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Can We Afford to Keep Plundering the Planet?

Mineral treasures that took millions, even billions of years to form are now being squandered in just centuries—even decades. A central question that has been vigorously debated for the last two centuries is simple: Are we going to run out?

Ugo Bardi, author of Extracted: How the Quest for Mineral Wealth is Plundering the Planet says, “We have been acting with mineral resources as if we were pirates looting a captured galleon: grabbing everything we can, as fast as we can.”

In Extracted, Bardi argues the issue is not purely one of depletion of mineral resources, but also that most minerals are becoming gradually more and more expensive to extract as the easy access to high-grade ores becomes progressively scarce.

For example, in the oil industry, scientists have examined the amount of energy needed to extract crude oil and compared it to the amount of energy that oil can produce. In the past, oil was an excellent investment with returns close to 50-100 to 1, but today, Bardi writes, “oil extraction is nearing that fateful point of non-return in which it becomes a useless exercise of energy waste.”

Skeptics will continue to claim there is an abundance of natural resources available beneath the Earth’s crust. They believe human ingenuity and technological advances will develop the mining machines necessary for extraction. However, the question remains, at what cost?

The issue of cost, and the broader global impacts, is a crucial reason that Library Journal had this to say in a review of the book: “With input from other mineral experts, Bardi also rebuts critics who argue that emerging technologies, like a ‘universal mining machine,’ will be able to solve most of these problems. A skillfully written guide to a crucial, little-understood subject and an urgent wake-up call.”

Or, as Jorgen Randers (2052) explains in his foreword, Bardi’s book arrives at a critical time when countries are beginning to question the headlong belief that we can continue to extract minerals at no incremental cost – either financial or environmental.

“At a time when discussion of mineral depletion often resorts to black-and-white analyses of what we are running out of, what has peaked, and how we might cope without it, Extracted offers a full-bodied analysis that illuminates the real consequences of relentlessly plundering the planet for its mineral riches: an altered landscape, massive pollution issues, potential economic upheaval, and, among other serious results, the unleashing of greenhouse gases by mining and burning fossil fuels,” writes Randers.

At present, with Russia flexing its natural resource muscles in its annexation of Crimea and the latest IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report warning policy makers that the world must take action now to save our climate balance, it seems clear we have reached a crossroads in our state of mineral wealth. Bardi’s Extracted reads like a road map of our mineral history and explores how we can use this knowledge to navigate toward a more sustainable future.

Extracted: How the Quest for Mineral Wealth is Plundering the Planet is available now and on sale for 35% off until May 5th.

Extracted: Foreword and Preface by Chelsea Green Publishing


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