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Good Reads: Oil's future, wealth in Africa, 'Occupy' failure, progress in Mexico, and the Tsarnaevs

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Nathan W. Armes/Reuters/File

(Read caption) A protester at an ‘Occupy Denver’ rally in Denver, Colo., in November 2011.

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It’s increasingly possible that the world may never run out of fossil fuel. The cheap and plentiful natural gas that fracking has brought to your local pipelines may be just a precursor to a much larger and more global reserve stored as methane hydrate – basically frozen natural gas – in vast volumes in the world’s seabeds.

The cover story of the latest Atlantic magazine asks, “What if we never run out of oil?” By which it mainly means natural gas. Ten years ago, author Charles Mann notes, mainstream analysts dismissed the potential of fracking (short for hydraulic fracturing) to unlock new stores of gas. How wrong they were. Now the promise of methane hydrate, he suggests, could be vastly greater, and that scenario is a mixed bag: long-sought energy independence for nations such as Japan; cleaner emissions from countries such as coal-burning China; curtailing of the power of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries; some greater instability as fewer countries around the world need to trade for energy; perhaps even sea-bottom territorial disputes. But the biggest downside pointed to by Mr. Mann is that plentiful natural gas, while relatively clean, could delay moving to a post-carbon world altogether.

Wealth doesn’t always end poverty

Oil and gas often lead to the so-called resource curse, whereby countries blessed by the revenue that comes out of their ground – whether oil, diamonds, or manganese – find both their economies and politics stunted and narrowed by the single-source wealth. A World Bank study of Africa adds a couple of new brush strokes to that picture. Not surprisingly, resource-rich countries such as Nigeria and Gabon have grown 2.2 times faster than resource-poor countries since 1996. Yet, counterintuitively, poverty declined by 16 percentage points in resource-poor countries such as Rwanda and Ethiopia, compared with only seven percentage points in resource-rich ones. The upshot: Oil and mineral wealth brings growth, but doesn’t spread it very far.


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