Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Hot, Flat & Crowded - highlights

From a review and summary of the book by Thomas Friedman, taken (with permission) from a note on Facebook.
Hot, Flat & Crowded is a book by Thomas Friedman who, as a book reviewer notes, "is a journalist, and journalists needs editors, and this book needs serious editing. It's 400 pages of small type. There's a 220 page book in here somewhere, struggling to get out."
This is not that 220-page book, but the highlights of the book.

First some explanations of the title.

Flat - There was a prequel to this book about the world being flatter. By "flat" Friedman means that the internet, globalisation, removal of barriers has opened the world up to almost everyone. You can access ideas and thoughts of some of the brilliant minds in the world via the internet. With internet shopping you can sell things to the US without being there. And if you need to cross borders to pursue a job there are less barriers than in the past. Flat also means that you can see what is happening around the world. So if you can see how the Americans live, you can aspire to want to live like them.

Crowded - In the 1960s, there were about 3 billion people on the planet. Today, there are over 6 billion. In 12 - 15 years, there will be another billion added. Most of us will live to see the world hit a population of 9 billion people. In 100 years, the population of the world has tripled from 3 billion to 9 billion. That is crowded.

But this crowded world is not equally wealthy. About 1 billion people in the world are the "Golden Billion" these are people who live like Americans. They have an American standard of living, and they use and consume resources like an American. (An American on average consumes 32 times as much resources as say, an average Kenyan.) And in a flat world, everyone can see how this Golden Billion live... and want to be like them!
The problem is that behind this Golden Billion are 2 billion people aspiring to have an American lifestyle (think China and India if you need a way to grasp this idea.) The world cannot support 3 Golden Billion. It can't even support 1! Not in the current manner, anyway.

And that's not even the end, because behind that 2 billion aspiring people are another 3 billion hoping to get out of their poverty and improve their lives. And that's just today. In another 12 years, another billion will be added to the world and they will want that American Lifestyle too.

Hot - What's the problem? Well, if each of the 1 billion new people that are coming in the next 12 years were to be given a single 60-watt incandescent light bulb when he or she arrives (Each of those bulb, even with packaging is not very heavy, say about 50 grams, but 1 billion of them would weigh 20,000 metric tons!), when they turn on all the light bulbs at the same time, they will need 60,000 megawatts of electricity! Fortunately, they will only turn them on about 4 hours a night, so at any time, the power needed would 10,000 megawatts. That is still about twenty 500-megawatt power generating stations just so the new billion can have light!

Comment: Of course, a 60-watt incandescent bulb is rather outdated. Fluorescent is more efficient, but add the need to access internet, refrigerators, hot water, and consider a 60-watt X 4 hours a day or 240 watt per day requirement to be the bare minimum, and the problem can be seen to be a significant one. 
If these 20 power-generating plants were on a clean fuel system, that would be some consolation. But many plants today are coal, oil, or other fossil fuel burning. This means more carbon in the atmosphere. Which leads to climate change, and that is why the world is getting hotter.

Friedman contends that when crowded meets flat, the world gets hotter. As more people see the American lifestyle, they want to consume like the Americans. They want big homes, big cars, big TVs, and iPods and iPads, and all these need energy. And right now the world runs on what he calls the Dirty Fuel System, which leads to carbon emission, which leads to Global Climate Change.

Global Climate Change - The evidence for carbon-caused (or correlated) climate change is best provided by studies of ice-core samples. Ice cores are samples of ice drilled out from the Arctic circle ice sheets. The ice cores can go down to 2.5 km which would be about 150,000 to 200,000 years ago. Trapped air in the ice core reveal the composition of the atmosphere at that time. What ice core research has found is that increase in CO2 in the atmosphere correlates to warming periods and climate change.

Petrodictators - Friedman makes an argument that our petrol addiction is fuelling petrodictators. As the price of oil goes up, freedom in these oil-rich countries go down. Why? It is the corollary to the American Revolution slogan which was: "No Taxation without Representation". In oil-rich states, oil revenues means govt can function without taxation, and give out freebies. The oil-financed govt can use subsidies and incentives to pursue agendas unchecked by the people who can be bought off anyway with more petrol dollars. 
As oil prices increase, these petrodictators can pursue their agenda without scrutiny. So "No Taxation, AND no Representation".

Energy Poverty - But even with all these burning of fossil fuels, there are still about 1.6 billion people who have no access to electricity. They are poor, but in a flat world, their energy poverty is an even bigger obstacle to getting out of the circle of poverty, because without electricity, they cannot get on the internet, and they get left behind even further. Friedman makes the case that energy poverty is the reason for poor health (pollution from in-home wood stoves, oil lamps; poor sanitation; lack of clean water), over-crowding in cities from rural to urban migration (hey! they have electricity there!), illiteracy (children needed to fetch water, gather firewood, so can't go to school, no light, no internet), etc.

Most of the problems of poverty can be solved with access to energy.

With energy, people would be better able to deal with a hot world (think air-con, refrigeration). With energy, people can stop over-crowding super-cities. The internet and global networking can let people work globally and live locally. With work outsourced to people living in smaller towns and cities, the pressure for public services and the impact on the environment can be spread out.

"Energy can make a hotter world more tolerable, and a flatter world more equitable... and a crowded world more comfortable."

However, the solution is not the dirty fuel system. Or the dumb energy system (the energy demand fluctuates throughout the day and to ensure that there is sufficient energy, power companies have to ensure that their supply of electricity always has a reserve capacity above the peak demand and is ready to kick in at any time. That is dumb and wasteful, and polluting).

What is needed is a clean fuel system, and a smart energy grid. And he provides a vision of what that might mean in the book.

Some steps towards that smart energy grid:
What Friedman has done in this book is to make a compelling case for what the world needs to do. And the solutions are not yet invented. The improvements in solar, wind and alternate fuels/energy are incremental at best, when what is needed is exponential improvements. And there are no "205 easy ways to a greener lifestyle that will save the earth". The one word that we should never use for the green revolution is "easy".
Friedman argues convincingly for a Hotter, Flatter, more Crowded world, and why it will be so, and what must be done to make it less hot, and how to cope with a more crowded world, and what it means to live in a flat world.

Energy poverty is what is making and keeping the world unequal. So energy wealth is the answer. But continuing with Dirty Fuel Systems that add to a Hotter world, is not going to help.

The solutions, Friedman took pains to explain, is not going to be simple or easy. Solar, Wind and Alternate Fuels cannot solve the problem, completely, no matter what some idealists say or think.

But he got me thinking and asking, why can't solar power and alternative energies solve the problem?

Here's an article with an idealist/optimistic view and a rebuttal of that optimism.

Is solar power the solution? If so, can we start building a solar power infrastructure?
"In 2000, author Richard Rhodes and nuclear engineer Denis Beller calculated that using current solar power technologies to construct a global solar-energy system would consume at least 20 percent of the world's known iron resources, take a century to build and cover a half-million square miles. Clearly a lot of technological innovation needs to take place before solar becomes an option for fueling the world."
Ironically, building a low-carbon emitting power generation system relies on carbon-emitting tech.
Solar Energy: Not So Clean After All.Solar energy turns sunlight into electrical power. What’s not to like? Well, there is that whole process of manufacturing solar panels, which requires a great deal of energy. All that energy requires generation via means other than solar power -- usually coal.
“In the case of silicon-based solar panels, which are the most common type, the silicon material requires melting silica rock in roughly 3,000-degree F ovens,” notes The Data Center Journal. “That energy, however, typically comes from coal plants, meaning that although solar panels may produce no emissions when in operation, they indirectly produce a fair amount during manufacturing.”
And uses significant amount of rare earth elements.
Rare Earths Not So Rare, Actually.It’s an almost-ironic situation where carbon-intensive production and mining methods are used to manufacture products designed to lower the overall carbon footprint. 
See, to get those wonderful turbines, one needs a rather large quantity of rare earth minerals (which, despite their name, are not so rare). Mining and processing these rare earths generates a tremendous amount of “hazardous and radioactive byproducts,” the DCJ reports, which “can cause tremendous harm to both people and the environment.”
In fact, the environmental effects of rare earth mining can be literally sickening. In the Mongolian town of Baotou, the epicenter of Chinese rare earths production, the mining has literally killed off the local farming, The Guardian reports: “The soil and groundwater are saturated with toxic substances. Five years ago (local farmer) Li had to get rid of his sick pigs, the last survivors of a collection of cows, horses, chickens, and goats, killed off by the toxins.”
Rare Earths Not So Eco-Friendly, Either.According to the online journal Ecocred, “[A]n electric car might use nearly 10 times the amount of rare earth metals as opposed to a conventional car, which uses a little more than one pound of rare earth materials.”
Research conducted at MIT noted, “A single large wind turbine (rated at about 3.5 WM) typically contains 600 kg, or about 1,300 lbs, of rare earth metals.”
The grim trade-off between obtaining power from wind and the methods required to make that happen leave those within the industry uncomfortable. “Executives in the $1.3 billion rare-earths mining industry say that
less environmentally damaging mining is needed, given the importance of their product for green energy technologies,The New York Times wrote back in 2009, adding that Nicholas Curtis, the executive chairman of the Lynas Corporation of Australia, in a speech to an industry gathering in Hong Kong said, “This industry wants to save the world. We can’t do it and leave a product that is glowing in the dark somewhere else, killing people.”

Friedman does a good job of explaining the world today and the world to come. Then he spells out the problem of a Hot, Flat and Crowded world.

The problem is not easy to solve and anyone who tells you that it is, is trying to sell you something.

The solution is not in sight. It is not simply solar power. Or alternative energies. Or nuclear. In the interim it is probably going to be all and everything we can throw at the problem, while we work towards a better solution.


kehyi said...

The solution is to become less crowded, ie, we need less people on Earth, not more. Alas, this is politically, and possibly ethically, indefensible. Perhaps the grim law of Malthus will force the solution upon us, but I shudder at the prospect.

El Lobo Loco said...

Oh god. A neo-Malthusian spouting defunct and debunked "laws".

Well, if by "law of Malthus" you mean eventually resources will run out and people will die out, then you don't have to worry. If it is indeed a "Law", it will happen and there is nothing we need to do about it, and nothing we CAN do about it, and all this worrying is for nothing.

Why is Malthus defunct and debunked?

From this: http://heresthenews.blogspot.sg/2009/11/too-many-people-no-too-many-malthusians.html

"Malthusians" have been predicting the end of the world or the end of humanity since 200 AD. And in every case, they have been wrong.

"There is a reason Malthusians are always wrong. It isn’t because they’re stupid… well, it might be a little bit because they’re stupid. But more fundamentally it is because, while they present their views as fact-based and scientific, in reality they are driven by a deeply held misanthropy that continually overlooks mankind’s ability to overcome problems and create new worlds."

The "reasons" or arguments change, but the fundamental belief has been consistent: There are too many people.

"In the time of Malthus in the eighteenth century the main concern was with the fecundity of poor people. In the early twentieth century there was a racial and eugenic streak to population-reduction arguments. Today they have adopted environmentalist language to justify their demands for population reduction."

So if you want to believe in defunct and debunked scaremongering, and conclude that "we need less people", and that "natural laws" will operate, so there is nothing we can do and nothing we need to do, you are welcome to your beliefs.

The only reason I can see to hold such a belief is to excuse inaction. After all, if the world is over-populated, and drastic corrective action will come to pass, there is nothing to be done, and there's no need to try to find solutions to feed a hungry world, or to provide energy to the energy poor.

Your possible contribution to this scenario is to not reproduce yourself.

For this, I thank you on behalf of the world for not propagating your genes.

(In the even that you have already reproduced yourself, you are a hypocrite.)

However, the rest of the non-Malthusian world will probably try to solve the many problems. It is what humanity does, it may even be what humanity does best.

Try not to get in the way.