In the first chapter Abu Dhabi’s project to build a post petroleum city, Masdar, to tackle the future scenarios of an oil and water poor middle East is discussed.
Through the dying hazes of the alcohol permeating my brain I was once again struck by this passage on the nature of scarcity:
Even in a world without oil, Masdar is still bathed in sunlight. A lot of sunlight. The amount of solar energy that hits our atmosphere has been well established at 174 petwatts (1.740 x 10^17 watts), plus or minus 3.5 percent. Out of this total solar flux, approximately half reaches the Earth’s surface. Since humanity currently consumes about 16 terrawatts annually (going by 2008 numbers), there’s over five thousand times more solar energy falling on the planets surface than we use in a year. Once again, it’s not an issue of scarcity it’s an issue of accessibility.
Moreover, as far as water wars are concerned, Masdar sits on the Persian Gulf – which is a mighty aqueous body. The Earth itself is a water planet, covered 70 percent by oceans. But these oceans, like the Persian Gulf, are far too salty for consumption or crop production. In fact, 97.3 percent of all water on this planet is salt water. What if, though, in the same way that electrolysis easily transformed bauxite into aluminium, a new technology could desalinate just a minute fraction of our oceans? How thirsty is Masdar then?
The point is this: When seen through the lens of technology, few resources are truly scarce; they’re mainly inaccessible. Yet the threat of scarcity still dominates our worldview.
Apart from the obvious TECHNOLOGY F**K YEAH, exclamation that invokes, Peter and Steven are right. Energy and water scarcity are the two biggest resource worries at the present. But we have that stuff in abundance: The sun and the oceans. All we need to do is liberate them, just as our ancestors liberated fruit from tall trees with sticks. It’s not a nature of running out of resources, it’s a nature of making them accessible.
There are asteroids out there in the asteroid belt full of platinum and rare earth metals.
Let’s get them.