I Was Scandalized by Tom Friedman’s Hot, Flat, and Crowded… Then I smiled!

Today we continue our series of the winning essays submitted to Dean of Freshmen, Fred Siegel.  These freshman were selected from over 300 of their peers to attend a dinner with Dean Siegel and author, Thomas Friedman.

Our featured essay of the day is by freshman, Jordan K Frank.

For the entirety of my K-12 education, I was told time and time again by my English teachers, “If you are writing a paper, your thesis statement should never contain any variation of the words, ‘This paper is going to be about…’” Doing so, I was told, would result in a grade no higher than a “C.” So you can imagine my shock when on PAGE 5, Mr. Friedman wrote, “We need that America—and we need to be that America—more than ever today. This is a book about why.” I have never seen such scandalous writing so early in a book. As I read on, however, I realized that this was a promising sign. Tom Friedman’s frank and direct language about a hot, flat, and crowded world conveyed his passion and illustrated the urgency to act. He wanted the reader to understand and that’s why I couldn’t help but smile.

I smiled so many times while reading this book, people watching me must have thought it was written by Jerry Seinfeld or Louis Black. Sometimes, I was actually smiling because Friedman inserted a sarcastic quip, but more of my smiles came when Friedman made so much sense, and drove home his point so well that most educated people would simply say, “duh.” Like I said, I was smiling a lot. Still, I think I smiled the most when Friedman elaborated and added more layers to this monumental, behemoth, gargantuan challenge that our country and our world faces. Yes, every part of the book that Friedman stacked a new set of challenges on top of the ones he already described, my smile got bigger and bigger. I thought I couldn’t be happier when Friedman laid out the challenge of decreasing our foreign oil consumption and how that would help bring peace to the most oppressed areas of the globe, but then he added the challenge of preserving biodiversity loss and increasing energy efficiency. At this point, I was the iconic smiley face image and just when I thought I couldn’t smile any wider, I read the last two parts on the challenge to clean up China and the challenge of cleaning up the outdated views of United States politicians. It’s safe to say that by the end of the book I had landed in Xanadu.

Throughout the entire book, Friedman uses a recurring theme to frame all of these challenges we currently face: The need for a green revolution. I think he hit it right on the money. He makes it very clear that it will be hard to succeed given the scores of challenges we are now obligated to confront. His logic is foolproof. We need a green revolution. Revolutions are hard. Therefore, a green revolution will be hard. I smiled at this logic too.

I’m sure this seems trite, but it just so happened that I read this part of the book about a week after the 4th of July. In Common Sense, Thomas Paine writes of the American Revolution, “We have it in our power to begin the world over again.” If there was one thing missing from the book, it was this quotation because it fully summarizes the task at hand. We must begin the world again, and we have it in our power to do so.

Settling for less than beginning the world over again simply will not do. Friedman argues that the two centuries old “dirty fuels system” that has been ingrained in our lives is outdated because we are on the verge of something better. I agree completely. When the “dirty fuels system” was created during the Industrial Revolution, it was a challenge that people capitalized on through innovation. It began the world over again. The same needs to be done once again. It will be a challenge to begin the world over again with new, better, cleaner technology that is truly different than the last 200 years of “old world” energy. Fortunately we have it in our power to do so. That’s something worth smiling about.

On the GW Class of 2013 Facebook group, there is a discussion thread devoted to Hot, Flat, and Crowded. Many people have commented that they do not like Friedman’s tendency to bombard the reader with examples. I disagree. I love it, and it makes me smile. It is through these examples that we begin to see that we have it in our power to begin the world over again. Friedman’s repetitions ended up enlightening me in two ways. First, I got a better idea of the specifics of the challenge. Second, my eyes were opened to some of the brilliant innovations that have come about because of various challenges that individuals or companies have faced. The solutions exist; more people just need to be on board with them. This is also worth smiling about.

I haven’t tried, but I would imagine it would be hard to find a scholar that said the American Revolution was easy, painless, without sacrifice, and without challenges. Anyone who does say that is either lying or is an Englishman in denial. The truth is the American Revolution was fraught with challenges. At the time people said they were insurmountable much like we say similar things about the challenge we currently face. It is said that hindsight is always 20/20. We can use that to our advantage. We have the luxury of seeing how stepping up to the plate and tackling huge challenges benefit us as a country and world. We have begun the world again countless times, and it has been necessary every time. The challenge of a hot, flat and crowded world is no different. We can’t afford it to be any different. And if those last sentences don’t make you smile as much as I am right now, I don’t know what will.

And if you are at all scandalized by the fact that I’m smiling with glee at the immensity of this extremely important challenge, swap the word “challenge” to “opportunity.” I think Mr. Friedman would agree with me that in a hot, flat and, crowded world, the two are synonymous.

Now do you understand why I’m smiling?

I thought so.

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