It was neither hot nor flat, but it was rather crowded at Thomas Friedman’s lecture in the President’s Room in Woolsey Hall on Thursday afternoon.
The United States and the world face daunting challenges in the 21st century, Friedman said, including climate change, oil-rich dictatorships and population growth. But on the bright side, he added, all those problems have the same solution: cheap, abundant, clean fuel.
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Fresh off an appearance on Martha Stewart’s show in the morning, Friedman was hoarse from six weeks of touring to promote his latest book, “Hot, Flat and Crowded.” Friedman — part philosopher, part proselytizer, part public intellectual and part salesman — wielded a rudimentary PowerPoint presentation, folksy metaphors and catchy mnemonics to captivate several hundred people in the audience, which included many students but was mostly an older crowd.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist said his book is about how America has “lost its groove” as a nation and how it can get it back. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, American political power has dominated, and the United States became complacent about taking the lead on innovation without a rival.
“What would Yale be without Harvard?” Friedman asked.
Meanwhile, his historical narrative continued, globalization has increased economic interdependence and competition. Middle classes are emerging across the world, and more and more people are now living and consuming like Americans.
The result has been an explosion of consumption at an unsustainable pace, he said. The earth cannot support that standard of living for so many people “unless we redefine what it means to live like an American,” he said.
Former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo GRD ’81 , the director of the Center for the Study of Globalization, introduced Friedman and said the columnist’s insights on globalization were timely.
“We are going through a dramatic crisis some people believe could have been prevented but was not,” Zedillo said. “Now we’re going to pay the consequences.””
Energy technology, Friedman predicted, will be the next great industry. The country that pioneers sustainable and abundant energy will be the richest, most secure and best respected in the world. And, Friedman said, that country has to be the United States.
But the kind of green revolution he envisions has not even begun, he said. It will require huge investments and sacrifices.
“In the green revolution we’re having now, everybody’s a winner,” he said. “That’s not a revolution — that’s a party.”
The material sounded familiar to readers of Friedman’s columns or past books.
“It wasn’t a lot of new stuff,” Jamie Fletcher ’11 said. “It was mainly what he’s been saying in his editorials.”
“Hot, Flat and Crowded,” which received tepid reviews for its repetitiveness and heavy reliance on anecdotes, has been on The New York Times best-seller list for five weeks, rising this week to second from third place.
Earlier in the day, Friedman and his daughter Orly Friedman ’07, now a teacher with Teach for America, attended a luncheon with 20 Davenport College students, who were selected by lottery.
The students asked Friedman about his career, his approach to journalism and his take of current events and foreign affairs. Friedman, in turn, seemed just as interested in what is going on at Yale. Told that University President Richard Levin’s priorities included science, sustainability and globalization, Friedman remarked, “Sounds like my kind of guy.”
While the group talked, they ate with eco-friendly biodegradable flatware.