Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Hot,Flat and Crowded - book by Thomas Friedman

The full title of the book is
¨ Hot, flat and crowded- why the world needs a green revolution and how we can renew our global future¨.

In his previous book ¨The world is flat¨ Tom Friedman explained how the world is becoming flat through globalisation and internet. In this book, he has dealt with the issue of global warming (hot) by increasing consumption and consumers (crowded) . He says that this new Energy- Climate Era needs a new approach. He points out rightly that the issue is not just about regulation but throws open an opportunity for innovation for a smarter and sustainable way of living in the future. He calls for innovation of cleaner technologies for which the governments need to have the right kind of policies, incentives and support for research and development. He warns that the rate at which caron dioxide is emitted and earth is pollutted is a cause for serious and urgent attention and says that the world cannot afford any more delay in addressing the issue.

He has analysed the issues from political, economic, social, technological and more importantly from the American points of view. He has interviewed a variety of experts and brought in their perspectives. This is useful since average people get confused by the alarms raised by greenpeace types and the opposite energy politics in America driven by oil and car companies. Even the scientist are divided over the extent of global warming and their prescriptions to deal with the issue. Tom Friedman brings some clarity and widens the debate on the energy-climate issues saying that ¨Green is no longer a boutique statement, green is no longer something you do to be good… Green is the way to grow, build, design, manufacture, work and live…because it is the smartest, most efficient and lowest-cost way¨ He wants everyone to become conscious of a ¨new world with energy, environment and economy in balance¨

Here are some interesting observations by him:

-Quoting an expert he says that coal, oil and natural gas are fuels from hell because they polute, come from underground and are exhaustible. Fuels from heaven are: wind, solar, hydroelectric and tidal wave. These from the surface are clean, renewable and inexhaustible.
- Lot of energy can be saved by reducing wastage and inefficiet use of energy and innovation of energy- saving and energy-efficient devices. These measures are as important as setting up new power plants, since energy saved is equivalent to energy produced.
-In the current system of production and distribution of power by utility companies the emphasis is on greater consumption for greater profit margin for the company. This approach can be sustained only at the peril of the society. There is need to introduce Smartgrids which will give only that much power needed by individual customers and appliances and charge only for that with varying prices for peak consumption and low demand time. At the same time, the consumers should install solar panels and windmills to generate energy which should become part of the grid and the consumers will supply their surplus production into the grid. Friedman calls this as Energy Internet. He gives a vision of how daily life will be in the future when renewable energy is produced and consumed smartly.

-The high prices Americans pay for the gasoline end up as excessive wealth of unstable and undemocratic petrodictator sheikhs in middle east who use the windfall to build madrassas which produce fundamentalism and terrorists. More gas-guzzling SUVs in America generates not only pollution but also enemies ( fundamentalist terrorists).
- Quoting another expert Friedman calls the American system of policy making on energy and other matters as the ¨survival of the fattest¨- those with the biggest lobbies and deepest pockets make the policy. He points out the absurdity of American antidumping duty on ethanol imported from Brazil to protect the domestic corn ethanol industry despite the fact that sugarcane ethanol is more efficient than corn ethanol. On the other hand, the oil lobby has succeeded in preventing imposition of higher import tariff or taxes on gasoline imported from middle east, thereby contributing indirectly to terrorist enemies.
-China is moving ahead of USA in the energy- climate issue. China has set a target of producing 16 percent of its total energy from renewable sources by 2020 from its current level of seven percent. The Chinese have adopted world class mileage standard for their cars. One of the richest men of China is a green technology enterpreneur Shi, the founder of Suntech Power company, which is one of the top four solar manufacturers in the world. Tom Friedman contrasts this with the Americans who are mired in energy politics unwilling to formulate a sensible energy policy.

- Friedman calls on America to lead the world in the innovation of green technologies and products as part of its strategic policy of maintaining its leadership in the world.

The book is educative, informative and provocative. This is a useful read for government policy makers and businessmen and for anyone who wants to understand the issues of climate change and sustainable development.

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