I picked up Hot, Flat, and Crowded on the recommendation of someone on the internet, as is my wont. And I gotta tell ya-- it was worth it.
Yeah, it was depressing. Books about the environment, international relations, and energy sources tend to do that all by themselves. When you mix the three in varying levels within one book, it gets heavy in a hurry.
Mainly, this is a book about energy efficiency, and how our current system isn't getting us there. Thomas Friedman's vision for a future energy system, which includes a smart grid that sells kilowatt hours in the same way that phone companies sell peak and off-peak minutes, was really fascinating. I'd love for my house to run my washing machine when electricity was cheapest, thus rewarding me for having a bit of patience and foresight, instead of just running it when I'm about to be smothered by laundry. I'd probably be a lot better at planning ahead if that were the case. One point that he repeats a few times is that as a society, changing our system will be hard. The changes that one can make on a personal or family level may be easy, or at least on the tolerable end of the easy-to-hard scale. But across our nation as a whole, the changes that he proposes will be hard and will meet with plenty of resistance. And that's what was depressing.
But on to the stuff that I really agreed with. He writes, "In 2008, if the money and mobilization effort spent on Live Earth had gone into lobbying the U.S. Congress for... tax credits for renewable energy, and other green legislation, the impact would have been vastly more meaningful." And that's exactly my problem with awareness-raising campaigns-- yes, people need to know stuff, but at some point you need to say, "Okay, everyone gets it now, we can do something." I watched the Live Earth concerts in 2007, all the while wondering how much electricity they were using and whether there would be a field full of litter left behind afterwards, just like at every other concert. Not to mention the repeated PSAs about flying less and cutting back on driving that were scattered throughout the program-- never mind that the rock stars in the concerts had to get to their destinations by flying. Goodness knows I approached the program with my usual level of cynicism, but it was pretty well hardened into hostility when a reporter asked the question burning on my mind: I don't remember his exact wording, it was basically that they were using a lot of resources to ask people to use fewer resources, and how did they reconcile that? The performer he asked answered (and this I do remember), "Yeah, I've been hearing that. I hate those people who hate." What? First of all, it's a reasonable question, and secondly, the only person "hating" in this sentence is you. So after that you might say I've had an aversion to "raising awareness". (Also, I bet Live Earth found a better spokesperson.)
Anyway, I recommend the book if you're at all interested in environmental issues. Stick it out through the political stuff so that you can get to the good stuff later on.
Have you read this book? What do you think about awareness campaigns? Would you use electricity differently if it cost different amounts at different times?