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on 10 March 1998
The issues raised and developed in GeoDestinies should be required reading for all college or university students - no matter what their majors - and discussed in high-school, college, university, media, and business seminars throughout the country. The global economic system is absolutely dependent on geologic resources for its health and survival. Serious economic and social problems will face us by the middle of the 21st century, primarily because the petroleum window for the planet, which has driven the tremendous economic growth of the past 140 years, will begin to close. Alternatives for petroleum, in all of its myriad uses, will have to be found. And, this problem is only the most obvious and immediate of our challenges.
Sustainability is the current buzzword for the future of humanity. Under what conditions, and at what quality level, can humans persist on Earth indefinitely? The question arises because of two specters that are lurking too far behind the scenes for many of us, but that need to be faced: population growth and unfettered consumption of Earth's resources.
Population growth cannot be sustained in a closed container such as "Spaceship Earth" without ultimately overwhelming the container. This mathematical truth is finally becoming recognized internationally. Current projections by international population prognosticators, based on evidence of declining birth rates, suggest that planning for a world population stabilized at about 10 billion people by 2050 may be reasonable.
If we stabilize near that number, we have only won half the battle. We then need to consider how to feed, clothe, house, entertain, and employ a population of that size. Central to this question is the source of the energy that runs our factories; lights and heats our houses, municipal buildings, and business structures; and propels our cars, trains, and airplanes. For most of the developed world, the great bulk of this energy comes from fossil fuels, particularly from petroleum.
Calculations by several independent investigators agree that in the first few decades of the 21st century, world petroleum production will peak. By the end of the century, or shortly thereafter, petroleum will be effectively lost as a major source of the world's energy. The United States is already depended on imports for more than half of its petroleum needs. What will be our energy options when the oil runs out? Can we wean ourselves from this oil dependency? What are the realistic alternatives? Also, we need to recognize that petrochemicals, from pharmaceuticals to plastics to tires, are derived from nonrenewable oil and gas and have no reasonable alternative source.
Consumer demands from an ever-growing human population threaten to deplete many other nonrenewable geologic resources; already, renewables such as water and topsoil that are essential to our agricultural well-being in many areas of the world are being stressed.
GeoDestinies is written for the intelligent layperson. The presentation of issues and alternatives is well balanced, and both illustrations and tables are clear and relevant. The writing plods a little, and information occasionally turns up in more than one chapter, but these slight imperfections shouldn't detract from the importance of the massage. Key chapters focus on the "Petroleum Interval," alternative energy sources, water and topsoil use and abuse, myths and realities of mineral resources, and sustainable utilization of Earth's resources. GeoDestinies also contains useful background chapters on how mineral resources have been used and where they are located; mineral economics; and the central importance of mineral resources to the history, growth, and development of the human enterprise. One useful chapter summarizes myths and realities, which are also dealt with in more detail elsewhere in the book. Some of the key myths are:
- alternative energy resources can readily replace oil,
- alternative energy sources are environmentally benign, and
- biomass can be a major source of liquid fuels.
This is a very important book for everybody because it lays out quite nicely the real problems we face in the next century as population and consumption catch up with the supply of key natural resources. Buy it, read it, and discuss it with your friends.
A. R. (Pete) Palmer
Institute for Cambrian Studies
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on 17 December 1997
Upcoming Review in Evolution and Ecology
This book is intended as a completely interdisciplinary undergraduate text demonstrating the causal linkages through which the amount and value per unit of geological resources produced in a nation affects the value of the currency, and the economic health and political power.
While some of the content will be familiar to some readers of this journal, there is nothing in existence like it, and the best-informed living people would find at least a quarter of the book a complete surprise. The book links geological resources of nations, history, economics, political science, international relations, culture and religion like nothing else I have ever seen.
Despite Gibbon, Spengler and many others, none has yet put forth a completely satisfactory theory of the rise and fall of the Roman Empire. This author shows how Roman power depended on gold and silver from various sources (e.g. Greece and Spain), and how when supplies ran out, the coinage was debased and Rome could no longer afford the costs of keeping the empire intact (e.g. mercenaries who fought for money, not patriotism).
Margaret Thatcher was the most popular leader in modern British history. Her power depended on surplus foreign exchange from exporting North Sea oil. The U.S. dollar and international prestige increase and decrease in value depending on the amount of oil imported, and the price per barrel.
One particularly gripping part of the book is a64-page treatment of proposed new alternate energy sources. All these imaginary panaceas turn to mists in a swamp at night when examined with the lenses of net energy and energy profit ratios. Nothing will replace what we are burning up quickly now. Every possible replacement has problems which have received little publicity.
Al through history there have been two responses to mineral wealth. One is to regard it as an infinite cornucopia, and create nothing of permanent value to outlast the minerals. Alaska is a startling example. A century from now it will be like it was a century ago. The other alternative is to recognize that a storage is being converted to a flow, and try to convert some of the flow to another storage. The author discusses what Stanford, Rockefeller, Carnegie, Rhodes, and Guggenheim did with their wealth from mineral resources. My life was profoundly affected by two of these men, so the argument hit me. The pattern is that governments do not have a good track record of managing depleting storages. Individual wise people do very well at that job.
Of particular interest to readers of this journal will be Mineral Economics. Huge time lags separate the time when money is spent on mineral projects to the time when major profits appear. Income first began to flow from the Prudhoe Bay oilfield 30 years after the first money was spent on exploration. The risk to reward ratio is very high, and political instability in a country with great potential oil resources my be unacceptable. Taxing reserves discourages exploration. The author relates the oil business to "natural capital."
This book, together with many other recent writings, recent government statistics on the oil business (62 percent of all U.S. oil is imported; that % is rising 3% per year) and the wild recent gyrations in earnings and share values of companies in the oil field service industry are doubtless early warning indicators of huge price increases in oil within a few years. The implications are pervasive, very far-reaching, and very serious.
Kenneth E. F. Watt
University of California
Davis CA 95616
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on 11 June 1999
GeoDestinies is an exceptional reference for all people, regardless of their education or profession, who are intrigued by our civilization's rapid changes over the past century and how geology has played a symbiotic role. The text is written in laymen's terms and can easily be understood by all that have pondered the questions, "How have we achieved so much in so short a period?" and "What is our position in regards to our planet's non-renewable resources?" I can not stress enough how important the information contained in this book is to the future of our country and planet. If one is to look at the timeline of our industrial civilization and relate that to the timeline of the creation of the natural resources that we are using at a phenomenal rate, it is practically unconceivable to most people. If you are pondering the reading of this book, then you are not 'most people'. Read the book and share what you have learned with all who will listen.
GeoDestinies helps to identify the forces that will determine our future. Some of these include the exponential population explosion, the ever-increasing demand and use of fossil fuels and other non-renewable resources, the degradation of our soils and groundwater, the truths and misinformation concerning alternative energy sources, and the relationships between natural resources and politics, economics, and our culture as a whole.
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on 10 July 1999
An outstanding book. Read it and you will understand so much more about current events and our energy situation. A great reference source too. I find myself coming back to this book often to check up on something I have heard or read about lately.
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