2011 AIA Convention - Mega-Regions

AIA convention log

Mega regions—The World of the Future (GS001)


Thomas Friedman, Foreign Affairs columnist for The New York Times, Author of Hot, Flat and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution—and How It Can Renew America

Session Blurb

If we have one obligation, it is to pass on this country, with its institutions and opportunities, to the next generation so that they have a chance to achieve the American dream and live better lives than we do. The consequences of globalization and a lack of seriousness when it comes to protecting the environment are making this an increasingly complicated task. As mega-regions, networks of cities with shared economies, ecosystems, and transportation systems, continue to expand, the world is becoming an increasingly "flat" place—that is, a place in which American workers are increasingly competing with workers in countries with emerging markets. To remain competitive, Americans must be willing to invest in things like infrastructure, education, immigration, and the environment. By taking ownership of our actions and sacrificing in order to achieve our higher goals, we can ensure our country will be a truly exceptional place to live for generations to come. Thomas Friedman points to solutions that will empower us to do just that, and paints a vivid picture of our future world.



One of the main purposes of any convention keynote presentation is to stir the attendees.  Make them feel enthusiastic about being at the convention.  Get them excited for the overall convention experience.  The keynote by Thomas Friedman did just that.  I found him to be a very dynamic speaker.  He was skilled at painting vivid pictures with his words as he spoke, much in the same way he does when he writes.

I was first introduced to his writing when I read his 2005 book, The World is Flat.  This was a very interesting read about globalization.  I highly recommend it.  His newest book, Hot, Flat and Crowded, was the basis for his talk.  More information about it here.

Sadly, with presentations such as this, the enthusiasm and energy with which this presentation was given cannot be adequately transcribed to a simple blog post.  However, I think there are still some interesting quotes that I can share as I outline his talk.

He started by painting a detailed picture of the current state of affairs in America.  He said that the perception is that America is falling. We are not growing sustainably, both in the market place and the environment. We under price the risk, privatize the gains and socialize the losses in both the market and the environment.  Peoples attitudes are IGB, UBG: do what you want now because either I'll Be Gone or You'll Be Gone.  The difference is situational values versus sustainable values.  Then he set the stage for the next part of the talk by giving his definition of ecology and economy: Mother Nature is biology, chemistry and physics; The Market is a balance of fear and greed.

In the second part, he talked about his book, Hot, Flat and Crowded.  Hot means global warming; Flat means a hyper connected world; Crowded means 8 billion now, 10 billion by 2050.  He outlined 5 issues from this book about our future. 

  1. Energy and Natural resource supply and demand.  Someone invented a new form of measurement called the Americom which is 300 million people living like Americans. In 1953 there were 2.5 Americom. Today there is 8 Americom.  This will grow and strain resources.
  2. Petro politics or Petro dictatorships.  The price of oil is inverse to the freedom of people in the oil producing countries.  This was a very interesting comparison.  Essential, freedom drives down the price of oil.  He had some very compelling data from respectable sources to back this up.  It was very sad.
  3. Climate Change.  Referred to by Joseph Romm as Global Weirding, because of the crazy weather it causes.  We need to buy insurance now against climate change. Nobody buys insurance because they are certain they will need it. They buy insurance because they are uncertain.  Climate change is one of the most uncertain things facing the planet today.
  4. Energy Poverty.  1 in 4 people in the world don't have access to power.  Some of the images shown during this part of the presentation were heartbreaking.  One I remember was an image of about 15 young men in one of the African countries.  They were all in a evenly spaced row, sitting on short round bollards beside a road.  There, they were reading and doing their homework.  The road was at the airport and they went there because that was the only place they had access to light after dark…from the street lamps.
  5. Biodiversity Loss.  This is the new Noah age. We need to save species now. There is no time for later. One species is lost every 20 minutes.

In the last part of his presentation, Mr. Friedman talk about his idea for a solution to all of the issues identified above.  His suggested solution:  Abundant, Cheap, Clean, Reliable Electrons.  We need a green revolution. What we are having is a green party. No one is getting hurt. Have you every seen a revolution where someone doesn't get hurt?  America can be the innovation leader in this area.  We excel at solving systems problems and this is a systems problem.  We need to instill an ecosystem of codes and laws.  There must be a cost for carbon and we must support and scale innovation.

His last comment was “change your leader, not your light bulb”.

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