Thomas L. Friedman’s ‘Hot, Flat, and Crowded’

Few days before we left India, Anand had informed that Friedman’s new book is waiting for me. Perhaps both, Anand and Rajesh, are his fans. I did also join them after my last visit to US in 2005, when I went through his book ‘The World is Flat’. The ‘World is Flat’ had many success stories about the rise of India’s IT/ITeS sector. Along with CK Prahalad, Friedman became the second most visible celebrity in India.

I like his style of narration, simple and forthright. His new book ‘Hot, Flat and Crowded’ deals with the issues of global warming and the role he wishes US to play. As one review rightly said, “On the issues related to the future of our economy and the heady questions around America’s rank and influence as a global power–there are few authors more knowledgeable or passionate than Thomas Friedman. Hot, Flat, and Crowded challenges US to lead the green revolution.”

Making America the world’s greenest country is not a selfless act of charity or naïve moral indulgence, but now a core national security and economic interest. Friedman emphasizes on what David Rothkopf, an energy expert and visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment has said, “Green is not simply a new form of generating electric power. It is a new form generating national power-period.” It is not just about lighting up our house; it is about lighting up our future. Friedman wants to choose between two America: an America that is addicted to oil and thereby fueling the worst autocracies of the world, or a green America that is building scalable alternative to crude oil and thereby freeing ourselves from the grip of countries who have drawn a bull’s eye on our back and whose values we oppose?

The hot, flat, and crowded world is dramatically intensifying five key problems- the growing demand for scarcer energy supplies and natural resources, a massive transfer of wealth to oil-rich countries and their petro-dictators, disruptive climate change, energy poverty, which is sharply dividing the world into electricity haves and electricity have-nots, and rapidly accelerating biodiversity loss, as plants and animals go extinct at record rates.

Friedman propounds ushering of an’Energy-Climate–Era’ that can save the world and ‘how we move forward’.

But interesting and informative are his prescriptions: ‘205 Easy Ways to Save the Earth’. I quote just one set to avoid doubling of CO2 by mid-century that quantitatively must target at avoiding the emission of 200 billion tons of carbon between now and then:

· Double fuel efficiency from 30 miles per gallon to 60 miles per gallon.

· Drive the cars only 5,000 miles per year rather than 10,000, at 30 miles per gallon.

· Raise efficiency at large coal-fired plants from 40 to 60 percent and replace with natural gas powered facilities.

· Install carbon capture and sequestration*

– At large coal-fired plants, so that the CO2 can be separated and stored underground.

– At new coal plants that would produce hydrogen for hydrogen-powered vehicles.

– At coal gasification plants.

Add twice today’s current nuclear capacity and increase wind power forty fold and solar power 700 fold to displace all coal-fired power.

Drive 2 billion cars on ethanol.

Halt all cutting and burning of forests

Adapt conservation tillage, which emits much less CO2 from the land. Conservation tillage uses half as many tractors to cultivate a field as conventional tillage, translating to lower fuel consumption. In total, savings have been estimated between $40 and $75 per acre per year.

Cut electricity use in houses, offices, and stores by 25%, and cut carbon emission by the same amount.
*Carbon Capture and Sequestration: is an option to reduce heat-trapping greenhouse gases. CCS requires capturing carbon dioxide from power plants and other industrial facilities, transporting it to suitable locations, injecting it into deep underground geological formations, and monitoring its behavior.

While going through Hot, Flat and Crowded at every moment I felt India must go by all Friedman talks about in the book as roadmap to renew America. The government, India Inc, researchers and the society at large must get into the business so that India becomes one of the leading countries to save mother earth for the posterity and get economically benefited in turn. With many institutions and celebrities such as RK Pachauri, it appears that India is alive to the problem and the opportunity from the global warming. “Fighting climate change is the largest economic opportunity of the next century.”

I wish all Indians who matter must read Hot, Flat and Crowded.

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