One day a few weeks ago, I was wandering a military clothing store looking for shiny things. This is the store on army posts that sell uniform items, boots, and souvenirs. It also has a small book section in it. The books mainly consist of military service topics such as evaluations, uniform standards, and accounts of specific battles. One book caught my eye though. It was Hot, Flat and Crowded and was written by Thomas Friedman. It was also marked “release 2.0, updated and expanded”.
I recognized this author from his other books and his television appearances. I was curious as to why this book was for sale at this location. Could it be a supposed relevancy to war fighting? Maybe it is an attempt to change the views of the troops from above. Maybe the store got a really good deal from the publisher for it. I do not know why it was there, but I do know that the book did not appear to be selling well.
The book I purchased was paperback and the cover used a public domain art print. This immediately tipped of my suspicion that profit might be the prime motivator for the release of this book. When I got the book home, I looked in the back to see what sources he uses in the bibliography. More suspicion was raised when I learned there was no bibliography, just an index. With this discovery, the credibility of this book dropped significantly in my mind and I have not even started to read it. He starts his book with a quote from The Onion, and actually quotes Wikipedia on page 85.
One page 8 he states the thesis of his book:
“My thesis then, which remains my thesis here, is that America could get its groove back by taking the lead in developing the technologies and policy solutions to address the world’s biggest problems—the energy and environmental stresses growing out of a planet getting hot, flat and crowded.”
He divides the book into five parts. In the first part he tries to make the correlation between the decline in the environment with the decline of the financial economy in America. He delves into “the greatest generation”, baby boomers, and what he calls the “regeneration”, or the offspring of said baby boomers. I agree with his point that the baby boomers tend to be more like the grasshopper than the ant from an old Aesop fable with resources and environments, but I disagree with his assignation of responsibility for the correction of this to his “regeneration”. I cannot stand it when someone expects a group to fix ills of the past done by others. And it is extra galling that he as a baby boomer is saying it.
In the second part he highlights the overcrowding of the earth, the various financial bubbles of the earth, and the dependence on cheap fossil fuels and the political blow-back associated with it. He also discusses carbon dioxide, and how it functions as a greenhouse gas and how it is evil. He also makes plenty of references to other proximate social activist causes to the green movement. He does not mention how carbon was originally deposited in the ground so many millions of years ago.
The third part deals with solutions. At this point I noticed he start to gloss over a lot of things that don’t agree with his thesis. It seems all his solutions have no actual cons just all pros. For example he doesn’t go over the detriments of wind power to local bird populations. Or the fact that in real life centralization does not lead to more efficiency.
In part four he goes over the rise of China as an economic and industrial powerhouse. He goes over the pollution problems associated with this rise. At this point I noticed he avoids big elephants in the room. He makes the explicit argument that the government of China has the consent of the governed. The Chinese Civil War, the Cultural Revolution, Tienanmen Square, and the various Tibetan uprisings dispute this. His assertion of the direction of the ninth Chinese five-year plan for 2006 to 2011 as “green” is not actually reflected in the plan as found in the Chinese government’s official portal. It appears more coal power plants, internal trade, and the development of Western regions was the actual focus of said plan.
Finally, part five deals with the United States. He goes over the unpredictability of markets and how if they were predictable a green revolution would be able to take hold. He also rehashes China with his respect for its ability to make sweeping changes by dictate. He then goes on to compare the market capitalization of various companies in their sectors in the green economy. I find his charts misleading both in their content and conclusions.
While responsible guardianship of the environment is a noble cause, this book seems to me to be more about steering people socially than it is about protecting the environment. One has to read between the lines to decipher his probable motivations.
While the earth should be cared for, following men like this would be a fool’s errand. I find his position disingenuous at best and subversive at worst. He seems to play the old “co-op –insert activist cause here– in order to make money”. Just reading his preface gives this away.
“Welcome to the release 2.0 paperback edition of Hot, Flat, and Crowded. I’ve always viewed my books the way computer programmers view software as works in progress that should be updated whenever possible.”
Sorry Mr. Friedman, computer software makers create new versions of buggy software to make more money not for the thrill of updating it. His book uses many buzzwords, anecdotes, and emotional appeals targeted to a specific audience to adopt his “solutions”. One quote is illustrative:
“Telling every individual on the planet who wants or can afford a car that they cannot have one will be changing our lifestyle. Bringing down your maximum speed limit to 55 mph, or banning taxis that are not hybrids-such efforts do not strike me as fundamentally cramping anyone’s lifestyle.”
His solipsism is on full display with that quote. Giving people like him the ability and power to do such things would not end well. I don’t think he realizes that the price of his latte would go up exponentially if his ideas were implemented.
The book comes across as a fancier version of Al Gore’s “activism”. His book is actually somewhat political for he failed to mention President Clinton’s sale of oil on the open market from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in the 90s. He also makes no mention of the local economic devastation that would ensue with a collapse of coal as an energy source.
Should you acquire this book? Yes, but only if you want a contemporary work to show future generations that people actually thought this way. The whole Solyndra debacle provides an immediate example on why the ideas advocated in this book would end badly. If you do choose to pick up this book, do it in a fashion that would not enrich the author.
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