There’s a problem with reading too much science fiction while trying to be an environmentalist, and it’s this: I know the idea of mining the ocean floor for precious metals is likely to be environmentally destructive. All the same, I can’t help but get a bit of wide-eyed nerd-glee at the idea of underwater mines. It’s right up there with flying cars and rocket packs, in a way. Or maybe that’s just me.

It reminds me of something I saw when I was younger: A friend of my parents, unable to quit his smoking habit, dismantled all the spent cigarette butts in an ashtray, took out the bits of unsmoked tobacco, and reassembled them in to a smokable (to him, anyway) cigarette. I had the same dual reaction: 1) Eeeew, and 2) well, that is kind of smart.

(Look, I was 9.)

The point is that I imagine I’m going to be feeling that a lot in the future. As our demand for energy and raw materials continues to climb, we’re going to come up with increasingly ingenious solutions that are likely to be, at the same time, increasingly destructive toward nature. I say this based simply on the fact that as the density of any resource declines, the volume that needs to be harvested increases. See, for example, the tar sands, where tonnes of dirt and tar are removed to make oil.

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In case you’d missed it, the Canadian National Energy Board expects tar sands oil production to triple by 2015. Given that it’s taken 40 years to get this far, I find that prediction astonishing, to say the least. But if my pessimism is proven wrong, I imagine we’ll all be saying two things: 1) Well, that is kind of smart, and 2) eeew.