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The Infinite Resource: The Power of Ideas on a Finite Planet Hardcover – April 9, 2013

4.6 out of 5 stars 68 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

As the world teeters on the brink of dramatic, perhaps catastrophic, transformation due to climate change, it is hard to find good news anywhere. Luckily, business and technology ethicist Naam knows where to look. The increasingly noteworthy author of More Than Human (2005) and a debut sf novel, Nexus (2013), Naam says there is much to decry as he cites all the usual suspects, from rising sea levels to devastating droughts. But there is also much to celebrate, from humankind’s proven ability to conquer adversity through innovation to the limitless availability of renewable resources such as solar and wind power. By providing a detailed, statistically rich historical background on many of the detrimental practices and attitudes that have brought humanity to the nail-biting precipice that may await a century from now, Naam strengthens his soberly confident, if not cautiously optimistic, predictions for how humans can walk it back from the edge of disaster. Though some of his arguments may evoke controversy, Naam nonetheless presents a balanced and ecumenical approach through cogent, well-researched positions. --Carol Haggas --This text refers to the Unknown Binding edition.

Review

"This book contains a plan - probably the only plan - to save the world. Naam is unwilling to minimize the challenges that face us, but equally unwilling to sermonize or catastrophize. The Infinite Resource is an intelligent and responsible analysis, presented in lively prose; it should be required reading for all global thinkers and leaders."
- Steven Pinker, author of The Better Angels of Our Nature.

"Brilliant. Naam shows that innovation is the only force equal to the global challenges that face us, and that we can prosper if we harness it."
- Ray Kurzweil, author of The Singularity is Near


"Most books about the future are written by blinkered Pollyannas or hand-wringing Cassandras. Ramez Naam-Egypt-born, Illinois-raised, a major contributor to the computer revolution-is neither. Having thought about science, technology and the environment for decades, he has become that rarest of creatures: a clear-eyed optimist. Concise, informed and passionately argued, The Infinite Resource both acknowledges the very real dangers that lie ahead for the human enterprise and the equally real possibility that we might not only survive but thrive."
Charles Mann, NYT best selling author of 1491


"An amazing book. Throughout history, the most important source of new wealth has been new ideas. Naam shows how we can tap into and steer that force to overcome our current problems and help create a world of Abundance."
-  Peter H. Diamandis, Chairman of the X PRIZE and Singularity University, Author of the NYT Best Seller Abundance - The Future is Better Than You Think


"A refreshingly thorough roadmap of solutions to our energy and climate crisis."
- UTNE Reader


“By providing a detailed, statistically rich historical background on many of the detrimental practices and attitudes that have brought humanity to the nail-biting precipice that may await a century from now, Naam strengthens his soberly confident, if not cautiously optimistic, predictions for how humans can walk it back from the edge of disaster.”—Booklist


"Seattle-based writer and former Microsoft executive Ramez Naam argues that we can solve the natural-resource and environmental challenges that face us — and grow global prosperity — if we tap our most abundant resource: innovation." —Seattle Times


““I’m an optimist,” he writes more than once. Optimism about the power of ideas offers no guarantees, as Naam is well aware; he carefully avoids complacency. Something needs to be done to stimulate our ingenuity, Naam writes. Equal parts pragmatic and inspiring, his book offers a helpful guide for that purpose.”—The Intelligent Optimist


“Computer scientist/writer Naam has produced a compelling road map for meeting the dire environmental, energy, and food challenges facing human civilization. He argues persuasively, drawing from a wealth of research, that humanity has the potential to innovate itself out of those problems, as it has before.”—Choice
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 364 pages
  • Publisher: UPNE; First Edition edition (April 9, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 161168255X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1611682557
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (68 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #479,503 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Not many books present subject matter more dire to our near future than this one. Naam's book is a concise summation of the greatest environmental and technological challenges humankind faces today. He manages to achieve an impressive level of scientific rigor while remaining approachable to a wide readership, and presents back of the napkin calculations that are both understandable and frightening in their implications. He also attempts to present workable solutions along the way. And while I don't agree with all of his optimism regarding the power of the collective intelligence of our billions, his call to action could not be more relevant and appropriate. This book may hold the power to change your thinking on many subjects from genetically modified foods to nuclear power. Read it!
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Format: Hardcover
*A full executive summary of this book is available at newbooksinbrief dot com.

The main argument: Ever since the industrial revolution the developed world (and increasingly the developing world) has enjoyed remarkable economic growth. This economic growth has yielded wealth to a degree previously unimaginable. Indeed, many of us today enjoy conveniences, comforts and opportunities of a kind that have traditionally been unattainable by even the world's wealthiest and most powerful people.

However, we may question just how sustainable all of this economic growth (and the resulting wealth) really is. For the economic growth has been accompanied by environmental depletion and degradation of a kind as unprecedented as the growth itself. And while some of the environmental crises that have come up along the way have been solved by new technologies, others yet remain, and are as daunting as any we have seen. Climate change in particular stands out as one of the greatest challenges we now face. What's worse, many of the earth's resources that we have used to generate the economic growth are dwindling, and face extinction. Indeed, the very resource that has powered the industrial era (and that has also caused many of our deepest environmental woes), fossil fuels, has now nearly peaked.

Looking to the past, we find that we would not be the first civilization to perish at the hands of a resource shortage brought on by overzealous extraction. Indeed, such an event has occurred on several occasions (including amongst the Mayan civilization, and that of the Easter Islanders).
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Format: Hardcover
I agree with Ramez Naam that "the choices societies make affect their rate of innovation." That helps to explain why, from the Fall of Rome early in the 5th century until the Renaissance, the Chinese, Japanese, and Ottoman people were far more advanced culturally and technologically advanced than were the Europeans. Since then, major developments that include Johannes Gutenberg's introduction of s moveable type printing press and Roger Bacon's refinement of Aristotelian empiricism to what we now view as the scientific method (based on observation, hypothesis, and experimentation), "Europe soared through the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and the Industrial Revolution" while the nature, extent, and pace of change elsewhere "was far less impressive...The explosion of new ideas in Europe, and later in North America, led to the incredible prosperity of our current age." But there are problems of unprecedented severity that must be solved.

For example, as Naam explains in Chapter Four, a single "ecological footprint" can be used to measure human consumption of the earth's finite resources. "The world has about 1.8 hectares of useful living land per person on it. Yet the average citizen of the world uses up 2.7 hectares of that land via that lifestyle. (A hectare is around 2.5 acres, so that's around 6.7 acres.)...[At estimated] levels of per capita consumption, the planet can't support the 7 billion people it has on it, let alone the 9 to 10 billion it will have by mid-century. It can support only about two-thirds of the current population of the planet, or around 4.7 billion people. So what becomes of the 2.3 billion people the planet can't support today? The 4 to 5 billion surplus people we'll have by midcentury?" Ominously, high-income countries averaged 6.
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Format: Hardcover
If you're into comparisons, I could call this something like the intersection of An Inconvenient Truth, The Pentagon's New Map, and the ultimate guide to making sure your children have a bright future. It's an honest look at the spectrum of our planet's forecast for the next 100 years, a look back at how we arrived here, and what we can do in the next 100 years to arrive at the best possible outcome. It's frightening, in part because Naam carefully avoids dramatizing the dangers we face, and in part because I'm still not entirely sold on his optimism :) I am, however, convinced that he's right about what we have to do. Once again, Naam asks us to get over some of our reflexive fears and biases (for example, around GMO foods) and get on with shaping the future. All he promises in return is that we can go beyond saving the planet to improve the life of the average person. This is an awesome synthesis of climate trends, economics, population dynamics, politics, and technology. I'll be giving copies of this book to literally dozens of family members and friends.
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