Hot, Flat, and Crowded, by Thomas L. Friedman (New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2008, ISBN 13: 978-0-374-16685-4) 438 pp. Cloth $27.95.
Standing on Al Gore’s shoulders, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman in Hot, Flat, and Crowded sounds a loud, clear tocsin regarding our nation’s and our planet’s pressing energy, resource, biodiversity, environmental, and worsening political crisis. It is a wake-up call that we ignore at our peril.
As Friedman puts it, “The world has a problem: It is getting hot, flat, and crowded. That is, global warming, the stunning rise of middle classes all over the world, and rapid population growth have converged in a way that could make our planet dangerously unstable. In particular, the convergence of hot, flat, and crowded is tightening energy supplies, intensifying the extinction of plants and animals, deepening energy poverty, strengthening petrodictatorships, and accelerating climate change. How we address these interwoven global trends will determine a lot about the quality of life on earth in the twenty-first century.”
Eminently readable and reasonably nontechnical, Friedman’s book leaves no doubt whatever that a comprehensive, integrated, systematic solution to this inextricably interrelated set of problems—beginning right now—is essential to the very survival of our civilization and, indeed, our species. Based on his worldwide travels and broad-ranging research, Friedman shows how we can and must “manage the unavoidable and avoid the unmanageable.”
Curiously, while Friedman explores the “hot, flat” part of the problem, duly scoring the politicians, petrodictators, and business leaders responsible for the mess we are in and shows how excessive population growth exacerbates it, he does not pin the tails on the donkeys largely to blame for impeding corrective action on the population problem, such as: the Vatican leadership and its powerful political influence that opposes not only abortion but also all forms of contraception, despite the fact that the Vatican’s own advisory commission and most Catholics disagree with it; the strong U.S.-based Protestant fundamentalist movements’ fanatical antichoice efforts (see Kathryn Joyce’s important 2009 Beacon Press book, Quiverfall: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement); Muslim fundamentalism (shortly after the 1994 United Nations Population Conference in Cairo, I heard a Muslim PhD at a Washington conference declare that when Allah created the world, he provided all the resources our expanding population would ever need); political enablers like Bush père et fils, who did all possible to block U.S. efforts to help manage the overpopulation problem; and whoever mysteriously caused the Nixon-Ford administration’s 1975 National Security Study Memorandum 200 report, Implications of Worldwide Population Growth for U.S. Security and Overseas Interests, to be “classified” and deep-sixed until almost the eve of the 1994 Cairo population conference.
However, despite its failure to show why action on the overpopulation problem has been impeded, Friedman’s Hot, Flat, and Crowded is an indispensable resource for dealing with the most important crisis of this new century.