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Book Review: The Infinite Resource

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“Our challenge isn’t that we’re running out of energy. It’s that we’re tapped into the wrong source—the small, finite one that we’re depleting,” writes computer scientist, Ramez Naam in his book The Infinite Resource, a refreshingly thorough roadmap of solutions to our energy and climate crisis.

“We live on a planet that is a mostly closed system for raw materials… But the earth is not a closed system for energy. We have a huge and continual influx of energy,” Naam explains. At the current rate, the world uses seventeen terawatts of power a day; the sun strikes the earth with as much power in only nine seconds.

While media saturates us with the doom and gloom of our unsustainable raw material-powered society, Naam is geared toward the action phase, outlining a solid, supercharged course. The Infinite Resource comprehensively offers the facts of our crisis, emphasizes its criticality, and moves along toward crafty innovation ideas, encouraging the employment of our most powerful resource: our minds. “We can, as it turns out, make choices about the structure of our societies that affect the pace of innovation,” he writes, citing examples throughout human history of overcoming crisis with brainpower.

The Infinite Resource illustrates how the cost per kilowatt of alternative energies deterred tapping into the methods in the past, but shows how wind is now competitive with the wholesale prices of coal and natural gas. Solar is experiencing the rapid learning curve in manufacturing efficiency necessary in making it a competitively affordable alternative.

Further alternatives include mining the air and using genes found in the gut flora of termites to break down cellulose. He tackles ideas of carbon taxes, fixing our markets to properly account for the value of the commons, investing to fund long-range innovation, embracing technologies that improve our lives and the planet, and empowering all humans educationally to turn them into assets to produce ideas for the betterment of society.

Naam closes with a picture of the world circa 2100 on the track that he proposes, not a world struggling toward survival, but a world with abundance to meet the needs of its inhabitants. A world still visibly healing its wounds, but a world with lessons learned.