BOOK REVIEW: The Race for What’s Left: The Global Scramble for the World’s Last Resources by Michael T. Klare

Review by Nathan Seppa

Had T.S. Eliot been around to read this book, he might have said: This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a shortage.

Klare offers some grim realities: “Because most of the world has already been scoured for readily accessible resource reserves, the only hope for finding more oil, natural gas, minerals and farmland will lie in exten­ding the search to previously inaccessible or inhospitable areas.”

Some might accuse Klare of underselling the ability of humans to manage these challenges. But the facts point to inescapable economic and environmental costs. The dangers of deepwater drilling, for example, were made clear by the 2010 BP oil spill. And Klare notes that an area the size of Nebraska has been leased for exploratory drilling off Greenland. Energy extraction on land isn’t much easier. Tapping oil from tar sands and natural gas from shale rock is proving costly. Easy-to-get nickel and coal deposits are largely mined out, and many minerals are tucked away in remote or unstable areas — Bolivia (lithium), Niger (uranium), Afghanistan (copper) and, in West Africa, Guinea (bauxite).

Reading this book, it’s hard not to think about postapocalyptic fiction in which resource scarcity leads to social disorder. Think Margaret Atwood, Cormac McCarthy and most recently Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games. Yet novelists often skip over the messy parts along the road to dystopia. It’s scary to think that Klare, far from crying wolf, might be providing the sordid details in real time.

Metropolitan Books, 2012, 320 p., $27

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