polluters. Each section is further broken up via chapters on specific topics, leaving a clear progression of topics that guides the reader through environmental and energy issues, via the lenses of fossil fuels, politics, industry, globalization, and ecology. Though green-building wonks might find his treatment of built environments on the elementary side, the book is teeming with insightful interviews and practical suggestions to rebuild the American infrastructure around comprehensive green policy.

Given his background as an opinion journalist, Friedman is able to fluently guide the layman reader through the pressing environmental issues we face. His professional grounding in geopolitics and the global economy provides a fresh perspective on how to tackle the giant threat of global climate change, and successfully revises the out-of-date “global warming” moniker to the more accurate term “global weirding.” Moreover, Friedman is no bleeding heart liberal. His commitment to the green cause is born purely out of practicality and a desire to optimize the economy, while preventing catastrophic environmental damage and ecological collapse, all while curbing oil dictatorships, a political pet peeve.

So what does Friedman’s “Code Green” call for? Much of the nitty-gritty involves heavy investment in renewable energies along with a complete overhaul of the national energy grid. In Friedman’s extremely detailed ideal future every home in the United States would be wired into a smart energy grid, which buys and sells power based on instantaneous price data, automatically optimizing heating, lighting, and appliance use based on market conditions and clean-energy availability. Our power grid would becoming truly natural, uniting the hodgepodge regional operators, and the utilities would install and maintain solar panels on individual residences for free, allowing them to generate their own clean energy. All cars would be electric or hybrids, and would interface seamlessly with the smart grid and wired house. Most of this technology already exists, and Friedman advocates tirelessly for government benchmarks and regulations that will push critical green technology to the consumer scale.

The above solution is one of many that Friedman posits as part of a grander green scheme that would take the equivalent of mobilizing for a world war to enact, but Friedman argues persuasively, if at time prosaically, that we are already at war with our planet, and losing badly.
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