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Hot, flat, and blinded by science

Posted by Christopher Shea  October 30, 2008 08:53 AM

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The environmental writer Bill McKibben is glad that Thomas Friedman has, with his new book, "Hot, Flat, and Crowded," thrown his lot in with those who think that global warming and an energy revolution ought to be two of the United States' highest priorities. But he's got a couple of complaints.

First, what took so long? Friedman's last two chart-topping tomes about globalization barely mentioned climate change -- and had Friedman weighed in back then it might have been braver and made more of a difference.

Second, Friedman is locked into reverence for technology, sometimes at the expense of common sense. He conjures up a house so "smart" that its room lights are triggered by motion sensors; a central monitoring device is in constant contact with the local public utility, automatically reducing consumption at peak times; the house generates its own energy from wind and the sun; and "when the sun is shining brightly and the wind is howling" the house's energy-brain will turn on your dryer, finishing up your laundry.

McKibben asks: "Does it ever occur to him, in the grip of a fantasia like this, that if the sun is shining brightly, or the breeze is blowing steadily, you could dry your clothes on a $14 piece of rope strung off your back deck, or for that matter on a foldable rack in the apartment hallway?" Friedman's smart house is more benign version of the much-hyped hydrogen car, in other words: They're both sexy and a long way off, while there are other, simpler solutions already at hand.

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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
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