LOS ANGELES - In 2005, he decided the world is flat. And the world, even though it's round, listened.
Now he says the world's also getting real hot and crowded. And he's offering a complicated take on why we'd better move fast before globalization runs us over.
Thomas Friedman, foreign affairs columnist of the New York Times and super-influential author of the mega-selling
The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twentieth Century
(Picador), is back - as an author, that is - with a new brief for the world.
On Friday here at BookExpo America (BEA), the annual meeting of the nation's publishers and booksellers, he gave BEA's keynote address, an advance look at his upcoming September book, now titled
Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need A Green Revolution
(Farrar, Straus & Giroux). He packed a double room at the Convention Center, drawing 600 people.
The World Is Flat
took him to a whole new level," said Jeffrey Seroy, publicity director of Friedman's distinguished publisher.
The columnist himself is now a global brand whose books are read in Doha and Detroit, Kazakhstan and Kansas.
These days, when this winner of three Pulitzer Prizes speaks, lots of people listen to him - political leaders (e.g. the king of Saudi Arabia), diplomats, other journalists, and certainly booksellers.
The last have watched happily as his books, which include
The Lexus and the Olive Tree
From Beirut to Jerusalem
(which won the National Book Award for nonfiction) fly out of their stores.
"I'm a big believer that if you can name an issue, you own it," said Friedman, famous for finding catchy phrases to explain geopolitical issues in accessible ways.
Originally, he had planned to call the new book by a title many booksellers thought it still retained:
Green Is the New Red, White and Blue
That had to change, Friedman said, when he came to realize the global demand for resources we're now seeing in the skyrocketing price of oil is far more than an American problem, and far more urgent than he first thought: more Code Green, he quipped, than green.
According to Friedman, a perfect storm of global warming, global flattening and population explosion is upon us.
As these forces converge, he added, all states will face five defining trends: the battle for energy resources; the threat of climate change; energy poverty; the rise of "petro-dictatorship;" and a threat to biodiversity.
Clean power, Friedman predicts, is "the world's next great global industry."
"If we want things to stay as they are," he warned, meaning First World lifestyles, "things will have to change." States and corporations that don't move fast to manage the consequences, he said, will be toast. "When flat meets crowded," he said, "watch out."
He noted that the world's population, under three billion at his birth in 1953, should hit 9.2 billion in 2053.
True to his globe-trotting life, Friedman had to zoom in and out of BEA, leaving no chance for audience members to ask questions.
His hosts apologized, explaining that they had to rush him immediately to LAX to catch a plane to Israel, where he received an honorary degree yesterday and planned to meet with Israeli leaders.
Before scooting out, Friedman left the crowd with a catchy phrase borrowed from an environmentalist source at Dartmouth who used it whenever asked whether we have enough time to save ourselves: "We have exactly enough time, starting now."