The science, history, mythology, and economics are all intertwined in the story of how humans extract resources from the planet. Plants and animals have been extracting resources since life began, but only now do we extract more than the replenishment of the resources. Going from how early philosopher views of the planet being a giant life form, Gaia, providing all the resources and helping regenerated the resources once extracted, to the actual science behind the resource formation.
After gravity collected massive rock, the heavy resources sank to the core. That means that after the formation of the planet, to have the variety of resources in the mantle, the earth must have been hit by a variety of meteors. Many resources created via a cycle in extreme temperatures on the planter, while others are biological remnants.
Given the resources, Bardi goes through the history of how the resources were used. From tools to weapons to empires and money, the nuances and difficulties with extraction and application were provided. It took a lot of experimentation to find the proper application of many resources. With some regions having resources that other regions want, wars broke out.
A key to all the extraction problems is the energy needed to extract and refine them. Going from high grade ore to lower grade ones increases the amount of energy needed to extract the same amount of resources. There is a finite amount of resources on the planet, but many will still be there for ages to come. The extraction of many low-grade regions will cost more energy than the energy the resources would provide.
There are many sources from were resources can be extracted such as mines, sea, fusion, space, and recycling. Mines provide more access to high grade deposits. The sea contains a variety of resources, but separating them would be costly. With fusion, we have something of a magical machine that creates resources we need from other resources. Space rocks have resources, but most of the resources we use come from the interaction between living geological and biological formations, while space rocks are dead geologically and biologically. The resources go into the products we use, after using products, some of the materials can be recycles again, but at cost to both resource function and the amount that can be extracted. The sea, fusion, space, and recycling, can all help the industrial process continue producing high living standards, the problem is that the energy needed to extract resources from those sources, currently is or will always be much greater than the energy we get from them.
Changing production methods to reduce global warming is only part of the problem the planet it is facing. The way humans live will drastically change to the resource contrast on production. With less production, maybe pollution and greenhouses gasses will be less of a problem, but humans will still face drastic changes. The author has a chapter on a variety of ways to measure the depletion of resources, some of which have failed while other more successful. Although many models have been wrong, it does not decrease the importance of the fact that depletion is unavoidable due to the limited supply of resources. The models allow industries and people to prepare to adapt to either substitutes or limiting their use of the deleted resource.
One problem this book has is with economics. The author claims that many governments and corporations want to grow. Rather than focus on growth, we should be focusing on sustaining for we cannot grow forever with the limited resources we have. The problem is that wealth does not require extraction resources. There is no requirement for wealth producing products to be tangible. Intangible services are part of the production process as well. Although we will need to extract resources to maintain the social structure, there will be less pressure to produce tangible products that are resource intensive.
The book is heavy with science and statistics, but the author writes with a prose that is easy to read without degrading the complicity of the issues. Each chapter provides articles that are tangent to the story, but provide a different view of the concept under discussion. These ‘glimpses’ not only help make the topic more understandable, they also go deeper into a particular topic. The author does claim that humans can adapt, but adaption has a variety of limitations. Even through each resource can be used more productively such as using less of the resources per product, that is not enough to prevent major changes in society.
Pages to read: 253
1st Edition: 2014
Ratings out of 5: