Business Today

Code green for survival

Thomas Friedman’s new book sets the agenda for combating climate change.

Vivek Bharati | Print Edition: November 2, 2008

For decades now, the American way of life has shaped the aspirations of millions in most countries around the globe. This is not at all surprising. During nearly half a century of the Cold War, the one single message that went out from the US to the rest of the world was that the American way of life was far superior to what could be delivered under the communist system. Free markets and democracy were synonymous with better and more affordable homes, better kitchens, TV sets and washing machines and bigger cars.

With the collapse of communism, that vision has been achieved. But the ubiquitous success of the American way of life is now close to breeding failure. Thomas Friedman, whose previous book, The World Is Flat, was a best-seller, is now worried that “Americans are popping up all over now—from Doha to Dalian and from Calcutta to Casablanca to Cairo—moving into American-style living spaces, buying American style cars, eating American-style fast food, and creating American levels of garbage.

The planet has never seen so many Americans.” However, with population growth continuing apace in many countries like India and China, there will soon be eight or nine “Americas” inhabiting the planet compared to only two now. This flat and crowded world will not be able to sustain so many Americas. As millions of new consumers realise the American dream and producers rush to meet this demand, the pressure on world resources will become unbearable.

The quest for minerals, wood and marine resources will deal a terminal blow to the world’s severely-threatened biodiversity. Above all, if more Americas join the present two, their energy needs cannot be met by fossil fuels. We cannot have more Americas join the present one’s level of carbon emissions per capita. Should that happen, global warming will send the planet into a tailspin. Friedman convincingly argues that the world has moved to a new “Energy-Climate Era”.

He is not the only one to have painted this scary picture of our new hot, flat and crowded world. There is a growing body of writing on the threat posed by global warming, which will reach alarming levels as populations rise, and millions of poor benefit from economic growth to raise their consumption levels.(See Common Wealth, Economics for a Crowded Planet, by Jeffrey Sachs, Allen Lane, 2008).

Hot, Flat, And Crowded
Why the World Needs a
Green Revolution — And
How We Can Renew Our
Global Future
Thomas L. Friedman
Allen Lane, 2008
Pages: 438
Price: Rs 595

But what makes Friedman’s book a compelling read is his case for American leadership in solving the problem. Friedman recognises that developing countries like India and China cannot be unfairly expected to sacrifice the promise of better life to their citizens, however unsustainable a load that places on the planet. Also, no country is better placed than the US to take the leadership in finding solutions to this. As Friedman argues, this is both a moral and capability issue. The US must show the way not only because it is most responsible for placing an unsustainable load on the planet’s resources, but also because it is the most resourceful. The US has unrivalled power to innovate and produce technologies that can move the world away from fossil fuels towards cleaner and renewable sources of energy.

Friedman presents an interesting account of America’s technological advancements in renewable sources of energy such as wind and solar. His description of a model that combines IT and energy to create a power grid that propels and incentivises both energy conservation and production of renewable energy is an eyeopener; there are exciting models that have the potential of meeting the threats of this “energyclimate” era. This is a must-read, particularly for India’s energy and technology planners.

The obvious question is: what prevents the US from seizing what Friedman calls “a unique opportunity” to prevent the world from hurtling towards an environmental disaster, and simultaneously establishing its dominance in a world hungry for clean energy hitechnologies and products? Friedman points to the distortion of US policies by lobbies that favour continuation of the fossil-fuel era at the cost of the nation and the world at large. With great clarity, he outlines how changes in fiscal and reward policies and regulatory structures can reshape the market for renewable energy solutions and deliver competitive alternatives to coal, gas and oil.

In Friedman’s new world that has “Code Green” as its key driver, renewables will not only make the US the saviour of the planet, but also bring cheap energy to reshape lives of millions of hungry and poor in parts of the world that are still “unflat”. They will also re-configure the global polity by getting rid of “Petrodictators” who thrive on high oil prices to suppress democracy. But the quickest and surest cure for Friedman’s hot, flat and crowded world is for the world’s biggest innovator, the US, to move decisively to “outgreen” others.

Friedman has lived up to his reputation for thought leadership. For those worried about the emerging megatrends of the “energyclimate” era, this book will add some more sleepless nights. It is unputdownable.

The author is Executive Director, PepsiCo India

Revisiting the classics
Who needs some radical self-help now to live for tomorrow? The US, UK, Iceland, merchant banks (who?), stock markets…. and home-owners.

Was big because:

A pathbreaking bestseller from Day 1, based on research into 200 years of the literature of success, the book’s teachings brought order, balance and focus into the lives of those who chose to follow its approach. Covey’s message: don’t fantasise: be proactive, picture the end in mind, put first things first, think win-win (not winlose), seek to understand first, synergise, and “sharpen the saw”. Covey says: You choose success. You choose failure. And things don’t just happen. There is no quick fix for effectiveness.

Why it still matters:
Is that a silly question? The world has changed a lot but look around you… banks are collapsing, countries are crying for loans, the stock markets have tanked, and your export market is up in smoke. So, what are the things you can control? Start with Chapter 1. Are you a leader looking for a solution? Think win-win (Chapter 5). Listen carefully before you wish to be heard. In fact, globally, the mood among countries is now cooperative, not competitive (even China’s central bank cut its rates). Wish the bankers responsible for the mess had read the book—and its message about integrity and maturity. And keep rejuvenating yourself—sharpen the saw, as Covey says. Don’t shoot yourself!

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