The end of world as we know it is near, if the conclusions drawn by a recent ``Fortune'' magazine article about leaf blight and natural rubber are on the money. Sleep well. They're not.
The story makes the case that leaf blight, which devastated the Brazilian NR industry, would annihilate the business if it ever gets to the Southeast Asian Hevea rubber plantations.
``Many agronomists believe that the blight will ultimately reach anywhere rubber trees are found,'' wrote Wade Davis, an ethnobiologist who produced the article and a book about the search for NR in the Amazon region during World War II.
Davis said it is ``an open secret in the industry'' that the leaf blight, should it cross the Pacific, could ``wipe out the world's supply of natural rubber.'' And that, particularly in applications like radial tires, NR is critical and synthetic rubber an inadequate substitute.
He also charges that, although ``looming over everything is the specter of disease,'' the rubber industry isn't doing anything to develop disease-resistant strains of Hevea. Reviving that research ``alone will end the nightmare that has lingered since the rubber industry's inception.''
Don't get us wrong: There's lots of interesting historical stuff in Davis' article. He retells the beginnings of the natural rubber business, the pursuit of wild rubber in South America, the founding of the rubber plantations in Southeast Asia, Henry Ford's attempt to produce NR in the Amazon, etc., etc.
Of historical interest. But nothing new.
The industry isn't in a panic over leaf blight for two reasons: Stringent precautions are in place in the NR-producing nations to avoid transport of the blight; and conditions differ in Southeast Asia than in South America, where the lack of topsoil causes short roots and makes Hevea trees more susceptible to the blight.
If people other than mostly agronomists and botanists were contacted, maybe ``Fortune'' could have gotten a balanced, although unsensational, story. Members of the synthetic rubber industry could have given some perspective, since SR accounts for 62 percent of all rubber used. Davis' story casts SR as in decline.
Could leaf blight migrate to Southeast Asia? Sure. It hasn't occurred in the century or so NR has been grown there, but anything can happen. Just as a massive oil embargo might destroy the SR industry.