Treasures of the Earth

Treasures of the Earth: Need, Greed, and a Sustainable Future

Saleem H. Ali
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 320
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt1npjbr
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  • Book Info
    Treasures of the Earth
    Book Description:

    Would the world be a better place if human societies were somehow able to curb their desires for material goods? Saleem Ali's pioneering book links human wants and needs by providing a natural history of consumption and materialism with scientific detail and humanistic nuance. It argues that simply disavowing consumption of materials is not likely to help in planning for a resource-scarce future, given global inequality, development imperatives, and our goals for a democratic global society. Rather than suppress the creativity and desire to discover that is often embedded in the exploration and production of material goods-which he calls "the treasure impulse"-Ali proposes a new environmental paradigm, one that accepts our need to consume "treasure" for cultural and developmental reasons, but warns of our concomitant need to conserve. In evaluating the impact of treasure consumption on resource-rich countries, he argues that there is a way to consume responsibly and alleviate global poverty.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-15567-9
    Subjects: General Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. PREFACE
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. INTRODUCTION: ALCHEMY OF A MATERIAL WORLD
    (pp. 1-14)

    The highest permanent settlement in the United States is a rather elemental town whose very name suggests its material past. One might wonder why humans ventured to the lofty altitude of 10,150 feet, braving storms, nosebleeds, and respiratory stress. The answer, in a phrase: mineral wealth. Leadville, Colorado, beckoned prospectors in search of gold, silver, and lead after 1878, when some itinerant diggers in the Rockies struck a per sis tent vein of the lustrous shiny mineral known as cerussite. This was a troublesome rock for the prospectors—it covered a potentially gold-bearing deposit—but these hardy souls wanted to...

  5. PART I: THE PLEASURE OF TREASURE
    • 1 WHAT LIES BENEATH: THE MATERIAL AND MYSTICAL ORIGINS OF MINERAL WEALTH
      (pp. 17-38)

      The grand cemetery in Medina, Saudi Arabia, is a sight to behold, not because of any ostentatious splendor that one might expect, but rather for the vast expanse of dusty mounds and nameless graves that stretch out before all visitors. For centuries, kings and paupers alike have been buried here without any fanfare, as a testament to our common and very earthly origins and destiny. The Wahhabi sect of Islam is known for its more sinister fundamentalist traditions, but there is a benign simplicity in its insistence that human remains be sent back to their elemental origins with minimalist zeal....

    • 2 CREATING VALUE: THE ENDURANCE OF PRECIOUS JEWELS
      (pp. 39-61)

      Stones are often a metaphor for sterility. We refer to an unfeeling person as stone-hearted or a cold one as stony faced. Yet many of these inanimate natural materials have a concealed beauty that brings joy to people. Scouring through dirt and rock, our ancestors found remarkable secrets that the earth kept, and they learned to prize what they found. Such discoveries continue to this day, delivering great costs and benefits where gems are found. Geologists, archaeologists, construction workers, beach wanderers, and gardeners continue to reveal the earth’s rarest treats with various levels of luck. The incidental discovery usually paves...

    • 3 THE RUSH FACTOR: TRACING THE MINERAL ROOTS OF GLOBAL POWER THROUGH GOLD, COAL, AND OIL
      (pp. 62-86)

      Waiting in traffic during rush hour, one may often wonder why people flocked to a particular location to build a metropolis. Why are particular areas the hub of human activity and the intersection of so many professions? The physical location of cities in terms of their environmental and social impact is increasingly important for environmental planners to consider in this age of carbon footprints and water scarcity. Yet often the location of a city was determined by the same treasure-seeking impulse that leads people to explore the remote ends of the planet for minerals. What leads people to develop cities...

  6. PART II: TOIL AND TREASURE
    • 4 THE DARKER SIDE OF FORTUNE: THE PSYCHOLOGY OF TREASURE DEPENDENCE
      (pp. 89-109)

      Traveling through the teardrop-shaped isle of Sri Lanka, one can sense the presence of tea on almost every turn of the road. Terraced hillsides give way to mildly sloping fields ofCamellia sinensis—he enticing evergreen bush whose leaves have infused calming pleasures to countless generations. The complex array of aromatic compounds within these infusions clearly had some lasting impact on human well-being, to warrant the spread of humble tea from its origins in Asian villages to its obligatory place in English kitchens. Despite their many differences, tea drinkers the world over are bound by biochemical stimuli that are triggered...

    • 5 CURING THE RESOURCE CURSE: MINERALS AND GLOBAL DEVELOPMENT
      (pp. 110-131)

      Most international flights to Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), arrive late at night, and passengers anticipating a view of this city inhabited by more than 7 million people are usually disappointed. There are no expansive vistas of the mighty Congo River, which skirts the city’s esplanade, nor can one see any monuments or structures that would remind us that this is one of Africa’s largest metropolises. A comparable city in other parts of the world would sparkle with city lights in the night sky, but Kinshasa’s downtown offers a remarkably dim glow of an occasional...

    • 6 THE SPOILS OF THE EARTH: THE ECOLOGICAL TOLL OF EXTRACTIVE EXCITEMENT
      (pp. 132-158)

      “The Last Frontier” is emblazoned on the license plates of Alaska, which has the largest acreage of truly pristine wilderness in the United States. For Americans, the state has always been a perplexing paradox. It is the largest in size but smallest in population density; it has the coldest climate but the most active system of fiery volcanoes; and it has been the largest source of a nonrenewable resources like oil but also the largest source of renewable resources, such as timber and fish. The state is home to the greatest percentage of native people in the country, with over...

  7. PART III: MEASURE FOR MEASURE
    • 7 DESTINATION CRADLE: THE QUEST FOR MATERIAL CYCLING
      (pp. 161-184)

      Deep beneath the city of Detroit, as much as twelve hundred feet underground, is a network of tunnels and chambers that constitute one of the largest underground mines in America, with more than fourteen hundred acres and fifty miles of roads. The mineral being extracted is common salt, which has been extolled throughout human history for its many virtues, from culinary imperative to antibacterial preserving agent. The United States is the world’s largest producer and consumer of salt, earning more than $1.2 billion in sales revenues annually. Yet only 8 percent of this salt is used for its original edible...

    • 8 THE RESTORATION ETHIC: HURTING AND HEALING ECOSYSTEMS
      (pp. 185-206)

      The Pecos River might not be familiar to most Americans as a notable waterway, but for the residents of New Mexico and western Texas it has been a perennial presence for generations. Trout from the river have provided an abundant source of protein for Native Americans and settlers alike. Water from the Pecos was the lifeblood of the Carlsbad Reclamation Project, one of the earliest irrigation ventures of its kind, initiated by the federal government in 1902.¹ This sparsely populated and scenic region of the American West was home to none other than Sheriff Pat Garrett, known to Wild West...

    • 9 EMBRACING THE TREASURE IMPULSE: TOWARD CAUTIONARY CREATIVITY
      (pp. 207-234)

      On the shores of North America’s Lake Superior is a settlement called Twin Harbors, where in 1902 a remarkable group of five entrepreneurs launched a business venture to extract a mineral known as corundum. This is essentially the same mineral that constitutes precious rubies and sapphires, but Henry Bryan, Herman W. Cable, John Dwan, William A. McGonagle, and Dr. J. Danley Budd had little interest in gem-quality corundum. What motivated them was not the rare aesthetic appeal of this mineral but rather its physical properties of strength and hardness. Grinding stones and sandpaper were the products they had in mind...

  8. EPILOGUE: EMBRACING UNCERTAINTY
    (pp. 235-238)

    Not long ago my two children, ages ten and seven, repeatedly asked me to accompany them to a new movie in town. Consumed with the task of writing, I could scarcely find time to fit in a cinema outing with the kids to whom I was dedicating this book. My older son, Shahmir, informed me that this movie would be different from other animated features and was relevant to my interests: “It’s about the environment, Abba [Dad, in Urdu]—you’ll like it.”

    The film wasWall-E, an imaginatively designed satire about a resource-depleted and polluted planet Earth, where humans are...

  9. APPENDIX: NOTABLE MINERALS AND THEIR HUMAN USES
    (pp. 239-244)
  10. NOTES
    (pp. 245-277)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 278-289)