A Final Question

At last we have a new president—and one who obviously "gets it" about the need for America to change over to a Clean Energy system and renew our national ideals and sense of purpose in the process. With that in mind, I am now going to begin to revise and update Hot, Flat, and Crowded for a new edition and to write the new chapter, Chapter 18. Thanks to all for your contributions; I’ll take up a number of them in the new chapter.

A final question: What is President Obama leaving out? What should he do on the clean energy front that he isn’t already doing?


My husband and I are in Turkey and were shocked when our Turkish friend pulled into the gas station and the attendant asked did he want gasoline or natural gas. NATURAL GAS? Our friend had paid around $500 to add a some kind of conversion package (the size of a spare tire) to his regular gasoline engine so that he can use either. He has two tanks and a button on the dash board to change to the other system. He had run out of natural gas and switched to gasoline, then refilled the natural gas and as we left the station, he switched back to natural gas!! No problem, not even a hic cough when he switched. We are so impressed. I was under the impression that we couldn't do that in the USA, that it would take a zillion dollars to convert our gas stations to carry natural gas. Why aren't we doing this?

alice Wakefield (not verified)
January 30th 2009, 12:29 am

Mr Friedman,

Just yesterday I finished reading the book.

I am exteremely impressed and I agree with Rick Traylor that this is one of the most important reads of lifetime.

I'm surprised that there is no mention of Geothermal Heat Exchange although you have it at your home. Promotion of this technology by new administration using substantial rebates will create jobs at all levels since it involves digging, chemicals, mechanical engineering, construction. It will save both electricity and natural gas.


Anant Joshi (not verified)
January 29th 2009, 8:07 pm

I am with the rest of the Polywell fan club. Bussard IEC Polywell Fusion is potentially the Bus of a lifetime that Obama may miss. $200 Million is a cheap gamble on the payoff of potentially re-writing the future of the world and humanity. Plus, we get to know the answer within a couple of years (His first term), and within 5 or less get net power at production scale.
Talk about a game changer, as MSimon and others well know. You want an economic stimulus, how about the end of dependance on carbon fuels, the ability to actually get real cargos and payloads around the solar system, vice the current horribly expensive wishful thinking plan.
Polywell Fusion is what Obama is missing. He needs to spin Stephen Chu up, and point him and a checkbook at New Mexico and say, "Steve-o my boy, get out there and see if Dr. Nebel and Co. can make this thing work!"

Ladajo (not verified)
January 29th 2009, 7:45 pm

I think there needs to be a readjustment in how we price energy. There is going to be a cost associated with Clean energy that is not inherent in Dirty energy simply because Dirty energy infrastructure exists already. We have oil pipelines, coal powerplants, a strictly gasoline-dependent used-car fleet on the road, and giant cargo ships (that run on....Yes fossil fuel!) that deliver goods around the world for commerce.

The point being, we are so entrenched in Dirty energy that the only way to clear the air is to increase the cost of polluting. That means increased federal gasoline tax, a Carbon tax, and other policies that will be unpopular because they "restrict growth" but necessary to achieve a true green revolution (not just green Windex).

Hopefully Obama can be as bold as he is inspiring.

Sun Sin (not verified)
January 29th 2009, 5:07 pm

I think Obama has overlooked the people that are responsible for our present monetary crisis. I personally would like to see some people executed for allowing the 50 trillion dollar credit swap system to thrive unsupervised and life sentences for those that participated.

Norm (not verified)
January 29th 2009, 1:31 pm

Obama has done a great job bringing the topic of clean energy to the national stage. Stopping in Ohio to speak about renewable energy and the future of business in the midwest was a huge step in showing his sincere concern for our future. I would like for him to make a few changes however. I beleive that he, in the short term, needs to open up our boarders more to foreign skilled workers and sceintists who can help us build the infrastructure for furture renewable clean energy. In the longer run he needs to put a lot of his $819 billion stimulous package into rebuiding the sceince and math buildings of failing schools. This in turn will make it so that we have the groundwork set by using international skilled workers to help start our new system immediately while our schools are working to better educate our youth in how to run these new businesses in the future. It will make our world a cleaner place as well as give our youth a bright future in well paying skilled jobs. Without the added benefit of better education for our youth, clean energy will not free us from our dependency on other countries for energy. We will go from petrodictators in the middle east to a dependency on Mathmeticians and Sceintists in Asia to run our clean energy sector.

JS (not verified)
January 29th 2009, 1:24 pm

viji paul...if you're sincere, i apologise!
but i think diamonds will become really cheap also. only 17 people know this within 2 years.

Brain Small (not verified)
January 29th 2009, 11:59 am

He needs to focus on gas as a transition fuel. This requires a focus on all sources of gas -- including coal gasification etc- then on creating a transportation system and finally a framework for conversion of vehicles to gas from oil. Then gas could really mean gas for cars

anilkm (not verified)
January 29th 2009, 10:24 am

Anonymous... you idiot
US is united states of America. not us

viji paul (not verified)
January 29th 2009, 9:09 am

my little brain says, viji paul is taking the piss. he speak english not so good, but how is possible from india? soon most largest people country in the world?

Anonymous (not verified)
January 29th 2009, 8:09 am

my little brain says,
within 2 to 3 years we may have to sell our petrol cars to scrap, i believe that may be around 1000 people know (including you) what is going to happen exactly in next 3 years.
petrol and gold is going to loose the value, some other things are going to be valued more than gold and oil. hybrid cars technology is just the beginning, something big is goin to come.
i believe US and other giants are spending billions of dollars and some of the best scientists are involved.
in 3 years time US will become stronger than ever.

viji paul

viji paul (not verified)
January 29th 2009, 7:37 am

Barack Obama and yourself being writers, I would like to propose to you both; Brave New World Revisited by Aldous Huxley. http://www.huxley.net/bnw-revisited/index.html

For desert I suggest; Hegemony or Survival by Noam Chomsky.

I am sure that both of you have read these two books. Please remind BHO. He does not have to read any other book during his presidency besides; Hot, Flat and Crowded (incl. Ch 18).

I wish you and All Americans the very best.

René de Groot (not verified)
January 29th 2009, 5:17 am

Obama should go after the only clean green energy source that can currently scale up in a way that will make a big difference, nuclear fission. We should be preparing to build now. This is one issues where McCain was right and Obama was wishy-washy.

Not only should we be using nuclear power to supply baseload electricity, we should be using it to make liquid fuel for transportation. This could be done by splitting water to hydrogen and oxygen using a high temperature thermal cycle. Then feeding those gases into a coal (or biomass) to liquid gasification plant. See Charles Forsberg at MIT for more information on this.

Using this type of fuel would be analogous to plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV). With PHEV you use nuclear heat to make electricity and put that electricity (energy) in a battery and use it to move your car. On the other hand you could turn that nuclear heat into hydrogen, then add it to carbon (from coal or biomass) making alcohol, gas or deisel. Now the energy is in the tank instead of in a battery, and everybody has a tank, few have the right battery.

Of course if IEC polywell fusion works, the world changes instantly. And we won't need coal, oil, gas, solar, wind, tide, or fission

Dennis Moore (not verified)
January 28th 2009, 11:38 pm

Hot, Flat, and Crowded may be one of the most important reads of my 62 year life. While we can not force them to read it, there seems to be an urgent need to provide this book to every Representative, Senator, Governor, and Mayor in our country. I believe the Administration gets it, but they will need the help of all "Enlightened" leaders to save us from ourselves. As a population, we seem to be either ignorant of the situation, too arrogant, or too greedy to realize the legacy we are currently leaving future generations. For most of my life, I fell in one or more of these categories. Thanks for the helping hand, Rick Traylor

Rick Traylor (not verified)
January 28th 2009, 10:24 pm

That little project in New Mexico is being strangled.

Big money is going to the politically connected. Hardly any is going into reseach into how to reduce the cost of alternative energy below the cost of current sources. And where is the big push for electrical storage? Not in evidence.

And tropical deforestation? Ending the drug war would do a lot to reduce the migration of slash and burn agriculture.

M. Simon (not verified)
January 28th 2009, 9:35 pm

Two sets of thoughts:
1) we don't need no stinking stimulus, we need transformation, a change of gears rather than a push on the gas pedal. It was well-intentioned if ill-conceived stimulus — low interest rates and low gas prices — that got us into this mess. We also need to apply changes with an eye to what government does best (assemble large risk pools, provide broad environmental [including the financial environment], and capture [positive and negative] externalities. The metaphor has been offered of "steering vanes", which use a very small amount of energy to move the rudders that move very large ships. We need to find more steering vanes (see 2b, below).
2) There are some transformative technologies out there: a)some folks in the New Mexico desert seem to be well on the way to developing a clean, relatively cheap fusion reactor that runs on boron, which is cheap as dirt (oh, right, out there it is dirt - borax) and produces little radiation. They have yet to scale it up to the point of net energy generation, but even at the expected working scale, it is relatively small, meaning siting is easier without long transmission lines. That is also why most of the funding has come from the US Navy, which could power (large) ships with it. Google 'bussard', 'fusion' and 'IEC' to learn more.
b) There has been a lot of good thinking about "complex adaptive systems" which have been around a long time (like fire has been around), but we have begun to see a science (like thermodynamics) emerging. CAS may help us understand why bubbles happen, how to control them, and how to foresee the unintended consequences. Overlapping this is new understanding of the intersection of information and economics. Information has a lot to do with how economic decisions are made, AND information and information-rich products and services have very different economics than dumb material products and services (e.g. increasing utility returns to scale). The same principles that made Ebay and Amazon successful can be applied to government programs.
Coincidentally, one of the centers of research in CAS is also out in the New Mexico desert (Google "Santa Fe Institute"). A lot of the thinking about information economics is also being done at the University of Chicago School of Economics, which in turn seems to have some influence with the Obama Administration.
PS, to NIMBY and BANANNA, you can add NOPE - Not On Planet Earth.

Rob Fleming (not verified)
January 28th 2009, 5:12 pm

I am reading your book right now and in the chapter "A million Noahs, a million arks" you speak about de-forestation and logging in the tropical forests. While the solution provided by you (local conservationism) is very compelling, i was wondering why you shied away from the subject of strong regulation on the logging industry. The ingenious people living in the tropical forest may not have the luxury of thinking about the environment; maybe they are not aware of the impact of their actions, but the logging industry knows exactly what it is doing, and is systematically destroying the natural habitat of hundreds of plants and animals. Is such regulation possible? Will it be effective? Would love to hear your thoughts.

Thanks for your time.

Kiran Karkera (not verified)
January 28th 2009, 5:01 pm