Top University administrators mixed with students and faculty at a sold-out Page Auditorium Monday night to hear a speech about politics, energy, the environment-and a dubious geographical concept.
"People used to know that Columbus discovered the world was round, now everyone knows that Thomas Friedman discovered that it was flat," said President Richard Brodhead in his introduction of the Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The New York Times.
Friedman, whose 2005 book "The World Is Flat" proposed that globalization has "flattened" the world's economy, was on campus to promote the release of his new book, "Hot, Flat and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution-And How It Can Renew America."
The United States has lost its collective focus since 9/11 to become a "United States of Fighting Terrorism," Friedman explained. The book calls for an environmental transformation in the U.S.
"It actually just masquerades as a book about energy and the environment. It is really a book about America," he said. "Green is obviously the new red, white and blue-it has to be."
Several students said Friedman made an argument about energy and the environment in a way that could appeal to everyone.
"I don't necessarily know that Friedman is saying anything new, but he is definitely saying it in a way no one has ever said it before," junior Vivek Upadhyay said.
Climate change, biodiversity loss, supply and demand for energy and the rise of oil-rich dictatorships are among the major global problems, Friedman said. He added that the world has become hot from global warming, flat through rising economic prosperity in developing countries and crowded from rapid population growth.
"When flat meets crowded, watch out," he said. "You will know the green revolution is here when somebody gets hurt."
Friedman advised that the development of an abundant, cheap and clean source of reliable energy is the single solution that will address all of the problems identified in the book. Environmental technology could be the next great global industry and create a social and economic overhaul mirroring the information technology revolution, he added.
Although Friedman called himself a "capitalist," he said government would have to intervene somewhat to implement price signals and standards. Friedman concluded by saying he was an "optimist" about the challenges he presented, but junior Ananth Srinivasan said Friedman's tone seemed to become more urgent since his last book.
"I certainly feel that we are in slightly more dire times than we were a few years ago when 'The World is Flat' came out and he came to Duke to publicize that," he said.
Students who had the opportunity to attend a question-and-answer session with Friedman earlier in the day said they were impressed by his message, even if it sounded at times rehearsed.
"Even in our question-and-answer session he managed to work in what sounded like scripted answers," junior Alyssa Dack said. "There is nothing wrong with that. He still has a great personality that comes through when he is talking."
After the speech Friedman headed to the Doris Duke Center at the Duke Gardens where he was scheduled to attend a dinner in his honor hosted by Brodhead, said Teddie Brown, a staff specialist at the Terry Sanford Institute of Public Policy.
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