Sunday, June 03, 2007

More Warnings from the Future

The most recent issue of New Scientist has a cover article titled "The World Stripped Bare." It's about the depletion of metal reserves worldwide.

My novel A Woman of the Iron People is about an Earth which has used up its metals and has to rely on other materials, among them ceramics and wood. My space ship is ceramic with bamboo and rattan furniture. I thought this was utterly cool.

I was wrong to think we could run out of iron. But other elements -- aluminum, antimony, chromium, copper, gold, hafnium, indium, lead, nickel, phosphorus, platinum, silver, tantalum, tin, uranium and zinc -- may run out within ten to fifty years. Many of these are essential to current technology and life as we know it in the industrialized nations. Platinum is used in fuel cells and catalytic converters. Indium and gallium are used to make semiconductors "at the heart," New Scientist says, of the next generation of solar cells. We have maybe 15 years worth of platinum left, and less than 10 years of indium.

The article is really worth reading. Especially interesting to me is the map of where rare elements are. Africa (outside of South Africa) has almost none. I suspect that's because they haven't been found, though this is only a hunch. I know nothing about Africa's geology.

The U.S. imports 90% of its rare earth metals from China. Think about that for a while.

I feel I am living in a hundred SF disaster novels at once: vanishing bees, extremely multi-drug-resistant TB, melting glaciers and an ice free arctic in maybe ten years, crashing fish stocks, the oil peak, wheat rust, pandemic flu... It goes on and on.

The sequel to Ring of Swords starts on Earth and is partly about how the various environmental crises of the 21st century changed Earth. But I grossly underestimated how many chickens were going to come home to roost all at the same time. I will need to revise a lot...

I need to add, as encouragement to my readers, that I think most -- maybe all -- of these problems can be solved. I am less sure we can deal with them coming all at once. I am close to certain that the current economic and political system cannot solve the problems in a timely fashion.

A system that relies on individual greed and government by markets is simply not up to the future we have coming.

But the resources created by capitalism are enormous. I am really inclined to think we could solve all the world's problems, if those resources were used for humanity as a whole, rather than for the satisfaction of individual greed.


Blogger Unknown said...

Speaking of Ring of Swords:

I absolutely loved Ring of Swords—so much, in fact, that I went searching for more. I particularly enjoyed the stories that Mr. Dozois published in a couple of his annual collections (19 and 20, I think)

Which brings me to my next question: have you been able to find a publisher for this sequel … or do you plan to do some major editing (as you mentioned in this blog post)?

Kurtis Kroon
… an anxious fan, who has been waiting for a long time to find out what happened to Anna, Nicholas, Ettin Gwarha, and his "Aunts".

6:06 PM  
Blogger GFV said...

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, cited in the article as a valid source for information, zinc mine reserves worldwide increased 57% between 1995 and 2006, despite greatly increased mining (up 43% in the same period) in response to increased demand. In addition, an inter-governmental body, the International Lead Zinc Study Group, reports recycling of zinc to make new zinc products increased by 33% over the same period.

In the face of all this forceful public data presaging a long future for the zinc industry, the warnings of a German materials chemist with no apparent connection to the zinc industry that the world will run out of zinc by 2037 are astounding! This is a significant retrenchment from alchemists who sought to transmute base metals into gold; this chemist seeks to make tens of millions of tons of base metals simply vanish overnight. His prediction will be as successful as the search for the philosopher's stone.


5:36 AM  

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