Send a Tweet
Most Popular Choices
Share on Facebook 6 Share on Twitter Printer Friendly Page More Sharing
OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 3/16/09

Hot, Flat and Bothered

By       (Page 1 of 2 pages)   1 comment
Follow Me on Twitter     Message Olga Bonfiglio
Become a Fan
  (1 fan)

Thomas Friedman has done it again.  He has taken a global situation, this time it’s climate change, and set out to educate the public about how we got there and what we can do about it.  However, in his explanation, the self-described “somber optimist” inadvertently ends up salving readers with the expectation that technology will save us and we can go on with our lives as usual. 

Hot, Flat and Crowded focuses on the threats and opportunities of climate change in this new age that he calls the Energy-Climate Era (ECE), which begins now.

Friedman is an engaging storyteller who can skillfully elucidate complex ideas with pithy phrases.  For example, in the book’s title, “hot” refers to the earth’s rising temperatures due to an overdose of carbon emissions from large-scale manufacturing, the loss of forests, urban sprawl, the extraction of resources and the large store of solid waste from animals and humans. 

“Flat” refers to how more of the world’s people have entered the middle class, a decidedly good development in the quest to overcome poverty.  However, he says, middle class lifestyles encourage people to acquire more consumer goods, which use up more fossil fuels and thus contribute to more carbon emissions. 

“Crowded” refers to the ever-increasing world population.  Today, it stands at 6.7 billion.  By mid-century demographers estimate it will be 9 billion with the greatest increases in countries that are least able to sustain a larger population.  It is these countries that have the potential for violence, civil unrest and extremism.

To mitigate these interconnecting problems, Friedman advocates an all-out effort to “mobilize the most effective and prolific system for transformational innovation and commercialization of new products.”  Americans, in particular, are well poised to develop and dominate such a market by creating a demand for clean energy.  We could also put our people to work by encouraging innovators to invent renewable energy generators and by enlisting blue collar workers to be “green collar workers” to make and service these products.  Unfortunately, the United States is not doing this, says Friedman, but China is.  And unless we get going, we will miss an opportunity to “out-green” the Chinese and sell the world our new, green technology.

What prevents America from getting on board the renewable energy train is our reluctance to invest the necessary funds for research and development.  Friedman says that supplying these funds would be expensive up front, but the benefits of converting to a modern and efficient energy infrastructure would save us a lot of money in the long term. 

Another thing stopping us is some political leaders’ doubts about whether climate change is caused by humans or Nature—so they block R&D funds.  The $787 billion stimulus package recently signed by President Obama was a big victory for change because it did designate nearly $20 billion for renewable energy and $11 billion to modernize the U.S. electrical grid.  But the nagging question remains:  where will lawmakers find more funds in the future.

Meanwhile, Friedman deftly illustrates how our oil addiction is encouraging petropolitical dictators and strengthening “the most intolerant, antimodern, anti-Western, anti-women’s rights, and antipluralistic strain of Islam—the strain propagated by Saudi Arabia.”  He reminds readers that fifteen of the nineteen 9/11 hijackers were Saudis for this very reason.

Another complication to our response to climate change is Friedman’s contention that if we want to maintain our present way of life, “we will have to leverage and exploit our intellectual resources through innovation and technology.”  Here he reveals his basic worldview:  “we as a global society need more and more growth, because without growth there is no human development and those in poverty will never escape it.” 

While it is nice that Friedman is concerned about the poor, he believes that “a rising tide lifts all boats,” just as President John F. Kennedy once urged.  After nearly 50 years of operating on this assumption, we have seen the gap between rich and poor widen and the utter and insidious collapse of our economy.

Friedman’s statements about growth show him to be what energy experts call a “cornucopian.”  A cornucopian believes that there are few intractable limits to growth and that the world can provide a practically limitless abundance of natural resources. 

Friedman conducted extensive research to prepare this book, but he leaves readers with a curious omission about our energy future:  “peak oil.” 

According to Energy Bulletin, “peak oil” refers to the high point in the rate of global oil production.  Because oil is a finite, nonrenewable natural resource, once we use up half of the world’s total reserves, oil production will begin to decline.  It is important to recognize that a peak in production does not mean that we are running out of oil.  It signals that we are running out of cheap oil.  We got a taste of that future last summer when oil reached $147 per barrel and gasoline topped over $4 a gallon. 

No one knows when we will hit the “peak” and begin to decline so the urgency to do something about it depends one’s estimate of remaining oil reserves.  The C ambridge Energy Research Associates, one of the world’s leading energy consulting firms, estimates we have 20 to 30 years before reaching peak.  Many peak oil theorists (as seen in the documentary, “The End of Suburbia”) believe oil could peak as early as 2010.

Perhaps the most disturbing word on peak oil comes from what is commonly known as the Hirsch Report, sponsored and published in 2005 by the U.S. Energy Department (  It states that “the economic, social, and political costs [of peak oil] will be unprecedented.” 

Next Page  1  |  2

(Note: You can view every article as one long page if you sign up as an Advocate Member, or higher).

Rate It | View Ratings

Olga Bonfiglio Social Media Pages: Facebook page url on login Profile not filled in       Twitter page url on login Profile not filled in       Linkedin page url on login Profile not filled in       Instagram page url on login Profile not filled in

Olga Bonfiglio is a Huffington Post contributor and author of Heroes of a Different Stripe: How One Town Responded to the War in Iraq. She has written for several magazines and newspapers on the subjects of food, social justice and religion. She (more...)
Go To Commenting
The views expressed herein are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of this website or its editors.
Follow Me on Twitter     Writers Guidelines

Contact AuthorContact Author Contact EditorContact Editor Author PageView Authors' Articles
Support OpEdNews

OpEdNews depends upon can't survive without your help.

If you value this article and the work of OpEdNews, please either Donate or Purchase a premium membership.

If you've enjoyed this, sign up for our daily or weekly newsletter to get lots of great progressive content.
Daily Weekly     OpEd News Newsletter
   (Opens new browser window)

Most Popular Articles by this Author:     (View All Most Popular Articles by this Author)

Michigan Can Be a Leader in Dealing With Climate Change

Some Sociological Explanations for Climate Change Denial

Inauguration Day 2009

How Music Helped Save New Orleans After Katrina

Big Government and Big Corporations Befriend the Local Food Movement

Food Fight

To View Comments or Join the Conversation:

Tell A Friend