Study Guide

Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution

by Thomas L. Friedman

Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution Summary


Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution and How It Can Renew America, published in 2008, is Thomas Friedman’s diagnosis of three major challenges facing the world and the United States in particular. It also includes prescriptions for how the U.S. can remedy these problems.

The three major challenges Friedman sees are summed up in the book’s title. First, he says the world is “flat," by which he means that the economy is increasingly globalized. The Internet and other technologies have allowed many jobs, especially those that pay well, to be performed by workers just about anywhere in the world. This is a problem for the United States because jobs can be outsourced to people who will do them as well as Americans can but for less money.

The second problem is that the world is “crowded.” By this, Friedman means that the world is overpopulated and that, importantly, the global population is increasingly becoming middle-class. As people achieve middle-class status, they demand more and more material goods. The production of these goods uses up ever more resources. "Crowding" is a particular problem for the United States because, Friedman asserts, the consumption of nonrenewable resources tends to enrich oil-rich countries of the Middle East and thereby threaten national security.

The final problem, and the one that Friedman pays the most attention to, is the problem of global warming—the idea that the world is becoming “hot.” This is, of course, an issue for the whole world. However, it is also, Friedman believes, the potential source of salvation for the Unites States.

Friedman posits that green energy will be the next major advancement in global economies. The need for renewable energy technology, and for technologies that will reduce the need for energy, will increase substantially. Therefore, he argues, whichever country dominates the development and production of green technology will become (or remain) the strongest country in the world, economically speaking. Friedman hopes that the United States will develop a national strategy that will allow it to dominate this vital sector of the future economy.

In Hot, Flat, and Crowded, Thomas Friedman identifies major problems facing the world, the greatest of which is global warming. He then argues that the United States can solve its own problems, and help the entire planet, by becoming a world leader in green technology.

Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution Summary

In Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution—And How It Can Renew America, Thomas Friedman makes two interwoven arguments. His major argument, contained in the title, is global: the world is becoming hot (climate change is real and will be extreme), flat (the economy is globalizing, and access to technology is becoming universal), and crowded (the growing population combines with rising standard of living to multiply demands on resources). The lesser argument focuses on what America needs to do as a result: America is out of sync with the world’s current needs and must change if it does not want to be left behind.

The first section of Hot, Flat, and Crowded focuses on what is wrong with the current situation: what has happened—in particular, what America’s misguided policies have done to it and the world. America’s energy policies can been seen as “petropolitics”: the dependence on foreign oil combined with wasteful transportation policies and industries have contributed to the rise of dictatorships around the world. In many cases, these policies have funded explicitly anti-American attitudes because oil-rich Islamic countries have supported radical Islam, which opposes modern, Western cultures and American in particular.

America’s actions matter not just because they damage our country but also because of America’s role in the world. America serves as a model for industrialization, and so the American embrace of waste and pollution encourages others to follow the same path of growing their economies first and attempting to clean things up later. This is a serious problem because it is too late: the world has already passed the point at which global warming is certain. Climate change is a reality, and neither the United States nor any other country can put off change. The entire world is in the midst of such a serious and universal change that we should restart the numbering system used for our history: rather than BC or AD, we are now living in the ECE: the Energy-Climate Era.

The second half of Hot, Flat, and Crowded focuses on the many specific actions that America and the world can and should take to save itself (and the world). Friedman’s first suggestion is that the current trends of businesses saying they’ve already gone green, or people looking for easy ways to save the earth, are dangerous. The danger is that these actions aren’t enough, and this false sense of ease, combined with the trendiness of such movements, may lead people to think that the ecological crisis has already been addressed. Instead, the world needs a massive and coordinated effort because climate change is global, unprecedented, and (because of the complexity of the system) unpredictable. Friedman suggests it might be better to call what’s coming “global weirding” rather than “global warming” because the results will be so strange. These changes will increase, rather than decreasing or flattening out, because the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is projected to double by the middle of the twenty-first century and to triple by 2075.


(The entire section is 1273 words.)

Ed. Scott Locklear