Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Something Big to Worry About

While I'm busy worrying about small things, like arriving at the airport on time, E. usually focuses on the big concerns—asteroids, sunspots, and the like. Maybe he's got the right idea. Perhaps the reason I'm so anxious about the small things is that I don't spend enough time worrying about the true catastrophes that could befall the human race.

One big worry industrial nations face is our dwindling supply of oil. But with electric battery technology developing at a rapid pace, we soon may not have to depend on oil as a fuel source. Instead, we'll need lithium, a rare metal that's an essential ingredient in the lithium-ion batteries used to power electric vehicles.

The current issue of Technology Review features a fascinating and alarming photo essay on the subject, entitled "The Lithium Rush." The problem is this—the Salar de Uyuni, the world's largest salt flat, is located in southwest Bolivia and contains 50 to 70% of the world's lithium reserves. This potentially gives Bolivia a tremendous amount of power to control a vital source of energy. Bolivia's current government, under the leadership of leftist President Evo Morales, intends to retain control of the lithium reserves and could use them for its political ends.

So, just as the West emerges from its dependence on Saudi Arabia and other oil-rich nations, we may find ourselves beholden to a landlocked South American country with a government hostile toward the United States.

Another day, another worry. The more things change, the more they remain the same.

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