Saturday, May 29, 2010

Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution and How It Can Renew America by Thomas Friedman

I read this book a year ago, but given the devastation that this BP oil well disaster is causing in the Gulf of Mexico, I can only pray that this moment is the impetus for the world to attempt to eradicate its dependence on fossil fuels. Complacency and maintaining the status quo are no longer acceptable. It's time to stop letting oil executives hoard money while they destroy our children's futures.

I've gotta give Friedman credit. While a lot of this book was very slow-going and I will admit that I skimmed through quite a few places that I felt were a bit over my head, I have to say that Friedman sure knows how to lay out a thesis. From what I remember about The World is Flat and now this book, he knows how to write a "Chapter 1" that draws everyone into his argument. Even though I skimmed through quite a few pages, as a whole, I feel like this is a book that all Americans should read - especially those in any sort of political office. Our American way of life just cannot continue at the pace it's going right now and Friedman gives not only explanations as to how this mess all started, but he actually gives some possible solutions. The solutions he gives are extremely large scale and not something easily solved, but if enough people in the political world can get behind his message, maybe it is possible.

What he said about oil and petrodictators really hit home for me. Especially when on p. 80 he quotes Peter Schwartz, the chairman of Global Business Network as saying American energy policy today is, "Maximize demand, minimize supply, and make up the difference by buying as much as we can from the people who hate us the most." Yeah, as Friedman says, "I can't think of anything more stupid."

I also thought it was very interesting the connection he made to urban Islam (Cairo-Istanbul-Damascus-Casablanca) vs. desert Islam (mainly Saudi) and how that has affected the climate of freedom in the Middle East. I was extremely appalled to find out that those urban Islam centers have been almost completely flushed out by Saudi investors who now control the media in those areas and dictate what the once progressive areas can watch and even what kinds of films they can make.

There were quite a few passages from this book that really hit home for me:

On pp. 8-9
In some ways, the subprime mortgage mess and housing crisis are metaphors for what has come over America in recent years. A certain connection between hard work, achievement, and accountability has been broken. We've become a subprime nation that thinks it can just borrow its way to prosperity - putting nothing down and making no payments for two with our homes, so with our country: we have been mortgaging our future rather than investing in it.

On p. 93
I started mulling the First Law of Petropolitics after 9/11, reading its daily headlines and listening to the news. When I heard Venezuela's president, Hugo Chavez, telling British prime minister Tony Blair to "go to hell" and telling his supporters that the U.S.-sponsored Free Trade Area of the Americas coalition "can go to hell" too, I couldn't help saying to myself: "I wonder if the president of Venezuela would be saying these things if the price of oil today were $20 a barrel rather than $60 or $70 a barrel and his country had to make a living by empowering its own entrepreneurs, not just drilling holes in the ground!"

On p. 177 on asking French president Nicolas Sarkozy a question at a journalists' breakfast:
"What would be the impact if America became the world leader on combating climate change rather than the world's laggard?" Sarkozy began by talking about his love for American culture: "I grew up listening to Elvis Presley... I grew up watching American films... America is a story of unprecedented economic success, unprecedented democratic success...I will always love America. So when I see the U.S. hated by everyone, it really pains me." And when America is not taking the lead on such an important global issue as climate change, added the French president, "I am asking, 'Where is the American dream? What happened? Where has it gone?...You are bounded by two oceans. You will be the first to be affected by rising sea levels. You should be setting the example. You should be spearheading the battle for the environment.'"

On pp. 241-242 on talking to a group of Chinese auto executives:
Every year I come to China and young Chinese tell me, "Mr Freidman, you Americans got to grow dirty for 150 years - you got to have your Industrial Revolution based on coal and oil - now it is our turn." Well on behalf of all Americans, I am here today to tell you that you're right. It's your turn. Please, take your time, grow as dirty as you like for as long as you like. Take your time! Please! Because I think my country needs only five years to invent all the clean power and energy efficiency tools that you, China, will need to avoid choking on pollution, and then we are going to come over and sell them all to you. We will get at least a five year jump on you in the next great global industry: clean power and energy efficiency. We will totally dominate you in those industries. So please, don't rush, grow as dirty as you like for as long as you want. If you want to do it for five more years, that's great. If you want to give us a ten-year lead on the next great global industry, that would be even better. Please, take your time.

On p. 245:
In what free market would you find the U.S. government slap a 54-cent a gallon tariff on sugarcane ethanol imported from Brazil, a democratic ally of the United States, while imposing only a 1.25 cent a gallon tariff on crude oil imported from Saudi Arabia, the home of most of the 9/11 hijackers? Only in a market where the American corn lobby has enough clout in Congress to prevent Brazilian sugar ethanol from competing with American corn ethanol.

On p. 259:
Socialism collapsed because it did not allow the market to tell the economic truth. Capitalism may collapse because it does not allow the market to tell the ecological truth.

On p. 265 when talking about conservative politicians complaining about gasoline taxes and what pro-green revolution politicians should say:
The American people certainly have been taxed quite enough I totally agree. Right now they are being taxed by Saudi Arabia, taxed by Venezuela, taxed by Russia, taxed by Iran, and, if we stay on this track, they'll soon be taxed by Mother Nature. And when Mother Nature starts taxing us there will be no politician you can call on the phone to get relief. So let's get one thing straight: My opponent and I are both for a tax. I just have this quaint, old-fashioned view that my taxes should go to the U.S. Treasury, not the Saudi Treasury, and not the Russian Treasury.

And finally, on p. 397:
It is much more important to change your leaders than your lightbulbs.

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