My book has been a long-time in preparation. I started to think about it when our grandchildren were born and more seriously after I retired about ten years ago. I had taught resource economics at Ryerson, and while I knew the theory well enough to teach it, I realize how little I knew about resources in general. I had at the time finished reading Lomborg’s book The Skeptical Environmentalist Measuring the Real State of the World where he spends over 500 pages with 3000 footnotes trying to prove that things are not so bad. It caused a huge stir when it was published in English in 2001. Cambridge University Press got into bad trouble for having published the book. I thought to myself, hmm, I wonder if he is right, 14 years later, after also 500 pages (and “only” 1000 footnotes), I think I can say with certainty that they are bad.
I quickly realized that the topic of resources that, of course, include environmental resources is huge. I did not want to write an academic treatise that no one would read—I wanted to make it accessible to the non-specialist. Over the years, my feelings varied from thinking oh God what have I got myself into, to being totally fascinated about what we know and what we don’t know and how much interesting and important information there is around. During the ten years, the resource boom has gone from boom to bust. When I started writing, we were experiencing an unprecedented resource boom with raw material and energy prices hitting the roof and many analysts thought that resource scarcity has finally set in. We are going to run out! Jeff Rubin published a best seller in 2009 "Why Your World is About to Get a Whole Lot Smaller", arguing that with oil prices rising to unprecedented levels of $140 per barrel that is going to change the world totally because of the high transportation costs. I don’t know how embarrassed he is about this--I think he has a thick skin. I was wondering if he was too young to have lived through the 70s when oil prices first shot up and then plummeted.
I also started the book when global warming was a serious concern with everyone making fine promises under the Kyoto Protocol, but only some of European countries making serious efforts. The Canadian performance was of course nothing to be proud of with being the first country to leave the Protocol. After the scandal at the University of East Anglia in 2009 with the hacked emails, belief in global warming as a serious issue went way down. It is only in the last couple of years when the general public have started to take it seriously. I think we owe Naomi Klein thanks for putting the issue back in the public eye. Another factor that has changed is population projections. When I started to write the median projection for 2050 was a world population of 9 billion. Since then the projection has increased to 9.7 billion.
I have tried to be objective by reading widely, not only the scientific literature and the environmentally friendly Guardian paper, but also blogs such as the infamous anti-environmental and anti-warming blog Watts-up-with-that written by Anthony Watts—I think it has close to 10 million hits. I am surprised I did not end up with high blood pressure. I realize that objectivity is a subjective matter, but I think I have been fair.
Apart from concluding that we are not running out of metals, mineral, and fossil fuels, what else did I find? Resources also include biodiversity, water, forests, fisheries, soils, and indeed the air we breathe, and for these types of resources the situation is much more precarious. Everything is interconnected. Biodiversity is under threat from climate change and land use change that creates habitat loss. We need healthy ecosystems to grow our food and our forests and for services that we rely on such as water filtration and carbon storage. Biologists believe we are experiencing a sixth extinction in terms of species loss. Many of the world’s water resources are polluted and over-exploited also endangering biodiversity and ecosystem services, and indeed agriculture much of which depends on irrigation. Excessive irrigation has also created water scarcity in many parts of the world. Modern agriculture is not sustainable not only because of excessive nitrogen use but also because it is destructive of soils. This creates an incredible challenge of feeding an expected world population of 9.7 billion people in 2050. You see the effects of this on Lake Erie every year. Vast palm oil plantations in the tropics have created biological deserts, and the destruction of mangrove forests in coastal areas have made them more prone to flooding. Our own boreal forests that store a vast amount of carbon are under threat from mining and other developments, and the Canadian Arctic is changing rapidly because of climate change. The build-up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere also are fundamentally changing the oceans making them more acidic which endangers coral reefs and any ocean life dependent on calcium such as lobsters. Overfishing is creating irreparable damage to the ecology of the oceans. We are indeed facing a real danger of running out of resources critical to our lives.
My book does not focus on Canada because the resource issue is global. However, Canada has the second largest landmass in the world with the world’s longest coastal area. Therefore, we as Canadians have a special responsibility for safeguarding the health of the planet. It goes without saying that we must make a serious effort in dealing with carbon emissions, but we must also address species loss by increasing the number of protected areas both on land and at sea and protecting our freshwater sources and the delicate environment in the Arctic. Canada’s environmental record is well below average among industrialized countries. We can do better.
I would like to add that the main target of my book is the general public. It is intended as a trade book, but I could not reach the major trade publishers without an agent, and the Canadian agents I approached were not interested—only one responded, claiming that there were no markets for books on climate change (having noticed that one of eleven chapters dealt with climate change). I decided to self-publish because I know the topic of the book is incredibly important! I hope you agree.