Hot, Flat, and Crowded by Thomas Friedman

184973Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution–and How It Can Renew America by Thomas Friedman

This book sat on my shelf for a while–partly because of its beefy stature, partly because I have wanted to take a break from being angry at the world. I’ll admit, life is much less stressful when I surround myself with books about creativity and other trivial subjects. However, after only consuming feel-good books for a while, I start to feel like a neglectful parent. There ARE problems in the world, huge problems. And my ignoring these problems doesn’t make them go away.

I know there is middle ground in there somewhere–between taking on the worlds problems and ignoring them–but where it is, I don’t know.

Every time I’d finish a book and scour my bookshelf for what to read next, I would pick up Hot, Flat and Crowded, and think, “no, I’m not ready to be a responsible parent again. I’m not ready to be mad,” and then I would put the book back on the shelf and find something else to read. Well, a couple months ago, I decided it was time again to get angry. So I picked up Hot, Flat and Crowded and read the son of a gun.

I was expecting a more angry Friedman–after all, how do you dedicate your entire career to climate change and not feel rage? What I found instead was a very thoughtful, calculated communicator. His tone was surprisingly positive. The green revolution he talks about isn’t a bloody one, it is one filled of hope and opportunity. *tears flow*

The title of the book introduces the 3 pillars of why a green revolution is needed. “Hot,” of course, refers to the rising temperature of the planet and its consequences. “Flat” refers to the rising standard of living amongst developing nations, best illustrated by the quote from Friedman, “we are going from a world of 1 billion Americans to a world of 2 or 3 billion Americans.” “Crowded” refers to population growth, especially in these developing nations with rising standards of living.

As I turned through the pages to review my highlights, I noticed a pattern. Nearly every passage I highlighted was some form of metaphor. With that, below are some of my favorite metaphors from the book.

On how falling for the climate change “hoax” is like training for the Olympics:

If climate change is a hoax, it is the most wonderful hoax ever perpetuated on the United States of America. Because transforming our economy to clean power and energy efficiency to mitigate global warming and the other challenges of the Energy-Climate Era is the equivalent of training for the Olympic triathlon: If you make it to the Olympics, you have a much better chance of winning, because you’ve developed every muscle. If you don’t make it to the Olympics, you’re still healthier, stronger, fitter, and more likely to live longer and win every other race in life.

On why peak-oil shouldn’t affect our development of clean energy (from Sheikh Ahmed Zaki Yamani of OPEC):

the Stone Age didn’t end because we ran out of stones.

Climate change books tend to favor one of two ideologies: 1.) We can maintain the American lifestyle, relying on policy and technology to combat climate change, or 2.) The fundamental problem–the American lifestyle–is the real problem that needs changing. I felt that this book took a relatively balanced approach, perhaps leaning more towards the former. The latter argument is, however sad it may be, a bit idealistic in my opinion.

If you want a primer on climate change, this book is probably not the best place to start. If you are already interested in climate change and sustainability, Hot, Flat and Crowded is certainly a classic and is worth picking up. Long-winded at times? Yes. A large collection of terms coined by the author? You bet. Still worth the read? Probably.


  1. I hardly think creativity is trivial. Without it, we’d still be in that Stone Age. 😛

    While I appreciate the viewpoint of solving climate change via policy while still maintaining the American lifestyle, I’d say THAT perspective is the idealistic one, because the American lifestyle is all about consuming consuming consuming and cheap cheap cheap. The idea of solving that mess with policy that moves slower than the ice caps that are being destroyed? I think it goes a level beyond “idealistic” to “straight out unreasonable.” 🙂

    Of course, it’s almost just as unreasonable to believe people are going to change from the American lifestyle. Because it’s comfy. So what’s the answer? Well… I’d say you do the best you can personally with every day you’ve got. And you leave others to do what they feel is best, because that’s their choice.

    I don’t get mad, though. Me being mad doesn’t help anything. Passionate? Sure. But not mad. Mad just makes the world a less livable place. (I should say I TRY not to get mad. Sometimes I fail at that, but I keep trying.)


  2. Thanks for your comment! Yes, you have a great perspective. I probably should try to get less angry about things. When I first started learning about climate change, I thought, “oh this will be easy, every just needs to live in smaller houses, brown their lawns, and buy hybrids.” The more I’ve read (and pondered, etc.), the more I realize that the American lifestyle can never change. Most likely.

    I also read recently Zero to One by Peter Thiel in which he talks about innovation coming from monopolies. I think that with the right combination of government mandates and incentives, the free market can spur innovation, but it isn’t going to happen on its own.

    Anyways, thanks again for your comment, JK. You’ve got a great site. I’m gonna spend some time there this evening!


  3. Thanks, hope the site is helpful! I’m still getting used to it, as I only started it recently. It’s been a change going from my goofy personal blog to one that’s goal is to be useful. 🙂

    Back on this topic, another thing that helps me remain a little calmer is the knowledge of the cyclical nature of life. Throughout history we (humans) have gone in cycles. We build up civilizations, get cocky, then fall. I think this is a variation on that. We’re in this upswing right now where everyone wants more more more and cheaper cheaper cheaper. I really think it will, at one point, come to a head and change. It will probably be messy, but it will happen like cycles do. It hopefully doesn’t mean the end of humanity, though that’s possible. We’re pretty resilient, though, so I think there will come a time when the goal will suddenly become less “more more more” and we’ll get a little bit back to the basics. Start seeing the glory and brilliance of what’s already been here long before we were, and maybe be a little less obsessed with tech and plastic doo-dads.

    Maybe! I think so, anyway. It will be fun to watch and see how it plays out.


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