“For every problem there is a solution—simple, neat, and wrong.” H. L. Mencken made this observation years ago, and it is quoted at the beginning of Fred Blakey’s study of Florida’s phosphate industry. Few people would disagree that there is a real environmental crisis facing the world today. The cause is unrestrained growth of the population, of economies, and of the exploitation of natural resources. The author points out that this viewpoint is foreign to a people who have equated growth with progress, and bigness with goodness. Only recently have Americans conceded that their resources are not inexhaustible.
Blakey tells us that we have been bombarded with solutions to a problem that professionals view as not yet fully understood nor adequately defined. Americans face the problem not only of pollution, but of management, of values, of their very way of life. If the earth is to provide the materials for the survival of man’s society, then a prudent society must provide for an intimate understanding of the earth. Phosphorus, the topic of this study, is an element necessary for all forms of life. Long before carbon, nitrogen, or oxygen supplies become critically short, the supply of phosphorus will be exhausted. When this happens, Blakey assures us, life will end, and he demonstrates that we are losing ever-increasing amounts of this vital element every year.
This work presents a microscopic view of the ecological problems and prospects in the conservation and use of the mineral. Specifically, it is a history of the Florida phosphate industry. If the record of the Florida phosphate industry is any guide, then ecological disaster need not occur, but enlightened use of phosphorus and all other natural resources would seem to be imperative. The author tells us it is necessary to redefine some of our traditional priorities, beliefs, and values. Failure to do this indicates a willingness to continue to accept solutions that are “simple, neat—and wrong.”