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The Race for What’s Left

Posted on Jun 5, 2013

By Louise Rubacky

(Page 2)

Indeed, dearth of wisdom is the principal problem that the world is up against: Over and over the author admits that bottom line economics has won—or is likely to win—over good sense and foresight when it comes to coping with the limits of growth. (This volume doesn’t cover the dedicated efforts of the Natural Resources Defense Council, Earth Justice and similar groups to preserve precious resources and wild places, without which there would be far fewer to write about at this moment in history.) However inspirational it may sound, living for the moment is the opposite of rationality, a non-plan that seems to guide global businesses.

Yet, or perhaps because of that, just 25 pages in the last chapter are all that the author devotes to adaptation and survival. That effort in the U.S. is flagging, and China, which has put real muscle behind clean technology, is highly dependent on imports to keep up with its development. And rare earth minerals like gallium, lithium and indium, necessary for some clean tech solutions, are destined to become conflict minerals as their demand exceeds supply. Geography, environmental restrictions and difficult access will keep prices high for the foreseeable future. Klare pops his green balloons even as he floats them.

China is already trapped in a loop of need and feed. While embracing technology that will use fewer resources, its markets can grow the Chinese economy; people want more, and use more. And although China’s explosive growth slowed a bit during the recession, the pace so far has created massive environmental problems with water and air quality, and it has overtaken the U.S. to win first place in carbon emissions—a losing lead if there ever was one.

Klare’s body of work suggests he’s on a mission to awaken everyone to the reality that contentious geopolitical zones are mounting because natural assets are shrinking. There’s more than enough here to alarm anyone who is interested, as I am, but a key question arises: how to draw more of the public’s attention to works like “The Race for What’s Left”? The limits of language in relaying the contents illustrate the academic’s challenge—reporting encyclopedic information while infusing the subject with freshness. The essential knowledge within its covers demands a delivery system that is both more appealing and palatable.

Material like this would reach more people—and be better absorbed—if it were offered in a newspaper or TV series, using video, animation and graphics that can visually highlight the human dimension of the problems, and make vivid their magnitude. Also, video installments would be retrievable online, where so many interact with information today. “Fantasy!” may be the reply of those familiar with obstacles to production in our ad driven, media consolidated world. But PBS, CNN and Discovery still produce relevant special reports, and online outlets are growing. And while the expense of location shooting cannot be dismissed, tools like Google Earth provide impressive imagery. (In 2006, activist Rebecca Moore used Google Earth presentations at community meetings to show residents of California’s Los Gatos Creek Canyon how planned logging would adversely affect them. The visuals galvanized the group, which previously had been presented with a misleading map by the logging firm, and the residents won their fight to keep the loggers out.)

One of the challenges of our time is to make critical information attractive in a world that has devolved into a 24/7 advertisement, telling us we need more stuff. Awareness and knowledge are now commodities on which our collective survival may depend, because we are engaged in an elaborate game of musical chairs, or as Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute calls it, another huge Ponzi scheme. Many will lose before the music stops, and some, especially those with penthouse views, will likely catch on too late for their kids and grandkids to thrive, regardless of their material and monetary inheritances.

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