Sunday, June 13, 2010

Hot, Flat, and Crowded, by Thomas L. Friedman

Review by Bill Doughty

Why do we race to use up the earth’s non-renewable resources? How can we prevent the destruction of our ecosystem? Those are key questions posed in Tom Friedman’s follow-up to The World is Flat, entitled Hot, Flat, and Crowded (Why We Need a Green Revolution -- and How It Can Renew America).”

Friedman says the crisis we face is an “opportunity”:

“Why an opportunity? Quite simply because the human race can no longer continue to power its growth with the fossil-fuel-based system that has evolved since the Industrial Revolution and thrust us into the Energy-Climate Era,” Friedman writes.

“If we do, the earth’s climate, forests, rivers, oceans, and ecosystems are going to be increasingly disrupted. We need a new Clean Energy System to drive our economies forward and bring more people out of poverty -- without despoiling our planet -- and therefore the countries, communities, and companies that invent and deploy clean power technologies most effectively will have a dominant place in tomorrow’s global economy.”

But the questions remain. How can people be convinced to take action toward a greener economy? How can the gulf of suspicion, disbelief and linear thinking be bridged? What can be done to deal with a hot, flat and crowded world?

The Navy has some answers and is taking big steps toward adopting alternative energy, reducing pollution and controlling climate change, all in order to save and protect the environment and make the world more secure -- from the Gulf of Mexico to the Arabian Gulf.

On June 9, 2010 Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, who understands the issues, both as former governor of Mississippi and then ambassador to Saudi Arabia in the mid-90s, spoke to the Naval War College about Navy and Marine Corps efforts to reduce dependence on fossil fuels.

Mabus spoke about the Navy's first hybrid ship, the amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island (LHD 8), which saves millions of dollars in fuel costs by using an electric drive for speeds of 10 knots or less.

"Over the lifetime of that ship, if fuel prices remain absolutely the same, we will save about a quarter of a billion dollars in fuel. We're prototyping that engine to be retrofitted onto our guided-missile destroyers so that we can begin to move that further out into the fleet," said Mabus.

"In April (2010), we flew the Green Hornet, an F-18 Hornet,” Mabus said. “The Green Hornet, a regular off-the-shelf F-18, supersonic, flew on a mixture of regular gasoline and biofuel...”

USS Independence (LCS 2) joins USS Freedom (LCS 1) as a new generation, sleek and fast, energy-efficient Navy ship, operating with a small crew.

"We're the first all-aluminum warship," said Lt. Cmdr. Philip Garrow last April. The 419-foot ship is started with the help of a computer mouse, and steered with joysticks and powered not with propellers, but rather with four jets. The Independence's hull is also a trimaran. "We're really like a giant outrigger canoe," Garrow said.

The biofuel-powered boat John W. Finn, named after the Medal of Honor recipient who passed away last month, already takes hundreds of visitors to the USS Arizona Memorial every day in Pearl Harbor.

The Navy is building new infrastructure with carbon reduction, marine mammal protection and energy conservation in the forefront. Coordinating with the U.S. Coast Guard, the Navy conducts international fisheries enforcement in the Pacific. Environmental stewardship is tied with maritime security and Navy’s efforts are reported in the quarterly magazine Currents.

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead said in an address to the Surface Navy Association, “The world is running out of oil. If we don't get serious about energy, we're delivering a terrible future to our children."

In April 2010, Adm. Jon Greenert, Vice Chief of Naval Operations, released the Navy Climate Change Roadmap. The first sentence of the executive summary states: “Climate change is a national security challenge with strategic implications for the Navy.”

Last month, Commander, Naval Installations Command Vice Adm. Mike Vitale hosted a conference with CEOs of Navy and Marine Corps Public Private Venture housing. His discussion on process improvements to provide efficient and effective service focused on the impact of rising energy costs affecting all Navy installations.

Military leaders at the highest echelons recognize the value of controlling energy costs, controlling our reliance on oil and reducing our carbon footprint.

Friedman devotes a good part of Chapter 14 to recognizing the “green hawks” of the Pentagon who support more solar energy, improved insulation and greater reduction of fossil fuel use. Energy reduction is tied to greater security, a policy especially embraced by Army and Marine Corps leaders in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Friedman uses real-world examples and scientific evidence to outline his argument, showing how unrestrained population growth causes destruction of the environment, depletes resources and puts people everywhere at risk.

The countries that invest in a new Green way of thinking will survive and be strong. He devotes a clear-eyed assessment of the challenges facing China, and asks whether Red China can turn green.

For the United States, “Green is the new Red, White and Blue,” Friedman says, and should appeal to both progressives and conservatives (in the truest sense of progressing and conserving).

In other words, the issues transcend politics.

Navy Capt. Rymn Parsons reminds us in Proceedings Magazine this week about a 2007 study that predicts increased tensions in stable regions and more volatility in unstable regions. “Infertile, inhospitable conditions may prove fertile and hospitable to extremist ideology and inviting to transnational crime.”

Parsons says, “President Obama noted in his 2009 Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech: ‘It is not merely scientists and activists who call for swift and forceful action—it is military leaders in my country and others who understand that our common security hangs in the balance.””

According to Friedman, “the green revolution is similar to the civil rights movement in that it is about personal virtue... but the civil rights movement started with citizen activism...”

Unless there is an groundswell of such activism, “Green is still more option than necessity.”

Friedman answers the big question of how to achieve a citizen activism and a tipping-point breakthrough in American understanding of the threats, challenges and opportunities: “Leadership.”

“Whenever you face a big challenge, like ending segregation or fighting a world war, the quality of leadership is often the deciding factor,” Friedman writes. “In the case of the Energy-Climate Era, we need leaders who can shape the issues so that people understand why ignoring them is such a threat and why rising to them is such an opportunity. We also need leaders who not only understand the importance of dealing with this problem in a systemic way, but who can actually generate the vision and authority to pull that system together.”

As a follow-up to The World Is Flat, lays out a harvest of choices. He concludes with some gentle suggestions: “First, pay attention and personally lead as environmentally sustainable a life as you can.” Then, translate personal commitments into national and international commitments by choosing and supporting good leaders.

(Friedman’s book was published before the terrible oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, where the Navy is working with the U.S. Coast Guard in support of the Department of Homeland Security to help clean up and control oil pollution. Nearly 100,000 feet of oil boom has been provided by the Navy; Navy skimmer systems are working with full crews at various locations along the coast. Naval Air Station Pensacola is serving as a staging facility and is on a front line of the crisis.)