Hot, Flat and Crowded is the title of Thomas Friedman’s latest tome.
This Pulitzer Prize winning journalist has written numerous books and is the foreign affairs columnist for the New York Times.
One of his past books was called The World is Flat.
This discussed how modern technology has leveled barriers around the world, especially on the economic front.
It included an examination of the collapse of communism and the rise of capitalist-oriented economies in almost all corners of the globe.
The result has meant that there is essentially just one economy these days and everybody and every company is competing against everyone else.
As a simple example, it is now possible to find many companies in India and China that will do computer design, programming and construction much cheaper and better than companies in North America.
That is bad news for those North Americans whose skills are geared towards these occupations.
These individuals and companies will have to adjust into activities that they can do better than anywhere else in the world.
The topic of this economic flatness is carried on into Hot, Flat and Crowded.
The subtitle of the book is “why we need a green revolution – and how it can renew America.”
The Hot in the title refers to the impacts of climate change.
This is going to stress human populations around the world, particularly in societies with the least economic and political flexibility to deal with it.
The Flat refers to how the world has essentially become one big city, or village, which is sometimes a good thing and sometimes is not.
The Crowded refers to the ongoing population boom.
There are about 6.7 billion humans on planet Earth at the moment, and by mid-century there will be about 9.2 billion.
Most of them will be born in less developed regions of the globe.
Thanks to the flattening of the planet, though, they will see and learn how the developed portion of the world lives.
And that means they will all want to live like North Americans do now.
This is going to stress the planet’s environmental, economic and political systems no end.
Friedman takes an interesting approach to this.
He points out that some of the solutions to these issues can be achieved through clean and green energy.
These forms of energy will start to address some of the climate change challenges humanity is facing.
It will flatten out the world even more, because once clean, green and hopefully cheap energy is available it will mean everywhere will have access to power.
This is bad news for the petro-dictatorships, but probably good news for everywhere else.
Clean energy will benefit the future world of even more crowded millions.
It will hopefully raise standards of living without devastating the environment.
This is not going to be clear sailing, though.
There are institutional constraints on achieving all of this, and they will not be easy to overcome.
A discussion of some of these constraints is looked at in the closing two sections of the book.
An examination of how China (and then America) is moving forward on these issues is well worth a read.
Friedman is not averse to discussing the upside and downside of different political systems and their effectiveness in managing environmental and economic issues.
Dictates from Beijing can sometimes be more effective than political bills that get twisted, modified and contorted on the floor of the United States Senate.
One criticism of this book is that some readers might find Friedman’s style of writing annoying.
He is always name dropping about the people he meets.
It is always this CEO is doing something innovative and that government bureaucrat who is responsible for such-and-such innovative program.
The people in these anecdotes and who are quoted in the conversations are the sort of individuals who are making a difference. Their actions will not only help all of us move to a better future but also inspire us to improve and change how we live, work and play.
The problem is that a constant string of anecdotes and chatty conversations plays well in a weekly newspaper column but not in a 438-page book.
All that being said, this is an important book in that it addresses the big issues humanity will be facing over the next decade or so.
Climate change, the leveling of the economic playing field and the wants, needs and desires of the coming population boom are important issues.
These are all addressed in this book, and some possible solutions are offered.
Perhaps Hot, Flat and Crowded will inspire some readers but others might find it a bit too scattered and too long when it comes down to discussing issues.
To be brutally honest, Al Gore and his book and related film An Inconvenient Truth is funnier and more inspirational.
Now that is harsh criticism indeed, but then Gore only deals with one issue.
Friedman has chosen to tackle the big three future problems facing the planet and for that alone this book is worth a read.
Lewis Rifkind is a Whitehorse
based part-time environmentalist.