In the 1970s, geologists discovered crystalline natural gas—methane hydrate, in the jargon—beneath the seafloor. Stored mostly in broad, shallow layers on continental margins, methane hydrate exists in immense quantities; by some estimates, it is twice as abundant as all other fossil fuels combined. Despite its plenitude, gas hydrate was long subject to petroleum-industry skepticism. These deposits—water molecules laced into frigid cages that trap “guest molecules” of natural gas—are strikingly unlike conventional energy reserves. Ice you can set on fire! Who could take it seriously? But as petroleum prices soared, undersea-drilling technology improved, and geological surveys accumulated, interest rose around the world. The U.S. Department of Energy has been funding a methane-hydrate research program since 1982.
Coal? Or the Sun? The power source India chooses may decide the fate of the entire planet. ... Already Earth’s fastest-growing major economy and its biggest weapons importer, India is on track to become the world’s most populous nation (probably by 2022), to have its biggest economy (possibly by 2048), and potentially to build its biggest military force (perhaps by 2040). What China was in the American imagination in the 1990s and 2000s, India will be in the next two decades—a cavalcade of superlatives, a focus of fears. ... officials and academics have long argued that Western nations are demanding that India industrialize without burning even a fraction of the fossil fuels that developed nations consumed when they industrialized. And Indians resent that Western nations insist on the right to judge Indian performance while refusing to help with the cost of transition. ... India’s demand for electricity is widely expected to double by 2030. …= Soon after being elected prime minister in 2014, he announced that India would produce 100 gigawatts of solar power by 2022 (the US now has about 20 gigawatts). ... To generate electricity from it, India plans to build 455 new coal-fired electric power plants, more than any other nation—indeed, more than the US now has. (India’s existing 148 plants, which provide two-thirds of its electricity, are among the world’s dirtiest and most inefficient.)
Because rubber is so common, so unobtrusive, so dull, it may not seem worth a second glance. This would be a mistake. Rubber has played a largely hidden role in global political and environmental history for more than 150 years. You say you want an industrial revolution? If so, you need three raw materials: iron, to make steel for machinery; fossil fuels, to power that machinery; and rubber, to connect and protect all the moving parts. Try running an automobile without a fan belt or a radiator hose; very bad things will happen within a minute. Want to send coolant around an engine using a rigid metal tube instead of a flexible rubber hose? Good luck keeping it from vibrating to pieces. Having enough steel and coal to make and drive industrial machinery means nothing if the engines fry because you can’t cool them. ... To the extent that most people think about rubber at all, they likely picture a product made from synthetic chemicals. In fact, more than 40 percent of the world’s rubber comes from trees, almost all of them H. brasiliensis. Compared with natural rubber, synthetic rubber is usually cheaper to produce but is weaker, less flexible, and less able to withstand vibration. For things that absolutely cannot fail, from condoms to surgeon’s gloves to airplane tires, natural rubber has long been the top choice. ... Iron can be found around the globe; so can fossil fuels. But rubber today is grown almost exclusively in Southeast Asia, because the region has a unique combination of suitable climate and infrastructure. Despite all the ups and downs in the global economy, the demand for tires continues to grow, which has created something akin to a gold rush in Southeast Asia. For millions of people in this poor part of the world, the rubber boom has helped bring prosperity