Saturday, December 19, 2009

Hot, Flat and Crowded: a Review

While the debacle that is/was Copenhagen or COP(out)15 was going on, I decided to read the above book by noted author and columnist Thomas Friedman. He has written a number of books looking a such subjects as Globalization, to give an example. As a person who has studied and reported on OPEC and oil, it is only logical he should write a book about the environment and issue a call for the US to take the leadership in Green Technology.

His book is filled with accounts of personal encounters with some of the key players of the 20th century, as well as his travels to the various parts of the world. He also looks at the history of energy consumption and how governments, driven at times by need and at times by ideology has either benefited or dismantled energy policy in the States. He looked at the 70's, when the above OPEC was flexing its muscle and using its oil to 'punish' the West. The reaction by the US was to push for measures the encouraged both the increase of car milage and the use of alternative fuels, including nuclear. The result of these measures was the lowering of oil prices, not because of OPEC but because demand had decreased. This led to the Saudis to decide to use oil production for pricing only and not as a political weapon. Of course when oil prices went down, so did gas prices and suddenly the need to conserve disappeared and one saw the lowering of milage and the introduction of SUV's.

He considers two major reasons for getting involved in Clean Energy. The first has to do with oil. He asks the question why are we ( speaking as an Americans) sending money to countries that hate us? While we've heard the rhetoric over the past years since 9/11 to make the US less dependent on Middle East oil, it is more talk then action. He says we should do just that. He considers the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and points out that the Kingdom has had a tendency to export its fundalmentalists to many parts of the Arab world. Due to its considerably large bank account, it changing the face of the Middle and cloning its very conservative view of Islam around that part of the world. Many a liberal Muslim country is feeling the effect of the Saudi's desire to export it's troublemakers. Let's be honest, the leadership of the Saudi nation should be dangling upside down from a Palm tree, but because of its wealth it's able to keep the people content.

Friedman considers what he calls the "First Law of Petropolitics":
If the resource curse describes the economic pitfalls that can come from resource riches, then what New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman calls the “first law of petropolitics” deals with is the potential political ramifications. Friedman applies the law to “petrolist states,” which he defines as “states that are both dependent on oil production for the bulk of their exports or gross domestic product and have weak institutions or outright authoritarian governments.” Examples of states that meet this criterion include Egypt, Iran, Nigeria, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Venezuela, among others.1

Friedman’s proposed law suggests that there is a negative correlation between the “price of oil and pace of freedom,” which “always move in opposite directions in oil-rich petrolist states.” In his framework, the “pace of freedom” means the development of the elements of a democratic government, such as free speech, free press, free and fair elections, an independent judiciary, independent political parties, and general rule of law.2

Its easy to not allow freedom of speech or even get along with others if oil is $70.00 a barrel, versus $20.00 a barrel. He considers President Chavez of Venesuala telling Tony Blair to 'go to hell', very easy when oil is the former rather then the latter. So high oil price is corrupting. It slows the natural progression of democracy because it gives corrupt government the means of quieting, or buying off dissention.

Another problem is the fact that the world wants to be like Americans, with all its wasteful glory. The world can't take 6 Billion Americans, it needs people who consume little and care for the planet.

He then talks about China and the incredible change that has been that country. How it went from backwater to a true economic giant. It's impact is everywhere, including its pollution, by the way. Mr. Friedman points out that 25% of the air pollution of Los Angeles can be traced to China. China is still in the Carbon Based economy and it has to grow and go at a great pace. It needs to because its growing populatioon demands growth.

Friedman talks about a talk he gave in China in which he told his listeners he hopes China stays with tne Carbon based energy model. He wants them to stay like that for another five years, so to give the US a chance to gain a headstart. Friendman believes the next energy source has to be clean energy and technology must be developed in the west, it is the only way to have China for breakfast rather then the other way around.

In the end he asks the US to be China for a day, by that he means making the great changes needed and not have to worry about lobbiests or other interference. He wants the US to have the mission of developing Clean Energy because such technology will pull the US out of the doldrums and lead to another Industrial Revolution which will have a positive impact on the planet.

While it is an American book, the lessons learned are just as necessary for Canada. We are a hybrid, a democracy with a lot of oil. While everybody points to the Evil of the Athabasca Oil Sands, we have to recognize it is here, but it should not be an excuse to stay the development of Clean Energy in Canada. We too can suffer the effects of Global Climate Change and we are equally unprepared for its coming.

I do recommend this book to anyone who wants to accept the challenge that the world doesn't have to stay the way it is. Go find it and read it for yourself.

No comments: