Thomas Friedman Does Environmentalism

ISBN: 0312428928

One day a few weeks ago, I was wandering a military clothing store looking for shiny things. This is the store on army posts that sell uniform items, boots, and souvenirs. It also has a small book section in it. The books mainly consist of military service topics such as evaluations, uniform standards, and accounts of specific battles. One book caught my eye though. It was Hot, Flat and Crowded and was written by Thomas Friedman. It was also marked “release 2.0, updated and expanded”.

I recognized this author from his other books and his television appearances. I was curious as to why this book was for sale at this location. Could it be a supposed relevancy to war fighting? Maybe it is an attempt to change the views of the troops from above. Maybe the store got a really good deal from the publisher for it. I do not know why it was there, but I do know that the book did not appear to be selling well.

The book I purchased was paperback and the cover used a public domain art print. This immediately tipped of my suspicion that profit might be the prime motivator for the release of this book. When I got the book home, I looked in the back to see what sources he uses in the bibliography. More suspicion was raised when I learned there was no bibliography, just an index. With this discovery, the credibility of this book dropped significantly in my mind and I have not even started to read it. He starts his book with a quote from The Onion, and actually quotes Wikipedia on page 85.

One page 8 he states the thesis of his book:

“My thesis then, which remains my thesis here, is that America could get its groove back by taking the lead in developing the technologies and policy solutions to address the world’s biggest problems—the energy and environmental stresses growing out of a planet getting hot, flat and crowded.”

He divides the book into five parts. In the first part he tries to make the correlation between the decline in the environment with the decline of the financial economy in America. He delves into “the greatest generation”, baby boomers, and what he calls the “regeneration”, or the offspring of said baby boomers. I agree with his point that the baby boomers tend to be more like the grasshopper than the ant from an old Aesop fable with resources and environments, but I disagree with his assignation of responsibility for the correction of this to his “regeneration”. I cannot stand it when someone expects a group to fix ills of the past done by others. And it is extra galling that he as a baby boomer is saying it.

In the second part he highlights the overcrowding of the earth, the various financial bubbles of the earth, and the dependence on cheap fossil fuels and the political blow-back associated with it. He also discusses carbon dioxide, and how it functions as a greenhouse gas and how it is evil. He also makes plenty of references to other proximate social activist causes to the green movement. He does not mention how carbon was originally deposited in the ground so many millions of years ago.

The third part deals with solutions. At this point I noticed he start to gloss over a lot of things that don’t agree with his thesis. It seems all his solutions have no actual cons just all pros. For example he doesn’t go over the detriments of wind power to local bird populations. Or the fact that in real life centralization does not lead to more efficiency.

In part four he goes over the rise of China as an economic and industrial powerhouse. He goes over the pollution problems associated with this rise. At this point I noticed he avoids big elephants in the room. He makes the explicit argument that the government of China has the consent of the governed. The Chinese Civil War, the Cultural Revolution, Tienanmen Square, and the various Tibetan uprisings dispute this. His assertion of the direction of the ninth Chinese five-year plan for 2006 to 2011 as “green” is not actually reflected in the plan as found in the Chinese government’s official portal. It appears more coal power plants, internal trade, and the development of Western regions was the actual focus of said plan.

Finally, part five deals with the United States. He goes over the unpredictability of markets and how if they were predictable a green revolution would be able to take hold. He also rehashes China with his respect for its ability to make sweeping changes by dictate. He then goes on to compare the market capitalization of various companies in their sectors in the green economy. I find his charts misleading both in their content and conclusions.

While responsible guardianship of the environment is a noble cause, this book seems to me to be more about steering people socially than it is about protecting the environment. One has to read between the lines to decipher his probable motivations.



While the earth should be cared for, following men like this  would be a fool’s errand. I find his position disingenuous at best and subversive at worst. He seems to play the old “co-op  –insert activist cause here–  in order to make money”. Just reading his preface gives this away.

“Welcome to the release 2.0 paperback edition of Hot, Flat, and Crowded. I’ve always viewed my books the way computer programmers view software as works in progress that should be updated whenever possible.”

Sorry Mr. Friedman, computer software makers create new versions of buggy software to make more money not for the thrill of updating it. His book uses many buzzwords, anecdotes, and emotional appeals targeted to a specific audience to adopt his “solutions”.  One quote is illustrative:

“Telling every individual on the planet who wants or can afford a car that they cannot have one will be changing our lifestyle. Bringing down your maximum speed limit to 55 mph, or banning taxis that are not hybrids-such efforts do not strike me as fundamentally cramping anyone’s lifestyle.”

His solipsism is on full display with that quote. Giving people like him the ability and power to do such things would not end well. I don’t think he realizes that the price of his latte would go up exponentially if his ideas were implemented.

The book comes across as a fancier version of Al Gore’s “activism”. His book is actually somewhat political for he failed to mention President Clinton’s sale of oil on the open market from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in the 90s. He also makes no mention of the local economic devastation that would ensue with a collapse of coal as an energy source.

Should you acquire this book? Yes, but only if you want a contemporary work to show future generations that people actually thought this way. The whole Solyndra debacle provides an immediate example on why the ideas advocated in this book would end badly. If you do choose to pick up this book, do it in a fashion that would not enrich the author.

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18 thoughts on “Thomas Friedman Does Environmentalism”

  1. This sort of stuff bums me out, as it’s very much in my wheelhouse. When writers are emotionally invested in any sort of scientific endeavor, it invariably ends in half-truths and bad science chained together without any sort of critical thinking skills. Although I smell a certain amount of sympathy in Douglas’ review, I admit I am a deep skeptic, but maybe that’s only because I have a solid understanding of math and statistics.
    Ultimately, books like these are better presented as Socratic arguments rather than being packaged as secondary scientific literature- and the end result is that folks with only a pop-culture level of understanding of the scientific method give more weight to unscientific works than they warrant. As Douglas notes, there is no bibliography, which automatically disqualifies this as a reference. Simply put, no matter the persuasive and occasionally logical arguments contained within, failing to reference primary research in scientific review pieces means that there either is a good reason you don’t want people fact checking or you didn’t actually read the material and just skimmed someone else’s summary.
    Thanks @Douglas for the review.

    1. Yup, although it kind of sucks now as certain scientific references can become suspect, and we won’t hear about it until a major overhaul hits the whole subset.
      For example, the thing with meteors killing the dinosaurs. I think it was not until the fifties that scientists actually accepted that in small part. However, between biases for one theory or application, and another, it takes a long time before those who survive off barely passing a science class and those of us not in cutting edge research get it.
      Psychology is another one that pisses me off, like the domestic violence “facts and research” is passed off to the masses as fact, when in reality real social researchers have debunked the whole feminist mythology for decades.

  2. The military reading sections at uniform stores are nothing but hot air, flat intellectually, and crowding out anything worthwhile for the service members to read that does not hail from a hellishly left leaning bent.
    It does not bother me though, as the military “suggested” reading program does have some good recommendations, but the other 70+% can be left on the shelf.

  3. “For example he doesn’t go over the detriments of wind power to local bird populations.”
    This is a dirty myth as bad as the “women make 77%” myth.
    Studies on wind turbine impact on birds were performed in California, on hillsides, against the small diameter high rpm turbines that were being built in the 80’s. Those turbines were several yards long and rotated at well over a hundred RPM. Birds couldn’t see the blades.
    MORE RECENT studies on the turbines we build in the midwest show no impact on birds.
    To understand why, you have to understand the turbines. Unlike the earlier models, the new 1.5mw and 3mw turbines have blades a hundred and fifty feet long each, rotating at maybe 10 rpm. Birds simply don’t hit them very often, they can see them moving.

    1. As Christopher Booker states in his book “The Real Global Warming Disaster”, the problem with wind power is that it’s not sufficiently dependable. Since electricity can’t be stored in large amounts, it requires the wind to be blowing all the time. Since it doesn’t, fossil fuel back-up plants are required which defeats the whole purpose.

      1. Partially true, but an overgeneralization. The wind is always blowing all the time, somewhere.
        If 100% of the electric load of the planet was resistive and not inductive, we could power the entire planet by putting a huge thin wire in space and using the potential difference generated by Earth’s own magnetic field.
        The reason we need fossil fuel power plants is because an ever increasing percentage of domestic load is inductive (motors and compressors). Real power (which is consumed by resistive loads) can be transmitted thousands of miles but reactive power (consumed by inductive load) is subject to the same limitations as direct current and can only be transmitted a few miles.
        Most of the traditional fossil fuel plants today are used completely for reactive power; replacing them isn’t accomplished by wind, but rather by installing massive capacitor substations to convert inductive loads into real loads, which can be served by generation capacity thousands of miles distant. What wind generation is replacing is nuclear production of real power, since safety considerations have long forced nuclear plants to be so far distant from cities that they can’t be used for reactive power.

  4. AAFES books Sucks!!! Military Clothing & Sales sucks also. I totally hated those places selling books from this truthless clown Friedman I bought two of his books years ago and hated them ” The Lexus and The Olive Branch” and ” Longitudes and Attitudes” they both sucked for the same reason as this guy is dishonest and illogical. He was one of the biggest backers of the Iraq war and is part of PNAC’s Middle Eastern war/reformer propaganda hacks. I can’t stand this guy, I can’t stand this guy, I can’t stand this guy, I can’t stand this guy, I can’t stand this guy, I can’t stand this guy x infinity. When I was at University in the early 2000’s everyone loved this clown he’s part of the reason I changed my major from political science to economics people were going crazy for this crap back then. In the run up to the war with Syria I’m glad people are finally standing up somewhat to people like this as I haven’t heard anyone talk about him for years he’s lost a lot of popularity and I hope he’ll fade away but we’ll never completely get rid of him as he’s got friends in high places the reasoon we’re going to Syria now.

  5. Douglas…THANK YOU!!!
    Friedman has had, going on 30 + years, a serendipitous knack of saying what
    people, particularly East Coast establishment types, want to hear. He is rarely
    called on it. Upon scrutiny and investigation, even a casual observer can
    begin picking apart his arguments. In my experience in dealing with Middle
    Eastern issues (combat service) environmental policy (my current profession) and
    a general helping of economics, culture, society, etc., I put the dude down
    forever after reading “From Beirut to Jerusalem”. The guy is
    consistently wrong on a multitude of issues. In every editorial of his I’ve run
    into since, I am always in shock that people take him seriously. Or worse, view
    him as some sort of oracle re trending, economics, etc. Taking China as an
    example… Friedman’s outlook is in keeping w/ liberal left tendencies
    (ironically) of worshipping China’s ability (completely undemocratic) of
    implementing change by decree. In contrast to the thoroughly democratic nature
    of our Republic, understood and intended by The Framers that democracy should
    be a slow, tedious process. Its exercise a burden to those in power (checks and
    balances) so as to ensure that haste, bias and similar qualities are not
    factored into the creation of law. Liberals, particularly Baby Boomers like
    Friedman, do not surprise me at all in their attraction to authoritarian
    tactics and methodologies… Disproportionately responsible for destroying many
    of the values and mores that made our nation great, the Baby Boomers now
    recognize that nature abhors a vacuum so what do they do… grappling for some
    kind of anchoring with their wishy-washy world view of moral relativity, poly
    gender identities, multiculturalism, political correctness, etc., they readily
    embrace totalitarian world views and autocracies to try to stabilize the mess
    that they made here in the US. What Friedman needs to do already is put his
    money where his mouth is and move to China. I thought he would’ve moved to
    Palestine already but I guess they’re a little short on the bagel and lox in
    Ramallah. I do not intend to come across as anti-Semitic but am attempting to
    underline what I think Freidman really is… just a plain old hypocrite.

  6. Thomas Friedman and his slightly retarded cousin Paul Krugman have been putting this crap out for years. It’s all for the quick dollars. Nothing new will be read between the covers, without a doubt.
    The Greens are just like feminists — the battle was won decades ago, and they’re pissed that they didn’t get to be a part of it. We already have the FDA, EPA, ridiculously safe food, Superfund sites to clean up the worst abuses of industrial pollution, controls on emissions, catalytic converters, wildlife preserves and parks galore, etc., etc. They have to invent a deadly new bogeyman, or they would simply have to find something else to do.
    I knew Friedman was a hack, but I didn’t know he was morally bankrupt, too; trotting out China as an example of environmental piousness is Joseph Goebbels-level dishonest.

  7. If you want a book which provides an overview of this topic in a clear, concise, intelligent manner (and with a long bibliography), I’d highly recommend Project Sunshine by Tony Ryan (
    Also, I’d recommend reading about alternative nuclear reactor designs such as molten salt reactors (

  8. Thomas Friedman was always an Asshat. I prefer Robert Kaplan’s numerous books and anthologies analyzing the middle east, the balkans, the horn of africa, and all the other hotspot regions. You name the conflict and he will break it down in a brisk, informative, entertaining fashion. When you are used to good, hard analysis, authors like Friedman come off as intolerable blowhards. I recommend The Arabists (quick history of middle east conflicts), Balkan Ghosts (about Bosina, Serbia & Croatia), and Surrender or Starve (about recent history of Somalia, Ethiopian, Yemen).

  9. 1) Of course China has the consent of the governed. Talk to any Chinese person. If they want a revolution, they will have one. They’re heavy handed, yes, but that is a far cry from a real lack of consent (eg Syria) and you can tell because of the number of body bags.
    2) I don’t mind a hybrid taxi law, not a whit. 55 MPH is a drag but I’m willing to give an hour or 2 a few times a year if it means my planet won’t get as fucked up.
    3) Quit whining. Friedman’s right; the environmental problem is going to be solved by Gen X and the Millenials, if at all. It would be fantastic if the boomers contributed some of that boom-era wealth for it but that would be strictly out-of-step with this author’s lame Ayn-Randian point of view anyway, so pick a lane.
    4) Solyndra is not a “debacle”, you munch. Since the GOP tried to swift-boat it in 2011, it’s earned $6 BILLION for the taxpayer. fail fail fail fail

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