The Infinite Resource: The Power of Ideas on a Finite Planetby Ramez Naam
Climate change. Finite fossil fuels. Fresh water depletion. Rising commodity prices. Ocean acidification. Overpopulation. Deforestation. Feeding the world’s billions.
We’re beset by an array of natural resource and environmental challenges. They pose a tremendous risk to human prosperity, to world peace, and to the planet itself.
Yet, if we act,
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*A full executive summary of this book will be available at newbooksinbrief dot com, on or before Tuesday, April 30. We find ourselves at a crossroads, unsure of whether our impressive economic growth can continue, and equally unsure of whether our lavish lifestyle lives but on borrowed time (and resources). For writer Ramez Naam, though, we do have reason to be optimistic, and in his new book The Infinite Resource: The Power of Ideas on a Finite Planet Naam lays out the reasons for his optimism. To begin with, Naam argues that the natural resources on our planet are far from running out. He assures us that there is enough water and arable land on the earth's surface, minerals in the earth's crust, and energy from the sun to feed the demands of the planet's plateauing population for time out of mind (especially when we reuse and recycle these resources, which is what we are increasingly doing). The problem, at present, is our relative inefficiency in accessing the planet's resources. Even here, though, Naam argues, there is room for optimism. For our saving grace is our ability to innovate. It is our ability to innovate, Naam maintains, that is responsible for virtually all of our progress and economic growth to this point. It has brought us everything from the first stone tools and the ability to harness fire, to phones that fit in our pockets and allow us to access a world of information and all the world's people. Along the way (and more to the point), our ability to innovate has allowed us to access an ever greater percentage of the earth's resources (while at the same time decreasing the relative amount of resources that each of uses to achieve an increasingly affluent lifestyle). And the really wonderful thing about our ability to innovate is that, unlike natural resources, it does not shrink over time. Rather, it only expands. This is because innovation is built on ideas, and ideas themselves only grow and multiply. Ideas can even be shared without ever being diluted. Instead, the sharing of ideas often generates even more ideas. The power of ideas--and the innovation that goes along with it--truly is an infinite resource. With the right approach and policies, Naam argues, we can live in a world of plenty for all (and one that is clean to boot). This is a brilliant book. The writing is excellent, the logical flow is superb, the supporting evidence is well-chosen and extensive, and the argument is air tight. In a world that is dominated by fear-mongering on the one hand, and blind optimism on the other, Naam is a shining beacon of sober and rational thought. If you are looking for a big-picture view of the challenges we face and how best to meet them, this book is for you. A full executive summary of the book will be available at newbooksinbrief dot com, on or before Tuesday, April 30; A podcast discussion of the book will be available shortly thereafter.
This book is thoroughly researched and highly compelling. Naam meticulously lays out the facts that lead him to believe that our society, and the globe it depends on, are at a crossroads. Our oceans are overfished and acidifying, our population is expanding, our climate is changing, and the price of oil is climbing. Unlike a standard liberal polemic, however, Naam makes a strong case that we can meet these challenges through focused, on-going innovation - including nuclear power and GMOs. His is a unique view that does conform to the standard spin and dogma that currently polarizes American politics. Naam is an optimist but he is also a realist. He clearly believes that we cannot craft the future we want if we do not acknowledge the problems we currently face. This book will challenge your assumptions, lead you to scrutinize your own beliefs, and perhaps change the way you see the world.