Upcoming Review in Evolution and Ecology

Kenneth E. F. Watt
University of California
Davis CA 95616

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.