Hot, Flat And Crowded – And Why You Should Read It

Written by Steve Winduss on April 10, 2009 – 2:51 pm -

Hot, Flat and Crowded – Thomas L Friedman

The do-gooders have got it all wrong. They have been telling us for eons that we have to save our planet. Rubbish. Our planet is just fine. It’s our ability to stay living on a planet that’s becoming hot, flat and crowded that’s the problem.

You see, the planet doesn’t care if we are here or not. And the bad news is that we are living on borrowed time and not doing very much about it.

“Hot, Flat and Crowded” by Thomas Friedman goes some way to helping us understand this dilemma and puts together a broad template to help get us out of this mess. But it’s not going to be easy and success is by no means assured.

So what does Hot, Flat and Crowded refer to? Well, in a nutshell…

Hot – greenhouse effect, climate change, fossil fuels, rising sea levels and so on.

Flat – An increasingly connected and enabled world through the internet and improved telecommunications where individuals across the globe can prosper as never before. But this extraordinary expansion of the ‘middle class’ brings its own problems.

Crowded – A global population of 6.7 billion rising to 9 billion by 2050, where are they all going to go? What will they eat? How will they (ie we) survive?

Don’t worry that the book is written by an American for Americans, it is totally relevant for all nations.  The world needs America to take the leading role anyway so get over it. The masterstroke of Hot, Flat and Crowded is how it weaves the key issues in a coherent way and puts forward some practical measures to, well…….save ourselves.

As well as a world that is hot, flat and crowded, throw in the issue of petropolitics, (ie how democracy in the leading OPEC members is inversely proportional to both the nation’s ability to supply oil/gas and the price it can get for it at any given time) and you can start to build your own picture of where the world is going, not just for generations to come but for you and me right now.

To help get that message across, let me highlight just one statistic from the book. It is universally accepted by the world’s scientific community that if the amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere reaches 500 parts per million then our ability to live on this planet will be greatly compromised. We are estimated to reach that point by 2050!

More scary still, to reduce carbon emissions sufficiently to stay below this figure, the world needs to commission the equivalent of one nuclear power station every day for the next 36 years.

Have I got your attention yet?

I’m inclined to say that we would all do well to understand how rapidly we are decimating our ability to live on this planet. However since this is a small business website, let me be a little more targeted and put a case for small business, present and future, to read Hot, Flat and Crowded before moving forward.

When assessing a new business venture we are always wise to step back from the immediate opportunity and “have a look around”. If you’re launching a new alcopop, research the alcopop market then step back and look at the alcohol market in total. Then step back and see how the drinks market as a whole is looking. Then step back and consider how the total grocery sector is looking. A little bit further and you can form a view of the economy over the next few years. And so on.

Well, I am suggesting that you go back even further and consider what you’re planet is doing first. Many effects of global warming are already visible and dramatic changes to our ability to live on Earth will have struck certainly within my lifetime (I’m 44 by the way).

But more relevantly, regardless of exactly when these changes hit hard, and even if the scientists have got it badly wrong and there is no such thing as global warming, the momentum of world opinion is now firmly set that we must ‘go green’.

So, whether you buy into the hot, flat and crowded hypothesis or not, your business needs to reflect the mood of the world, your country and most importantly your customers.

All businesses, current and start-up, will be marked against their green credentials whether a new grocery product, motor vehicle or technological beakthrough. Ignore at your peril.

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