The Great Disruption

This column got a lot of feedback from New York Times readers. I am thinking of calling Chapter 18 "The Great Disruption." I am coming to the conclusion that the market and Mother Nature both hit the wall here in 2008/2009. We need growth, we need ways to raise people's standards of living, but what will be the new ways we should focus on—post-The Great Disruption—that will allow us to grow people's living standards in a more sustainable and regenerative way?


I saw you on Imus with your great idea of raising the cost of gas by one dollar. You forgot someone. We do not all live in NY. Many of us people living on or just above the poverty line are on fixed incomes, me because I am disabled. I make too much for Medicaid so I get Medicare. Because of my income, even if I could afford it, my pre-existing conditions prevent me from getting secondary insurance.

I make 65 dollars over the poverty line only because the state of AR pays my Medicare part B deductible. A cut in payroll taxes is not going to cover my gas, I drive a guzzler but cannot afford to buy a more efficient car. Try living on 1129 dollars a month. Well NY is more expensive, so try living on 2k per month.

Am I correct in assuming that when Bill Gates hits age 65 he will be given a check each month? Now I know he will donate it. But not to me. Should I have foreseen and planned better for an accident? It would not have done me any good. My medicines are over one grand a month. And if I made 300 more dollars more I would be paying more than that for my medicine over the cost of the year.

We have the largest difference between what the wealthy have and what the rest of the country has since the great depression. And people are pushing to continue along those lines.

Yet I have not heard one person on TV to ask a truly vital and easy to understand question.

Can you name a country, in the entire world where this insane monetary distribution results in a prosperous country?

Maybe China, Maybe Saudi Arabia? Would any of us want to move there? And those are just guesses, I don't know where to find the data to see if they have no middle class, exactly where we are headed. Why won't someone ask these TEA party people to name a country without fair taxes, like we are, to name any evidence that it works by naming a country in which it does.

And why would the rich use their money to create jobs when the poor have no money to buy their stuff?

A dollar a gallon? Sure, that would work, but give everyone that lives within 500 dollars per month an ID card that can be slipped into where you pay like a credit card, a card that exempts them from this increase. Set a limit on these cards of xxx amount of gallons so they cannot just pass the cards around the neighborhoods, and exempt the poor, including those of us with disability as their only income.

Because with your plan, we get screwed.

Mark Spencer (not verified)
September 21st 2010, 11:42 am

When Itzhak Rabin was assassinated, I was in Tel Aviv, the Tea Party attacks remind me of the same de-legitimization of my President Barak, we should be very careful.


I would like to contact Shai A, and be involved in his effort here in Texas. Israel will help America to create the needed change.

It is disappointing, that Barak o. acts like a Hybryd Car, or a mar-made, not fish not woman, not Democrat not Republican, the gas price should be at $ 5/gal. I am Jewish, Israeli, we cannot reason with republicans.
As long as our citizens will be maxed out and are working for minimum wage no economic recovery will take place.
We have to admit that the "Reagan Revolution" was a actually a "Regan Demolition" that started in 1980 and culminated with the 2008 financial meltdown.

Abba Even once wrote "The Palestinians never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity for an agreement. Obama never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity. I voted for him not to be nice with the Republicans, I voted for him to stop the Regan Demolotion of the American middle class.

We should raise the salaries for the service economy to a level that people can pay rent, food, school etc. If the billionaires will have to live on $ 500,000/year so be it, they are smart can find a way to manage.

Bill Richardson is doing a great work in solar energy. I am ready to be active and work hard to create a tipping point.
My idol Shimon Perres proved again true leadership at age of 85, I love this guy, the true peace, will come from Better Place effort not from Oslo or Condoleeza Rice.

Tom, I am grateful for your wonderful body of work and thank you.

Eli Levinson
Shana Tova

Eli Levinson (not verified)
September 13th 2010, 3:55 pm

Malthusian principles are always true, it is only human exceptionalism which has held back the gates of reality. Part of that Human exceptionalism has been enjoying the fruits of America's technological exceptionalism. America has been a strange place for the last two hundred years, enjoying ever increasing returns with the ever increasing application of capital. It is not that technological innovation is coming to an end it is that this technical exceptionalism has become the mundane. Mundane in the most wonderful way possible, as global capital has finally begun to move to the developing world in greater quantity. Places as large as China or as small as Dubai have become growth engines. Humanity faces a great disruption in the same way Europe faced a great disruption in the 18th century and the US faced in the 19th century.

To Americans it may appear like it did to the British an intimidating place of lapsing power and lost opportunity but nothing could be further from the truth. There will come a time where technological innovation which is impossible to police will spread out from newly industrializing nations cheaper and easier to use than ever before. America will be able to take advantage of this in only one way, to specialize in certain future tech that Americans have a knack for. Democratic America has an advantage over China in communication technologies because there is no glass ceiling, no regulation necessary to focus on avoiding.

America also has an advantage over China in a virtual guarantee that Americans will always have a higher capital to worker ratio than the Chinese can hope for. America needs to adapt from mass market industry to something that mimics Germany. India and China have the mass market now, trying to compete with them for the more efficient mass consumer green car is a waste of America's time. However Americans will always have the edge over China and India in developing lead technologies, the type of high margin, high return goods that invent markets.

Base-load power generation like wind turbines have a natural home in China. Which may sound strange but rare earths which are a crucial component in production are in abundance in China and electric generators require scale. But the future of electric generation is not merely about sticking a endless quantity of wind turbines up on mountains as if that were green tech. Green tech is also about a mind set of efficiency and precision. Smart power grids that know automatically who, what, when, where and how much are something the Chinese are leagues behind the US.

The world needs power generators that communicate with each other in a unbounded way that maximizes efficiency. Humanity cannot build its way out of carbon emissions like we have with poverty we need both big muscles and big brains. In a new international division of Labour the US already has so much going for it, there is no need to do everything from start to finish. The US could probably get on top of building wind turbines for itself, but it is never going to become the world's top exporter. Denmark has been so successful because it has the huge European market which has worked hard to incentivize green tech.

European Incetivisation is going to look like a cheap effort compared to what China is gunning for. In which case the US which has no chance of being an early mover in the next 10 years, the wars over for you. But its not over. Its just different. The US has never worked well unilaterally, why should it work well unilaterally on green tech? Americans are going to do what they do best, adapt to a big world that has left them somewhat behind. Americans aren't leaders its not in their nature, leadership involves mitigating risk with careful strategy. Mitigating risk? Thats not America. High risk, high return strategies have always been the American way.

Forget leading the green tech manufacturing sector, lets jump the whole thing and go to smart grids, computerized manufacture and smart everything basically. America needs infrastructure and it needs it real bad. But not roads or highways or even ports. America needs the fastest infrastructure available, it needs glass highways. Fibre optics networks that allow the individual American to move anywhere in 0.0000000000001 seconds. Communications is America's strength and communication is the future, my engine talking to my radio, talking to my brakes talking to me and talking to the road? American Carbon emissions are some of the highest per capita in the world, for the US its all about the individual, getting per capita consumption down and doing it efficiently.

If the world is slowly moving towards the US in terms of living standards then they are moving to US goods too. One day soon that middle class Shanghai citizen is going to want a car, but they aren't going to want an India Tata Nano. They want a smart car, but they don't want a Toyota Prius smart car, they want a really smart car. They want the newest, smartest most expensive car. Americans need to focus on the latest, cleverest consumer good. Apple is American, its products sell all over the world. America needs an apple for cars and its looking that Ford is the best bet. The best way to direct Ford without directing Ford is to give Ford a domestic market. The best way to do that is make Americans want a product that communicates and that is artificially intelligent along with the fridge, the house lights and even the computer.

The most efficient way to do that is to pour down the cash into glass highways. If someone doesn't want one, too bad, you make them. The US needs to keep building glass highways until Americans are tired of hearing the words high speed internet and then build some more. The internet is the greatest force to fight inflation in the world. Also I would love to see a smart textile industry, but for my jacket to really be smart it will be talking with the room to find out the conditions. Build it, they will come.

Martin (not verified)
September 13th 2010, 1:18 am

Mr. Friedman,

Great book, you really do understand the urgency of changing the current system and provide some real-life, relevant solutions that are so often ignored in the constant exchange between the industrialist/capitalist and environmental extremist.

Nevertheless I must say that there is one huge thing I feel like you don't really delve into very much. You mention the rise of mega-cities and the massive migration of people in India and China into these cities, but you don't really mention how this trend is actually a hugely positive thing. This trend in India and China means that these countries may forgo the suburban stage we (America) underwent and go directly into the new era of global cities and an international life.

You seek to create sources of electrons that are “abundant, clean, reliable, and cheap” but to what avail if it is supporting suburbia, which you yourself recognize as a blatantly inefficient system. In the future people will not just say, “wow we really messed up the earth with dirty industry”, they'll also wonder “why did we ever build suburbs?”. The future of humans is not locked endless sprawl pouring out of every metropolitan area in the United States; the future of humans is in vertical growth.

Even if the reforms you propose take place and great amounts of capital are poured into expanding solar and wind and other renewable energies to power a larger portion of our country than fossil fuels, the actual infrastructure will not be in place to stop the destructive effects of peak oil on our economy. As with most economic downfalls, the first place to be hit is the American suburb. However, in combination with a housing market crash – one which we've yet to really recover from and the effects of which on the future of home ownership in the suburbs are really unknown – and an oil crisis, the suburbs may finally be dealt the last blow and descend into a spiral of decay ending up in endless sprawl of ghetto and economic stagnation.

In order to avoid this plausible, albeit dark, scenario, the government needs to provide incentives not just to buy green products but to encourage migration to cities. Sure, the government has benefited greatly from the consumerism fostered and cherished in the suburbs, but with such heavy consequences, this consumerism may actually fall below in favor of more city-oriented life. City life is in no way some sort of socialist/communist plot to undermine the American dream and stop consumerism. In fact, city dwellers probably consume as much as suburban people, but they do it so much more productively.

A city dweller can still buy from the supermarket everyday and go shopping very often but he/she doesn't need to drive any car to get there, whether it be a hybrid or an SUV, he has absolutely no need for either. He/she can take the subway, walk, or even take a bus (government funds would of course be used to subsidize this travel and ensure that they meet “green” emission standards) to where he/she needs to go. In eliminating almost all travel expenses, the city dweller actually has more money to spend than the suburban person.

In the future, I foresee that our posterity will remember the suburbs as a dirty and undesirable place to live and will be glad that their ancestors moved to the city before they were trapped in the economic spell that will freeze our society. If our government doesn't start aggressive changes to infrastructure by first putting down the capital for cheap electrons and then encouraging a shift to the cities through incentives programs, then the future does look grim for America, if not the rest of the world.

Sebas (not verified)
August 31st 2010, 11:28 pm

Mr Friedman,

While the point you emphasized throughout the second half of your book is true, that the talent and technical knowledge necessary for a green revolution is here, the one obstacle preventing it from being applied to the mass population is the lack of regulations or green taxes, and the ethic of conservation.

There is almost always some kind of contest or award given out somewhere throughout the country which recognizes green technology invention and innovation, whether it be for creating a super-efficient car or energy efficient home, there is certainly no lack of brain power or desire to work on more envirnmently conscience projects. However, in order for these ideas and designs to take effect, they must be implemented to the mass population of the country, something that can only be done through regulations and taxes, as you mentioned in your book. For example, even though the prius has been around for a number of years, many people who would be fine to use them end up buying less effieceint SUVs anyways. That’s where regulation comes in, if the government continues to avoid effiecieny regulations or refuses to place a tax on CO2 emmisions, there is much less of an incentive for people to switch to greener life styles. However, while the lack of government initiative strongly weakens the argument for going green, there is something else we can use to get peoples attention. The media. The media has been proven to influence peoples opinions countless times, and there is no reason why it can’t be used now to promote a greener lifestyle. Sure, commercials have been running for years about the need to change our lifestyle, but I don’t believe that they have been used to their full potential. Imagine if a global warming or clean energy commercial was broadcast on TV or radio as often as car commercials, or Mcdonalds commercials. Not only would that ultimately reach so many more people, but the repitition would eventually provoke some response. But again, even if the media did bring about more attention to our energy climate era challenges, it would not bring about change to the extent that we need it without the implementation of laws and regulations from governent.

The other big challenge of the Energy-Climate-Era, the conservation of nature, has the opposite solution of the energy problem. Even though regulations and laws would help to a degree, they would not be nearly as effective in preserving nature as a genuine ethic of conservation, as mentioned in your book. The big problem is, how do we develop and pass on this idea. Unlike laws, morals and personal judgment can’t be controlled simply by righting something down in a book. They must be deeply engrained within someones flow of thoughts, inside ones brain. To make one give nature the respect it deserves, they first must have an appreciation for it. Until a large majority, preferably everyone, gains an appreciation for nature, there is not much of a chance that it will be completely preserved. Even if green alternatives for coal, oil, and gas are found, and regulations are in place protecting nature, if there is no ethic to protect it, there would not be much in the way to prevent the cutting down of a forest if a company could make thousands off of it. This is why only a true understanding of conservation at an individual level can completely prevent the destruction of nature. To acquire this understanding, we must inspire people to care for nature by exposing them to it. By encouraging kids to go to zoos and aquariums and through intereacting with animals themselves, they will gain an appreciation for why nature is such an unreplacable thing and why it is worth our energy to save.

The Energy-Climate-Era certainly presents some big challenges to our country and the rest of the world, if we want to come out of it better than how came in, we better start to address these problems for real as soon as possible.

Thank you and best of luck,
William Moffat

Moffat (not verified)
August 29th 2010, 10:23 pm

All this discussion could possibly be pointless. Has anyone ever heard of Peak Oil?

Anonymous (not verified)
August 27th 2010, 8:48 am

Mr. Friedman,
In order to truly make a “great disruption,” we must first and foremost focus on the citizens of our future: the children. To do so, we must drive our resources to properly educate them of our current and future environmental concerns by implementing environmental literacy plans in schools nationwide.
The No Child Left Inside Act proposed to the members of Congress would require schools to develop such plans from pre-kindergarten to grade 12 students in order to receive implementation grants. If passed, the act could reward states with $100 million for additional funding.
On August 23, 2010, announced that that Maryland State Board of Education is on its way to adapting an environmental literacy plan, which would require students to take courses on environmental literacy in order to graduate high school. The implementation of an environmental literacy plan in schools would present great educational opportunities. By providing environmental studies in and out of classrooms, schools yield students who are not only proficient in environmental studies, but also in other academic areas, such as science, mathematics, social studies, and reading. By expanding the core subjects that students must take, schools provide career opportunities for teachers and other educators: teachers specially trained to teach environmental studies and educators in locations where students will be visiting to enhance their knowledge, such as parks and special environmental centers. Staying true to the environmental style, the means of transportation to and from field trips ought to be fuel efficient—as opposed to their 8 mile per gallon school bus counterparts—and be run by alternative means. Even better, schools should encourage local field trips near school property where students can travel by foot in order to learn about native flora and fauna.
Furthermore, the establishment of an environmental literacy plan and the No Child Left Behind Act encourages a healthy lifestyle for students and educators because of outdoor recreation and education. Considering America's unhealthy direction towards obesity, this would be another positive result from environmental literacy plans.
Thank you for the incredible eye-opening experience you have provided in Hot, Flat, and Crowded. I wish you the best of luck for your next chapter.

Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see. ~Neil Postman, The Disappearance of Childhood (introduction), 1982

If we do not act now, the world’s children will not see that time, either.

Marifiel Gonzalez (not verified)
August 24th 2010, 8:15 pm

Mr. Friedman,
Today, companies and products are tossing around terms like ‘green’ or ‘eco-friendly’ but as consumers it is difficult to define what green means. Thankfully, Hot, Flat, and Crowded delineates multiple methods to pursue environmental safety; initially for me, “going green” encompassed lifestyle alterations taken to become environmentally- friendly in the midst of a hectic every day existence , but your book enforced “going green” for me as a complete change of lifestyle.
On August 16, 2010, “China surges past Japan as No.2 Economy; US next?” made national headlines. Joe MacDonald, writer for the Associated Press, stated that “China has eclipsed Japan as the world's second-biggest economy after three decades of blistering growth” and based on these trends, China could overtake the US within ten years. Your prognosis regarding Chinese economic growth has become reality; for America to stabilize its position as the world’s economic leader, it must “build windmills.” America must invest in research for greener technologies and rebuild the infrastructure of companies with pollutant emissions. From SBB to RESU, it is apparent American innovation can make a green future achievable.
While greener advanced technologies are in the offing, the politics behind regulating environmental policies have stalled. Governmental candidates and lobbyists continue to preach for ‘green regulation’ that benefits them financially, and, as a result, public policy may not best address given problems. Michael Kraft’s book, Environmental Policy and Politics, illustrates environmentalists’ unhappiness in that though “they applaud the strong [environmental policies] adopted since the 1960s, they argue [that] frequently environmental protection measures are compromised and weakly enforced” (217). Enacted in 1993, the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA) responds to environmentalist criticism and requires evaluating existing federal programs and their implementations of green policies. The GPRA supplicates each federal agency “to complete a strategic plan that includes its goals and specific objectives [of] what the agency expects to achieve by certain dates” (219). The GPRA mandates need to be taken to the next level, in which all federal agencies have greener facilities. By making higher waste emission products more expensive in the consumer market and adding additional incentives to adopt green technologies, the government will make businesses lean towards greener products, swaying the market to a healthier position. With greener products, new opportunities for employment will arise; focus on costs, benefits, and risks of making businesses environmentally friendly will stimulate America’s economy, allowing citizens to stay in lead in job markets.
In addition to reinforcing efficiency of environmental regulations, the federal government should sponsor job retraining programs, subsidize loan programs, and personally intervene to help those impacted by the changes in the job market. If “Francis” initially works for a company that emits pollutants and loses his job when his company is affected by governmental policy change, he should be given the services to retrain for another employment opportunity. Francis and others like him should be taught how to use greener technologies. This training can set up stronger dependencies towards safer and greener materials necessary in the new workforce. Jobs that determine and monitor environmental quality criteria and standards can also be implemented. Also, if federal companies begin privatization, corporations will not have to rely on outside contractors and can generate their own policies. Thus, businesses can write their own agenda to become greener, faster. Switching to “green” is lengthy and costly; however, with support from the federal government, researchers will be given priority investments and the results will be promising.
Active participation of the natural world will also garner benefits. However, rather than solely taking care of endangered animals, we should focus our attention on endangered ecosystems. Doing this can save not one, but several species. If we take economic accounting measures that react to the depletion and degrading of ecosystems, we could preserve the habitats that create natural growth. The EPA, Department of Interior, and we Americans must understand this and act quickly.
Today, “Green” has become a commercialized concept and the public perception of what “Green” is should be altered. While magazines and websites provide “ten easy ways to go green,” you have made it clear that there is no easy way out. The magnitude of this problem should be recognized by world leaders, congressmen, and city officials. Local business owners should amend their business tactics, finding the healthier and safer products that will ultimately be most profitable. If leaders promote environmental change, their influence can make all the difference.
Ultimately, to achieve progress and success, the masses need to be taught from childhood about the importance of conservation. We have minimal policies already enforced, yet we can make much more of what these regulations expect. Merely recycling paper will no longer do. Serious governmental action must be invoked. With that, we can provide greener jobs to the community and take care of the natural world seamlessly.
Thank you for your time,
Ashmi Sheth

Ashmi Sheth (not verified)
August 21st 2010, 7:03 pm

Mr. Friedman,

After the recent Gulf of Mexico oil spill’s detrimental effects upon our environment, it is apparent our world has indeed reached a tipping point. However, our markets and Mother Nature are not dead walled...yet. To ensure global safety, we must change common perceptions of energy- consumption and environment. Though Copenhagen environmental summit was a valiant effort, the environment and public changed or progressed minimally. In Hot, Flat, and Crowded, you assert that global average temperature must not rise beyond 2 Co, an initial quota established among world leaders, who agreed but did not promise having substantial cuts within carbon emissions.
Principal economies in the United States, Western Europe, Japan and China must not merely participate in international climate change agreements but pledge towards these agreements. There should be incentive for economic fixation in countries. Many developing countries in Africa and Asia and South America, even Eastern Europe have unstable infrastructure and budding economies. Acting now to establish green practices in the beginning can change the future for those countries and even the developed world. Local businesses should have subsidized loan and financial support by federal governments to ease transition to green. Green is a costly effort but with loans and tax breaks, it can be minimized. Written theories are commendable but substantiated and implemented efforts make all the difference. If a world environmental regulation agency will be created, and not one like the United Nations Environmental Program, but one of greater magnitude, we could mandate uniform environmental laws, which today seem scattered like dust particles in the air. The public must visualize world leaders committing to the energy crisis and willing to put their careers at risk for this change. World leaders and congressmen need cold hard facts and commitment for future imposed regulations. Candidates constantly in their platform endorse environmental reform, yet public policies are rarely implemented or enforced. With this leadership assurance, the public and the press will eventually embrace the green era.

Because green technology is ready available. We have maglev trains; we have wind turbines; and we have algae. Why algae? Algae can grow anywhere and multiplies quicker than corn or soybeans. It only requires water, sunlight and carbon dioxide, elements already in abundance with the current climate crisis. Algae also produce vegetable oil which can later be transformed into biodiesel. Green materials are created everyday. Green innovators continue to have ideas. President Obama, during his campaign, enlightened the public about the falling economy and crumbling infrastructure as well as plans to increase environmental awareness. The energy tax breaks and the funding to rebuild infrastructure is a step. However we need a transformation. We can’t just paint with a green paintbrush. As you mention in previous chapters, green is the way to solve the problem.

In the fiscal year of 2010, U.S. governmental budget is $2.381 trillion. Out of the $2.381 trillion, $663.7 billion is directed to the Department of Defense but only $252.7 billion is funded to 12 departments or programs that can focus on rebuilding and teaching the future generation. We shouldn’t focus on destroying the world with $100 billion equipment. We can focus on rebuilding and reengineering the world with $100 billion equipment. We must change the funding from war technology to green technology and incorporation. Channeling the money into engineering from civil to agriculture to electrical will boost the economy instead of digging a deeper grave with war debts and defense spending. Many scientists are eager to research but the lack of funding and support fizzle their effort. The world, and specifically America – if we want to lead-, needs to invest in its future by putting heavier emphasis on math and science in all levels of schooling, primary through college. Asia especially China has pushed math and science, surpassing U.S. as the world’s faster growing wind energy market this year. Money that could be spent on rebooting our economy is being spent towards China's economic surge. We can encourage more young Americans to become revolutionary engineers, R&D specialists, scientists, and innovators for green. Full government cooperation equals a green infrastructure, a growing market, a tech-savvy generation and an increase standard of living.

But, China is not the only player that is need of help. Our hot, flat, and crowded world is. We the people are not buying it nor understanding it. Our leadership is in disarray and pundits attack and refute the global warming story constantly. Chapter 18 is this great game not a disruption. Disruption will happen in the game but it is our duty not to stumble. Great leadership is needed in this situation. Great commitment and regulation is called upon. The trickle down theory is true. The news of the available technology and the facts of global energy crisis must trickle to the people who are the sole contributors. Presidents, congressmen, and activists are a faction in the population. The citizens are encouraged by the numbers and example. 205 easy ways to go green won’t cut it but gradually the concept of accepting and using and engineering green will take hold. We have a glass ceiling in our market and Mother Nature. We have the technology and the budding stars to break through the glass ceiling. We have the available funding. We have the crisis. We just need the game ball rolling to revamp the world before the timer runs out.

Wesley Chan (not verified)
August 21st 2010, 3:51 pm

sir, don't u think ur connotations are region centric.... if the economy has to live the approach shouldn't be region based but more of what we call as a neutral - centric global approach. Moreover , the ch-18 crudely implies let the unemployed ( outsourced employment) die so that the U.S. economy could live.....

Abstract (not verified)
August 14th 2010, 12:09 am

Mr. Freidman, increased standards of living in the post-"great disruption age" depend largely upon increased educational standards, parituclarly in the fields of math and science. Americans need to invest in their future by putting heavier emphasis on math and science in all levels of schooling, primary through college. In doing so, we can produce more young Americans with world-class education in the fields of Information Technology, Engineering, and Research and Development-Americans who can be put to work developing more energy efficient, low cost energy sources. Having said that, the only way these young American engineers, IT specialists, r&d experts, etc will yield any contribution to the growth of a more energy efficient nation is if they are hired. As of now, many of these jobs are outsourced to India, China, and many other countries because it is cheaper to do so. We need to encourage companies to hire american workers with government tax benefits. If we can do this, we will be well on our way to a greener, wealthier nation.

Stephan Weir (not verified)
August 5th 2010, 2:42 pm

You are right about the two coffee shops in Minneapolis Mr. Friedman. The building of more branches just simply encourages more and more competitions. Thus, keeping the factories in China warm and the Chinese have larger stocks in American companies; one proof that globalization is a threat to globalization itself.

Paolo Vasquez (not verified)
July 31st 2010, 4:55 pm

The USA is not in a position to "outgreen" anyone.

If Congress delivers a cap-and-trade bill, it will help save the planet, but not the US economy. It will simply mean that Americans will be forced to buy foreign cars and foreign appliances, since the American ones won't pass the efficiency standards. Utilities and other companies will have to hire foreign consultants and buy foreign equipment to meet their carbon quotas.

The USA doesn't have the engineering power to excel here. Few Americans have the math skills to become engineers (thanks to poor education), and those that do become engineers are being laid off because it's cheaper to hire Chinese engineers and do your R&D outside the US.

Drunken Pessimist (not verified)
July 26th 2010, 2:46 pm

We must spur production and deployment of energy efficient systems and devices with tax incentives for R & D and hiring. This has worked well whenever the nation has needed to advance its technological level. The technologies and the abilities are going to waste. No one can defeat the behemoths of petroleum and the internal combustion engine without government incentives. That is a fact we all know. Successful deployment has to be broad-based and widespread so that the behemoths cannot pick off the few competitors that rise to the top. Ultimately we need energy devices produced alongside electronics and appliances sold by retailers and contractors. That is the efficient and effective American way.

Carl Schumacher (not verified)
July 18th 2010, 8:08 pm

I don't read the Times anymore, except online. I can't afford it but I have read and heard your opinions on outsourcing and cultivating friendly relations with India. I am a programmer and had been out of work for two years. I listened to your pontificating about how outsourcing is ultimately good and India is our great hope for an ally in a troubled region. Recently I had a short contract with Citi Global Services in Warren NJ. As soon as my Indian co-worker was brought up to speed on the technology that I was a field expert in I was fired by my supervisor who is Indian. Before that I was told maybe I could be squeezed in to the CRM group there, they are all Russian Jews, maybe ten of them, the rest of the several thousand employees there are Indian. The Russians weren't hiring so I was told to take a hike. Take a walk around the Citi IT department. You tell me where is the fairness of our new wonderful allies. I am not a racist, but I do know one when I see one. Tell me about opportunity in your brave new world. And by the way, thanks a lot for the global perspective.

ken (not verified)
July 12th 2010, 8:58 am

We are in a dilemma between market and mother nature. Can we bridge between for growth in order to augment people's living standard? Can growth be sustainable and regenerative? But, the records show both market and growth are exploitative over mother nature. How could it be sustainable. Thanks for the post. Fire Resistant Clothing

Jharana (not verified)
June 22nd 2010, 11:36 am

I left Washington DC in 1974 for a permanent exodus to New Zealand. As a children's book illustrator/author, I felt increasing distress over the increasing arrogance in the USA in regards to their 'right' to limitless consumption of oil and energy, with no or little concern for the earth's resources. Viewing the USA from Down Under, I knew it was only a matter of time before witnessing what is unfolding now in my homeland. Even today the same greed and abuse of earth's resources is Down Here in the form of proposed oil, gold and mineral exploration of New Zealand and Antarctica (primarily by Chinese, US and British-based consortiums) of this pristine environment.

What is the power that makes the earth revolve around itself? It is not a machine, a generator or a motor. That energy is within the earth itself. When energy sources are over-consumed and used as another kind of energy--the energy generated by misuse of hard currency--imbalances are bound to arise. The earth returns the favor, correcting imbalances caused by over-consumption of its resources through its own means of realignment--the natural forces of water, air, mud, fire, and wind.

Lyn Kriegler Elliott (not verified)
May 30th 2010, 4:19 pm

With all due respect to former President Clinton, I'd like to have seen him on Tom Friedman's staff at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

David Stern (not verified)
May 23rd 2010, 11:22 am

Man, ah sure wish ah had this guy on my payroll before ah cancelled the Integral Fast Reactor back in `94. Sure makes me look pretty foolish now. This is the best talk on energy ah've ever seen, by far!

Bill Clinton (not verified)
May 20th 2010, 7:00 am

Big Fan, Tom. Your two most recent books, in particular, should be mandatory High School reading.

Here are my comments and suggestions: I have come to the conclusion that the general lack of science and engineering literacy AND the general lack of public sector literacy are two of the most destabilizing and dangerous features of American society. You have covered the first, science and engineering literacy, brilliantly in your books; especially as it relates to sustainability, energy, and climate change. However, I humbly suggest that you try to explore the meaning and impact of the second, low public sector literacy, in some of your future writings and compare it to the citizens in other developed nations. Personally, this has troubled me since the tenure of Ronald Reagan, a man who I think could persuade the majority of Americans that it was their civic duty to spend the weekend building and repairing the roads, bridges, sewer systems, and water treatment plants of this nation on their own. Today, he could probably inspire a small army of average Americans to drop everything and jump into the Gulf of Mexico to plug a certain oil well with plumbers putty.

I don't believe a country that aspires to continue to be a leader in this new flat world can afford to be governed by a group of politicians who are increasingly elected by demonizing the public sector and promising to "starve the beast" by cutting taxes WITHOUT first educating their constituents about who pays Federal taxes and how much, how their tax dollars are actually spent today, and what spending, specifically, they are going to reduce or eliminate, why, and then how that service, protection, or entitlement will be provided, or not, without federal spending.

Much of the American electorate has such low expectations of our political class (thanks R.R.) and, it seems, themselves, as voters that they don't even ask or demand answers; they're content to accept the PROMISE that they will keep more of the money they earn and "send less to Washington", like it's another planet, even though the politician doesn't have the skill to make good on the promise, and their real drop in wages is leaking across the globe. Once they arrive in Washington the people who are elected with that "mandate" don't have a clue about how to govern, improve government, or solve problems and no interest in learning how to; which doesn't seem to matter because the electorate has no practical way to hold them accountable (and Dancing with the Stars is on now anyway).

This "dumbing down" of our political discourse, also, i believe, undermines or weakens any incentive smart, forward-thinking, socially responsible, Corporate leader have to publicly "collaborate" with the public sector. Now you run the risk that the fewer "real world" figures, like Corporate leaders, who are at the table in Washington then the less practical, innovative, and relevant any politically conceived solutions become; a waste of time we can no longer afford.

You are probably familiar with a website called The National Priorities Project; the site shows how federal tax dollars are spent, uses comparisons to show the implications of those spending choices, and, I believe, shows where the tax dollars come from; i.e. family income demographics, fees, and corporate taxes, etc.. I would love it if the mainstream media and even the President himself and other politicans, in both parties, would all get in the habit of referencing the type of data and choices that are represented on that site, in an animated and graphically appealing PIXAR kind of way, WHENEVER the subject being discussed on camera is the size of Federal Spending or the size of Federal Taxation. I have very little patience for any member of the national media who still conducts an interview with a politician or candidate and is told by that person he or she is running on "reduced spending and lowering taxes" WITHOUT INSISTING that the politician or candidate explain exactly how he or she is going to do that, and how that service, protection, or entitlement will be provided without federal spending.

It seems as if we are living through an era in American history when the challenges facing our nation are getting more complex, sophisticated, and far reaching and the political dialogue, especially around the time of an election, is getting more simplistic, narrow, polarizing, and less informing . . . mostly, less informing.

So, Mr. Friedman, if you have the President's ear, at least, ask him to assume nothing regarding the level of public sector literacy, to not be shy about putting on his "chief public educator hat", and to consider taking the time to very deliberately educate us as a people about the tangible REALITIES of the public sectors role in this great country. I think Ross Perot, with his brief minute of fame holding up charts and graphs was on to something. For a great communicator like Obama to take the American people "under the hood" for real would be both timely and transformative in raising the level of our political discourse, in my humble opinion.

Footnote: Hollywood, which was very supportive of Obama, rallied a previous generation during World War II, their creativity could be used today in America's "war" to become, a more sustainable nation, IN EVERY WAY, and role model for the world.

Just a thought.

Frank Monachello (not verified)
May 11th 2010, 9:59 pm

Perhaps the Tea Party should more appropriately be associated with the Whiskey Rebellion since they have representation today but seem to be seeking to protest against the federal government having any authority over them...except, of course, the authority to send the social security check and to provide for Medicare.

Blanche Brick (not verified)
April 25th 2010, 7:17 am

People pay big money to do the rapids. He asked ‘How do we do more than survive but rather thrive in the world of change?” If we just want to last until calm waters, then we won’t last to the end.

Tommy Tang (not verified)
April 22nd 2010, 3:50 pm

Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation.

Daniel Halevi Bloom (not verified)
April 22nd 2010, 9:25 am

Haiti provides an ideal opportunity for a demonstration project. The entire world needs to mobilize behind the concept of decentralized, renewable, and inexpensive energy.

Where better than Haiti to move away from power plants, the use of fossil fuels and initiate a renewable energy laboratory?

I have no ability to contact President Clinton with this idea, but he needs to be the champion for a concept for an idea who's time has come (at a huge cost).

Mr. Friedman...any way you can get the concept into the hands of one of the great champions of Haiti, President Clinton???

Roy Fouts (not verified)
March 17th 2010, 10:23 am

Dear Mr. Thomas L. Friedman,
I was reading your book, The World Is Flat, when I noticed that you had referred to a place called the Arab Gulf. I search and searched the internet (a flat world’s tool) and came to find out that there is not a place called the Arab Gulf. It turns out that the place you were refereeing to is actually called the Persian Gulf ( In further search of the internet I found out that Saudi Arabia has been launching a campaign to change the name of Persian Gulf to Arabic Golf. Now keep in mind that this body of water has been called the Persian Gulf for over 2200 years. Changing this name would be like changing of the name of Europe to something else just because Saudis want it changes. It would be ridiculous and wrong. I do understand that in this book and particularly in that chapter you were trying to reach out to the “angry Arab Moslems”. Howe ever, the act of changing factual information just to make Arab Muslims feel good about you takes away from your journalistic integrity and credibility. How do we know that you have not changed and misrepresented other facts in your book to make others feel good about you and your intentions in an effort to sell the idea of globalization as a good thing? My idea for improving your next edition of your book is to get your facts strait and change the name of Arab Gulf back to its international recognized name “Persian Gulf”.
Thank you
A concerned reader.

Anonymous (not verified)
March 16th 2010, 10:34 am

It is "national strategies" of social and economic engineering that gave us Stalin, Hitler, Mao, etc. Let people be free and creative and seek to improve their lot in life and humanity will be just fine. Not perfect members of a utopian society, not free of conflict or hardship, but fine.

Anonymous (not verified)
March 8th 2010, 4:36 pm

I have just finished reading Hot, Flat, and Crowded. Thank you for a very interesting book. However, I was disappointed that you did not discuss two vital areas:

1. As you so correctly point out, Crowded is our current condition and getting steadily worse. If something is not done to reduce the human population, nothing is going to help the ecosystem. There is obviously a limit to the number of Homo sapiens the globe can reasonably support; I think we're way past that number. How about some discussion of this issue, and the (somewhat) successful efforts in Singapore and China to limit population growth?

2. I would have liked to see some discussion of some of the ideas to counteract the effects of greenhouse gases (SO2 injection into the upper atmosphere, for instance), to go along with your excellent discussion on ways to transform the economy to produce less of them.

Tom Webb MD (not verified)
March 7th 2010, 3:27 pm

The answer is not to wait for the people in power to figure it out. You have to do it yourself on your own small scale. Scale back your life. Shrink your carbon footprint. Give up your insatiable consumer appetite for more, more, more. Abandon the ego game. If it comes with a mortgage, don't buy it. Put the money into some solar panels.

Anonymous (not verified)
March 3rd 2010, 7:55 am

The Three Ways Out
Any prudent observer would consider the possibility that fossil fuels might run short within years and very short within decades. Given that we depend on oil, natural gas, and coal for 90 percent of our energy, we could be facing the most catastrophic change in modern history. Equally scary, even should more fossil fuels be discovered, burning them without storing away the carbon dioxide they produce could cause global warming.
The False Ways Out

Many purported ways out are false hopes, either because they are too small to matter or because they have a fatal flaw.

- Hydroelectric power is low-cost, but cannot be expanded.
- Geothermal is available in only a few locations, and likewise cannot be expanded.
- Wind has huge potential capacity, but even in the best locations only blows fast enough to turn the windmills one-third of the time. Its fatal flaw is that we have no storage mechanism for electricity today, and none of the proposed ones would return more than 25 percent of the energy that goes in. The electricity produced by windmills could be used to make liquid fuels, but such transformations are very wasteful. If battery technology improves enough, hybrid-electric or pure electric vehicles may be the wave of the future, and full-time electric power plants (such as coal or nuclear) would avoid the conversions required by intermittent ones, such as wind or solar.
- Photovoltaic solar is many times more expensive than competing technologies, and will remain so indefinitely because sunlight is weak, the physical infrastructure costs are huge, and the sun delivers only about two thousand effective hours per year (25 percent), even in the desert. Plus, solar has the same flaw as wind: we can’t store it. Thus, while it may address peak electricity demand on a summer afternoon, it would not be reliable enough to power the world.
- Biomass as currently practiced – corn ethanol or soybean diesel – produces such small net gains in energy that no amount of farmland could ever replace a meaningful portion of our fossil fuel consumption. Corn ethanol is just a way to convert natural gas (through fertilizer and steam) into a liquid fuel. It has only gained traction because of the temporary availability of natural gas at prices lower than oil, state-level mandates, and federal-level subsidies (of 75 cents per gasoline-equivalent gallon). Soy diesel, in contrast, can be produced at a small profit, but only because we need the soy protein first. Even so, net production of 35 gallons per acre would yield less than 1 percent of U.S. petroleum consumption (2.5 billion gallons) even if all 75 million acres of soybeans were utilized. The only biomass that hasn’t been discredited as a serious energy source is cellulosic alcohol – because the proposals for it are so poorly defined no one can say what they mean. We should be skeptical because cellulose is far more difficult to break down than corn or soybeans, and the lignin that cellulose advocates propose to use for process heat is as little as 20 percent of fast-growing plants.
- Finally, while both the world and the U.S. have a lot of coal, we have yet to demonstrate even one case of large-scale long-term storage of CO2.

The Real Ways Out

Fortunately, we won’t have to live in the dark or melt all the glaciers. Conservation, efficiency, and nuclear power are real ways out.

Cutting demand (conservation) won’t be popular, but we could take at least one significant step – by curbing population growth. By 2050, the path we’re on will add 150 million people to the 300 million we reached in the U.S. this year. But the growth is driven almost entirely by immigration levels set by Congress, which Congress has the power to reduce. They just haven’t made the connection between population and energy.

Increased efficiency, particularly in transportation, space heating, and electric appliances, could generate huge savings, and many observers claim the first 50 percent reduction could be achieved with little impact on quality of life. Higher-mileage cars, better insulation, and more efficient lighting could go a long way.

But after all that, we will still need a massive source of reliable, long-lasting, low-pollution energy. And, except for a huge piece of luck, there might have been none. But we’re lucky, and one exists – nuclear fission. If, over the next 50 years, we built a thousand one-gigawatt nuclear power plants in the best known way, we could simultaneously: 1) meet all of our energy needs at reasonable cost, 2) operate them more safely than any other large-scale technology ever deployed, 3) reduce greenhouse gas emissions to a fraction of their current rate, 4) solve the waste disposal problem, 5) have a fuel supply that would last forever, and 6) add nothing to the risk of nuclear weapons proliferation.

The fundamental reason is that nuclear forces are vastly stronger than chemical bonds – about 3 million times stronger, if you compare the weight of uranium to the energy-equivalent weight of coal.

The way to unlock uranium’s full potential while minimizing its harmful by-products is to change from today’s open fuel cycle to a closed one, and from today’s fleet of light-water reactors to one containing at least some so-called fast reactors. A closed fuel cycle means reprocessing the spent fuel, in order to send the unused uranium and the created undesirable trans-uranium elements back into the reactor to be split apart, thereby releasing more energy. Only the fission products – the smaller atoms created when large ones break – would be sent to a repository. Fast reactors, which are named after the higher-energy neutrons they utilize, would serve two purposes – to burn up the trans-uranium elements and to breed new fuel (hence, the name breeder reactors) by converting the 99 percent of uranium which will not normally split into plutonium atoms which will. Light-water reactors do this, too, but on too small a scale to keep the process going. Thus they require far higher quantities of fresh uranium.

The differences would be dramatic – over 100 times more energy per ton of uranium in, and 20 times less waste per gigawatt-year of electricity produced. Even more important, the waste stream would contain so little radioactive material that after 500 years it would be no more radioactive than uranium ore in the ground. Repositories such as Yucca Mountain could be simplified or even eliminated.

How could these claims be true, you ask, since we rarely hear anyone talking about them? Because after Three Mile Island, the nuclear industry had to improve its procedures and designs, nuclear power’s opponents stopped all rational discussion, and natural gas was plentiful and cheap for a couple of decades. Nuclear power genuinely had a problem, but that’s changed.

Let’s look at these claims. Nuclear is safe enough, because even an accident which caused a large economic loss, such as Three Mile Island, harmed no one. The defense-in-depth design did what it was supposed to do, and the industry learned and applied many lessons to reduce the chance of a similar accident. We would have greenhouse gas reductions, because nuclear fission emits none. And there would be non-proliferation, because all the proposed fuel cycles mix materials in ways which would make recycled fuel undesirable for weapons design and dangerous to handle.

Nuclear power can be had at reasonable cost because: 1) the 2005 energy bill solved the unpredictable licensing process by mandating a single license for construction and operation, 2) because fast reactors will keep nuclear fuel inexpensive, and 3) because nuclear waste can be reduced to a small problem by reprocessing steps that would cost less, some say far less, than one cent per kilowatt-hour (about 12 percent of today’s average retail price).

Not that all of this will be simple. The development of closed fuel cycles and fast reactors is not yet finished. But what’s left is engineering, not the discovery of new solutions. It will take decades to build a thousand reactors, but that just underlines the task’s urgency. We can’t wait until there’s a crisis to start developing solutions, and we can’t afford to waste time on false hopes.

George Taylor is a writer in Los Altos, California who is researching a book on the feasibility, economics, and environmental impacts of all practical sources of primary energy for the next 50 years.

George Taylor (not verified)
March 3rd 2010, 3:51 am

Hi Tom & Everyone:

I am only halfway through "Hot, Flat and Crowded," but wanted to share some current research that we are calling REIs: Renewable Energy Infrastructures.


If we recognize that architects have historically played a role as technological innovators, then we must also recognize that architects, like scientists, are engaged in a form of applied research. Our university-based design / research team has applied design thinking skills to a problem that involves energy production, energy transmission, and urban living. We believe a Renewable Energy Infrastructure (REI) will solve this problem.

An REI generates renewable energy megawatts (MW) at an industrial scale through the simultaneous harnessing of wind, solar, and geothermal resources, but within an integrated, holistic, and free-standing facility positioned in an urban environment. An REI is not a retrofit of a pre-existing architectural condition, but rather is conceived as a new typology to be owned and operated by an electrical utility. While current renewable energy technologies of industrial scale are typically located in rural areas, their greatest possible service to urban areas is limited due to measurable degradation rates along transmission lines and loss during step-downs at transformers. We understand the economic, political and social forces that locate industrial-scale renewable energy technologies in rural areas, and we furthermore recognize that the agenda for an REI meets resistance by the existing realities of zoning ordinances and prevailing “not-in-my-backyard” (NIMBY) sensibilities. We are in an advantageous position to consider this design problem and are currently assessing the full design requirements involved in such a proposal.

Our project deliverables yielded require working with the State of Nebraska’s various public power districts in the design of (3) site-specific, technically-plausible REI solutions of escalating scale in Norfolk NE (population 23,516), Lincoln NE (popu¬lation 251,624) and Omaha NE (population 438,646). These forthcoming options shall be site-specific to maximize urban site conditions and varying climatic zones.

The anticipated impact of this REI effort is the strategic formation of a cross disciplinary, design-led research team that delivers a technically-plausible, cost-effective option for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from public power districts. Through the agency of an REI in our urban fabric, we improve the efficiencies of existing electrical technologies, improve urban land use policy, and provide an ecologically-responsible alternative that can dovetail with, or ultimately succeed, prevailing methods of electrical production at industrial scales.

This design-led research project is funded by a 2009 AIA Upjohn Research Initiative grant, a 2009 energy research grant from the Nebraska Center for Energy Sciences Research, and the 2008-2010 Steward Professorship in Sustainable Design award. In Oct 2009, this preliminary design received a 2009 “Monster of Design” award from the AIA Kansas City Young Architects Forum.


Chris Ford
2008-2010 Steward Professor in Sustainable Design
College of Architecture, University of Nebraska


Chris Ford (not verified)
March 2nd 2010, 2:34 pm