Hot, Flat, Crowded and Now Depressed

Happy New Year!  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, Kendra Poole.

I find only one fundamental problem with Thomas Friedman’s Hot, Flat, and Crowded: he’s right. Hot, Flat, and Crowded doesn’t make me want to solve climate change; it makes me want to go fishing with my dad or contact a long-lost friend.  It makes me want to go skydiving or scale the Great Wall.  It makes me want to evade, to avoid.  The first, most prominent, and lasting message I received from Freidman’s book was not “let’s overcome global warming” but “global warming already overcame us.”  I have never before understood (on any level) the “climate change-deniers.”  It wasn’t that I couldn’t understand their illogical (not to mention discredited) “scientific” reasoning.  I couldn’t understand why they would want to live in such delusion.  Now, I do. I am thoroughly impressed by the stunning, yet depressing, accuracy of Friedman’s lifelong research and the structure with which he imparts his findings to readers.  He initiates a tone of reliability when he begins his paragraphs with (for example) “While I was visiting Beijing in 2007…” or “One afternoon over lunch (insert prestigious political, international, or scientific figure) told me…” or quotes respected periodicals from across the globe in support of his points.  Who could dream to doubt someone who travels right to the heart, artery, and lung of the problem, speaks to the world’s most qualified experts regarding climate change, global politics, and global society, and reads what I’m starting to think must be every energy-related publication in existence?  I don’t doubt him.

I am very much intrigued by the path my own thoughts take as I read, because, if they even remotely represent an average reaction to the book, I worry much of Friedman’s good intentions will be misplaced.  Generally speaking, Friedman presents each component of the “hot, flat, and crowded” problem within the “How We Got Here” portion, promising to later address “How We Move Forward.”  As I read “How We Got Here,” I find myself following a very systematic train of thought.  First, Friedman presents the problem (be it small, large, or insurmountable), and one’s brain automatically assesses a possible solution.  In the very next sentence (for Friedman anticipated these subconscious solutions), he explains why the solution won’t work with statistics, interviews, accounts of his travels, and/or science.  Naturally, one devises a second most likely solution.  Friedman repeats his process of dismissing each unsatisfactory or insufficient idea.  This often pervades the chapter, without eventually reaching what really is the solution Friedman purposes.  He does eventually introduce his ideas (in a very effective manner), but, in my opinion, too late.

By the time I reached chapter nine, the beginning of “How We Move Forward,” I was desperately in need of some hope.  I wanted Friedman to say “go buy a Prius and Energy Star products and everything I just said will go away.”  Instead, Friedman dismantles the “easy” ways to fix the environment (as there are none), continuing to explain why the solutions dreamed up by the still climatically ignorant are altogether insufficient.  When Friedman quotes Chevron’s CEO David O’ Reilly explaining that even if we “shut down the whole transportation system,” we would only “reduce carbon emissions by 14 percent, globally,” I literally scribbled “I am depressed” on the book’s margin.  It was at that point that I really grasped why Friedman stressed a new system, not just some pro-conservation, fashionably green, easy modification of what some see as the “green revolution” today.  The changes we make must be so immense, so quick, and so unified in order to make even a dent on what Friedman appropriately calls the “dangerous, downward trajectory” of the world’s health.  If I were a soccer mom or a high school teacher or even a state politician, I would probably have stopped reading right around then, thinking “this is a problem for the big dogs, the big dogs in Washington.”

I am so grateful to have read Hot, Flat, and Crowded, because it certainly promotes an investment in the world’s future, in our own future, dragging me out of blissful ignorance, no matter how appealing such aversion to the truth might appear.  I can only hope, as the general public and future leaders read this realistic account of the state of the world, that its fatalistic undertones don’t endow climate change-deniers with more “followers.”  As I continued “How We Move Forward,” I made an effort to find my own hope between the unfortunate statistics and predictions, and meditate on what I can do instead of the overwhelming what-I-can’t-do’s.  The conclusion I am approaching mirrors Friedman’s own suggestions.  I have never been overly patriotic or arrogantly American, for I favor a more international perspective on most political and social issues.  I wrote earlier that the one fundamental problem with Hot, Flat, and Crowded was Friedman’s correct assessment of the state of the world.  Let me include a subsequent thesis. The one fundamental asset to Hot, Flat, and Crowded is that Friedman’s right: America has to take the lead.  Through the eyes of a new, politically interested student at George Washington University, a national commitment to climate change is no longer thousands of miles away.  It is right down the street, and I can’t wait.

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