Friday, September 18, 2009

Hot, Flat and Crowded By Thomas Friedman (Book commentary)

Hot, Flat and Crowded By Thomas Friedman (Book commentary)
As usual, this would qualify as half book review and half my own commentary. I did envy author's access to the top global talent. When you meet enough number of first rate folks in their respective fields, the job of writing becomes lot easier. Unlike a theoritical physicist or some serious original thoughts books which are of course too difficult to read, let alone comprehend, this is juicy and targets a common reader like me. I recall an African proverb which says, "It takes a village to write a book", given the awesome access Tom has more than a village ......
Also, he is far more passionate in this book (compared to previous ones)

Key mesg:
1. Growing demand for scarce resources (like fossil fuels) for energy supplies.
2. Massive transfer of wealth to oil rich countries and their petrol dictators
3. Disruptive climate changes
4. Energy poverty (between have's and have-nots)

Certainly, he is unimpressed by the current generation's careless usage of energy.
He quotes Nate Lewis's remarks.
"You remember how when you were a kid, mom would ask, what do you want to do when you grow up?" "You would reply, I want to change the world!"- he adds sadly, I guess we did :-(

Tom's chapters on petrol politics were engaging. To quote him: Maximize the demand, minimize the supply and make up the difference by buying oil from the countries who hates you the most. I cannot think of more stupid than this - it is like funding the rope to hang ourselves.
I liked his chapter titled "Stone age did not end because.....".
He quotes late Zaki Yamani. The conversation went something like that. "Remember boys! the stone age did not end because we ran out of stones. It ended because, people invented alternate tools like Iron and Bronze." Yamani knew that, if oil consuming countries got their activities together and produce renewable energy at a scale or drive the energy efficiency exponentially high - then, oil age would end with millions of barrels still underground, just as the stone age ended with lots of stones on the ground.
Yamani knew that, cost of oil VS renewable energy is everything. OPEC needs to keep the prices exactly at the level where cartel would yield maximum returns.
Such a fine balance reminds me of my botany teacher telling me the amount of honey that a given flower ought to carry has to be carefully balanced. If it is too much, there is no need to go anywhere, the pollination would not occur since bee would not go next tree. On the other hand, if it is too little, then it would not even visit that flower.
His observations on gas price and freedom chart is very good.

His examples from Satyam computers on rural data centers, Montana's elk hunting, electricity consumption reduction of the humble vending machines, pantanal freshwater lake
were impressive. It looks like, western Siberia and smaller area of Alaska about has about 1/3rd of carbon in world trapped in the form of frozen peat bogs. If the perma frost were to thaw, much of the carbon would be converted in to methane which is more potent than CO2 as greenhouse gas. Certainly, he is against the idea of Carbon neutral and remarks that, it is like half of employees use computers and the other half use paper,pencils and Abacus. Actually, he has been very considerate in his example, one of the radio host 91.1FM said, that is like reserving a portion of the swimming pool for pissing.

His main point is that, mankind is no special. We better comply to the nature's law else we would be extinct. Watson of Ecotech makes a telling point to the author.
"Mother nature is completely amoral. It is chemistry,physics and biology -and all are sum of those 3 things!". She does not care if we go to church or about poetry or about arts.
You cannot negotiate with her nor can evade her rules. All you can do is fit as species and if you don't learn to fit, soon you would be gone.
"Everyday, you look in to the mirror, you are seeing an endangered species!".
(With 6 billion in size and growing in geometric progression, I wonder about extinction. But misuse+abuses we are doing it is not difficult to imagine).

He ends with a nice story which is worth a recall......................

A CEO was having to baby-sit for his young daughter. He was trying hard to read but was totally frustrated by constant interruptions.
When he came across full page of earth from space, he got a brilliant idea. He ripped it up in to small pieces and told his daughter to put it up again.
He expected it to take at least half an hour. But, only a few minutes gone by, the child appeared with a big grin on her face.
"You have already finished?" he asked. "Yep", she replied. "How did you do it?".
"Well, I saw there was a picture of a man on the other side, so, when I put the person together, the earth got put together too".

Thanks for reading so far.....


Mohanakrishnan said...

I have a naive question - Once we burn up all the fossils fuels in a hurry, will the earth start cooling down?

Madhu Parthasarathy said...

It appears naive (from your view) but good and profound question.
My surmise is that, it would cool "eventually" - that is the operative word. For example, most of the volcanic eruptions do have a cooling effect after the event mainly because of the Sulphur it pumps in to the atmosphere.

பகலவன் கிருஷ்ணமூர்த்தி said...

There was a National Geographic show that I watched last year called "Population zero". This is an imagination of what would happen to the Earth if 6+ Billion people disappear all at once. According to the study, the Earth will be able to recuperate from all the damages done by human race, in just about 500 years. Here is the link for the show:

BTW, review was good.