Friedman writes an extremely accessible, well-crafted analysis of the environmental, economic, and political forces shaping the rising storm of environmental destruction and extremist terrorism generated by our over-reliance on fossil fuels and myopic growth strategies. While he may be criticized for coining too many catch-phrases and trumpeting nationalist rhetoric, Friedman is writing for the popular market and he does an admirable job of communicating complex, interrelated dynamics in multiple domains in easily understandable language using vivid examples. His cross-disciplinary approach in explicating the issues is much needed, as it reveals the limitations of ideology and silos of thought in solving the systemic problems we face, a task which requires seeing the whole.

If you have been paying attention to the hard trends of the environment, economy, & population, Friedman’s book will not bring much new. However, it is worth recommending not only for its clear communication of the urgency of the problems of global warming-induced climate change and of massive species loss, as well as of the political and social fall-out of the rise of “petro-dictatorship”-funded Islamic fundamentalist extremists, but also for its accessible analysis of the structural issues at work that have created the current dynamics. (I would not have thought learning about the regulatory structure of the public utility commissions governing the energy industry could be interesting.)

While I lack enthusiasm for some of the specific regulations Friedman advocates as partial solutions in this area (RES, CAFE, and other efficiency standards in particular, which I see as heavy-handed side-shows), I share his fundamental belief in the need for bold government leadership in this area and echo his calls for phasing-in strong price signals to reduce GHG-producing activities (preferably through a carbon tax/tax shifting or cap-and-dividend system) and radically re-orientating of market incentives to promote efficiency, conservation, and clean energy.

For its dire message, Friedman’s book remains hopeful and optimistic, and points both to heartening examples of progress being made as well as to the specific changes (primarily political and economic) that must be made to “manage what is unavoidable and avoid what is unmanageable” in the coming “energy-climate” era. The issues Friedman rasises should be in everyone’s consciousness, informing both individual action and (even more importantly) political choices.

Read the book (or listen to the audio program, as I did) and then pass the message along.