Review in Oregon Geology, and a Response

Reviewed by Robert M. Whelan
Portland, Oregon

GeoDestinies discredits the widely held belief that "science will think of something" to solve the depletion of natural resources. In nontechnical terms, author Youngquist describes how world population growth will exhaust, in practical terms, many of the Earth's resources in the near future. He notes that "Geology, not economics, ultimately controls the availability of Earth resources."

Alarmist writings about the world running out of oil and other geological resources have cropped up periodically for more than a century now. Such predictions failed to consider the effects of new technologies, discoveries of additional reserves, substitution of materials, more recycling, and higher efficiencies. Consequently, rather than seeing the classic sign of shortages -- prices rising faster than general inflation -- we have seen declines in the prices of most mineral resources and those commoditiies, such as wheat, that use them (fertilizer, topsoil, groundwater). Youngquist discounts all this by noting that population growth is exponential and that science will no longer be able to keep up with the ever rising demands on resources.

Youngquist offers some compelling arguments. He emphasizes many of the geological and scientific realities often ignored by academics who rely too heavily on the belief that technology will protect us from shortages. He does an excellent job exploding popular myths about the environment, energy, and mineral resources. His book is written on a level that can be understood by someone with little background in science or economics.

It is clear, however, that he has very strong views stemming from his personal background working in the oil industry. Consequently, the book is not a balanced presentation. It places little weight on how changing prices and incomes can affect the allocation of scarce resources. Nonetheless, the book is thought provoking and, at times, entertaining to read.

Oregon Geology,
Vol. 60 no. 1, p. 22
January/February 1998

. . . and a reply . . .

As Mr. Whelan Says, GeoDestinies discredits the widely-held belief that "Science will think of something." Population growth on this planet is increasing almost exponentially, especially in the so-called "developing countries," and although technological discoveries have been able to provide the food and energy needed to maintain a reasonably comfortable living for most people, this situation cannot continue forever.

Mr. Whelan asserts that the price of most mineral products has declined over the years and implies that this trend will continue into the foreseeable future. As much as we may wish otherwise, there are _finite_amounts_ of minerals, including fossil fuels, on this earth, and a point will be reached sometime during the next century when technology simply will not be able to keep up with the increased demand. As a result, commodity prices will rise.

GeoDestinies is a carefully documented report covering a wide range of topics that describe the ever-growing importance of minerals in both national and international affairs. The two chapters on alternative energy sources are especially worthy of study and should be required reading for everyone who feels that such "new technologies" as solar power, wind power, fusion, and hydrogen fuel cells will produce all our energy needs in the 21st century.

I am particularly disturbed by Mr. Whelan's comment that the author's "personal background" as a petroleum geologist with more than 50 years' experience doesnot allow him to give a completely objective view of the subject. I would argue that, on the contrary, what we need at the policy-making level in this country are people like Dr. Youngquist who are especially knowledgeable in the fields of mineral exploration and development because of the very nature of their expertise.

R. E. Corcoran,
Oregon Geology, Vol. 60 no. 2, p. 45
March/April 1998