Bookcase : Hot, Flat and Crowded: why the world needs a green revolution – and how we can renew our global future

• Thomas L Friedman
• Allen Lane
• RRP $55.00

Three-time Pulitzer Prize winning foreign affairs columnist for the New York Times, Thomas Friedman can surely not be ‘flat earther’.Yet this is his second book using this curious choice of words in the title. His previous The World is Flat won the Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year Award, an achievement that may give one to pause, as the financial meltdown proceeds.
So yes, there is the threat of global warming – maybe even catastrophic climatic change if warnings of the possible meltdown (hopefully partial) of Greenland’s ice cover continue to go unheeded. And yes, there are an awful lot of people in the world – nearly trebling since Friedman was born in 1953. But flat?? What he seems to mean is levelling of the global economic playing field enabling “more people than ever, from more places than ever, to enter the global economy” becoming upwardly mobile and maybe even entering the middle classes.
Seems odd to categorise such egalitarian progress as an ill alongside ‘hot’ and ‘crowded’, especially from the land of the free that has recently voted for Martin Luther King’s dream to come true (whether it does is another matter, on which we can suspend judgement). But it is the triad that worries Friedman – more people, times higher living standards, equals doubly-great demands on natural resources, including the atmosphere’s capacity to act as dustbin for the wastes from fossil fuel combustion.
So he looks to green revolution, harnessing the ingenuity and inventiveness of the United States to qualitatively different pattern of consumption that can yield the flat and the crowded without incurring the hot. And he worries about the role the US (what he calls ‘America’ doubtless giving offence to people from Canada to Patagonia) can play in resolving the dilemma, particularly as it hands the imperial baton over to China. As in post-WWII Britain we used to imagine London playing Athens to Washington’s Rome, so does Friedman look to the role the US can play in shaping China’s emerging economic dominance.
Things can only get better, with president elected who takes brains as seriously as balls – reputedly to the extent of having Bach’s unaccompanied cello sonatas for favourite listening. So there’s hope yet for Friedman’s green revolution and this book provides useful Christmas reading for the insomniac.

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