The Race for What’s Left: The Global Scramble for the World’s Last Resources – Book Review

klare01-1339426043978By Michael Klare, the natural resources expert who told us that the disappearance of easy to access and extract “cheap oil” will lead to the development of unconventional energy resources like tar sands, oil shale, deepwater drilling, mountaintop removal, artic oil exploration and that these developments will come at growing environmental and human costs. 

In this easy to read page-turner, Michael Klare argues that growing global demand for natural resources since the Industrial Revolution is now causing a major crisis of resource depletion: easy and cheap to access raw materials like wood, iron, copper, tin and coal, and more recently oil, natural gas, uranium, titanium and other specialized minerals are approaching exhaustion. Michael describes how multinational corporations and governments are increasingly competing in what he calls the “Race for What’s Left” to secure access, at escalating costs, to dwindling resources in increasingly remote locations like the deep oceans or the Arctic. In his view, the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico offers “only a preview of the dangers to come”. He illustrates how the race for resources inevitably results in tensions and conflicts – in the Falkland Islands that are contested by Argentina and the United Kingdom, it is believed that the region holds up to 18 billion barrels of oil, or in the East China Sea, or the Caspian Sea, to name a few examples. He warns that this struggle for resources intensifies friction between nations in ways that can lead to armed conflict and that we lack the institutions and global governance tools to properly address these geo-political challenges. According to Klare, our only way out is to dramatically alter our patterns of consumption, something he calls the “greatest challenge of the coming century”.

This dramatic call energy and resource productivity brings to mind two recent constructive and solutions-oriented books by practitioners on how to to reduce the pressure on natural resources through an energy and resource efficiency revolution:

–       Factor Five (see Book Review) By Ernst von Weizsäcker and The Natural Edge Project on how to achieve 80%+ improvements in energy and resource productivity at a profit

–       Reinventing Fire by Amory Lovins and the Rocky Mountain Institute on how America can overcome its oil and coal addiction by 2050 with a 158% bigger economy while saving $5 trillion (2010 net present value) – (Book Review coming soon).

Factor Five: Transforming the World Economy through 80% Resource Productivity Improvements – Book Review

FactorFive(front)largeFactor Five” is the long awaited sequel to the 1997 celebrated bestseller “Factor Four: Doubling Wealth, Halving Resource Use” by Ernst von Weizsäcker, Amory B. Lovins, and L. Hunter Lovins. For “Factor Five” Weizsäcker is back with Charlie Hargroves, Michael Smith, Cheryl Desha and Peter Stasinopoulos as co-authors, a team of “early career Australians” who are part of The Natural Edge Project Team that aims to promote sustainable development solutions across all sectors of modern society.



With Ernst von Weizsäcker

With Ernst von Weizsäcker

Factor Five provides a compelling case for dramatically increasing resource productivity (at a profit) but also raises the stakes in a world where the impact of the global community is challenging the planet’s ability to cope. Rather then being fatalistic, the book inspires hope with solutions for a world where energy and resources are in short supply and where the emphasis of technological progress should be on energy and resource productivity, improving economic performance while benefitting the environment. Pragmatic and solutions oriented, the book focuses on adopting a whole-system approach to increase productivity across key sectors (buildings, heavy industry, agriculture and transport) and analyzes the policy, tax & regulatory, and financial aspects that must be addressed if we are to provide “sufficiency in a civilized world”.

The nations, corporations and households that adopt these strategies will achieve factor five resource-productivity improvements and will prosper and enjoy a lasting competitive advantage in an increasingly resource-constrained world.

Innovation waves

Just as “labor productivity” drove competitiveness during the first 200 years of the industrial revolution, economic advantage in the future will depend on resource-productivity where improvements will be driven by advances in sustainability, whole system design, bio-mimicry, green chemistry, industrial ecology, renewable energy and green nanotechnology.

This book represents an essential read for political and business leaders, government officials and anyone interested in sustainability and human progress.