by Thomas L. Friedman (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008. 448 pp)
A prominent author, reporter, and columnist, Thomas L. Friedman has worked for The New York Times since 1981. During his time with the paper, Friedman has won multiple Pulitzer Prizes and published five best-selling books, including From Beirut to Jerusalem and The World Is Flat.
Book review by Donovan Richards
Who Will Cut the Last Tree?
Putting on my 20-20 hindsight glasses, a quick survey concerning the downfall of ancient empires seems to be closely connected with an overextension of resources.
In a classic example, the Rapa Nui people deforested Easter Island to build villages and the moai, the world-famous monolithic statues erected around the island. Who cut down the last tree? Did that person know he or she dealt the final and fatal blow?
In Hot, Flat, and Crowded, Thomas Friedman suggests that civilization faces a similar scenario: the proverbial trees are dwindling and we face the ultimatum of rethinking the way business does business or continue to outstrip the land of its resources.
As the title suggests, Friedman argues that the world is becoming hot, flat, and crowded.
Aligning more or less with the consensus of scientific research, Friedman views global warming as a clear and present danger to society as a whole. Of course, writing first and foremost as a journalist, Friedman spends little time making a scientific case for global warming. His position, in short, states that the scientists confirm its veracity, so this event will likely occur. For this reason, Friedman condemns the global addiction to fossil fuel.
Flat and Crowded
The flat and crowded sections, however, display Friedman in his finest form. Expressing similar sentiments to those stated in his groundbreaking book, The World Is Flat, Friedman continues relating the many ways in which civilization today functions on a more level playing field.
As depicted in the emergence of China, India, and Brazil, the flattening factor is creating a crowding affect. Friedman writes,
“The biggest upside is that globalization is bringing more people out of poverty faster than ever before in the history of the world. The biggest downside is that in raising standards of living, globalization is making possible much higher levels of production and consumption by many more people. That’s flat meeting crowded” (147).
In other words, while globalization offers the best opportunity to eradicate poverty, it also creates more consumers and, consequently, more carbon emissions and pollution.
The Green Revolution
Friedman proposes, then, that a green revolution offers the only answer to this global conundrum.
With evidence increasingly pointing toward the profitability of sustainable business practices (see Ray C. Anderson’s book, Confessions of a Radical Industrialist), Friedman views renewable energy and biodegradable products as the industry of the future. If achieved, the green revolution would continue at a global level to lift the poor out of poverty while simultaneously permitting the developed world to continue its consumption.
Friedman concludes the book with a challenge. Observing the significant economic, albeit polluted, growth of China, he suggests that competing with this country can supply the United States with the proper incentive to become the first mover in the green revolution.
If the United States proves that sustainable practices win in both economic and environmental terms, China will be compelled to follow. With two global powers operating with environmental priorities, the rest of the globe will fall in line.
Dominion: Domination or Stewardship?
In the dominant Christian worldview, creation is viewed as a gift of God given to humanity. Genesis 1:26 proclaims, “Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth."
What does it mean to have dominion over the earth? Too often, Christians wrongly interpret dominion to mean absolute authority over the use of creation. Bolstered by this ethic, then, leaders of the industrial revolution acted as if humanity’s dominion over the earth equaled dominance of the earth.
In truth, there is no such thing as an endless resource and Easter Island offers a grim illustration of the repercussions resulting from depleting resources beyond repair.
Nature sustains us. Without its complex web of connections, humans face dangerous circumstances. The idea of Christian stewardship promotes a reconnection with God’s creation and God’s intention for our stewardship within creation. For these reasons, spearheading a green revolution not only makes business and environmental sense; it also aligns theologically with a care for creation.
Giving Business the Green Light
Many Christians consider global warming to be a hoax concocted by the liberal media. But I contend that the ultimate results of global warming factor far less into sustainability than the role of biblically based stewardship of creation. Whether global warming results in harsher storms and a radical rising of the sea level or an over-hyped hypothesis with little empirical results, operating business as if creation exists as a slave for the whims of human fancy is pure hubris.
Ultimately, the compelling portion of Hot, Flat, and Crowded resides in Friedman’s encouraging position concerning the role of business. Where he could have presented the book as another exhibit decrying the evils of humanity regarding the environment, Friedman suggests that a green revolution offers business the opportunity to lead America into a new, vibrant century. I recommend reading this book.
Donovan Richards earned an M.A. in Business and Applied Theology from SPU and works as a consulting analyst for See Seven. You can read more reviews on Donovan's blog.