2011 GSA Annual Meeting in Minneapolis (912 October 2011)
Paper No. 141-8
Presentation Time: 3:15 PM-3:30 PM


MEINERT, Lawrence D., Department of Geosciences, Smith College, Northampton, MA 01063, LDmeinert@gmail.com

Throughout history humans have relied on natural resources to meet basic needs of food, shelter, and comfort. However, with population growth and higher standards of living human needs sometimes have outpaced available resources resulting in shortages, price spikes, and even war. Some of these shortages were temporary or regional such that with time and transportation the shortages passed.

A more basic concern is exhaustion of a particular finite resource. For petroleum this resource constraint is often referred to as “peak oil”, with the general concept being that production will hit a peak as the easier/larger finds are exhausted and that even with higher prices, total production will tail off from the peak. Concerns about resource shortages are not limited to petroleum and the most recent panic has been about rare earth elements (REE). Indeed, several bills are currently under consideration in Congress dealing with the availability of REEs. But REEs are somewhat the “flavor of the day” and it is predictable that several years down the road other commodities such as lithium, helium, or phosphorus may be in shortage. Scrutiny of the periodic table and average crustal abundances suggests that as world population continues to grow past the current ~7 billion and living standards in populous countries like China, India, and Brazil continue to rise, “peak everything” is a likely result.

The concept of peak everything, or even “peak anything”, needs to be considered in the context of two fundamentally countervailing forces, that can be broadly classed as population growth versus innovation/exploration. Population growth has been discussed at least since the time of Malthus, but one consequence of geometric population growth (and related resource consumption) is that in the current doubling time of about 35 years, the world will consume as many resources as in all preceding human history. This is an extraordinary challenge that must be met by innovation and exploration. The Stone Age did not end because we ran out of stones. Rather human innovation and exploration developed new and better ways of solving old problems. Humans are now the planet’s biggest change agent as signified by the term Anthropocene and earth scientists are in a unique position to contribute to future solutions to resulting problems because we understand the past.

2011 GSA Annual Meeting in Minneapolis (912 October 2011)
General Information for this Meeting
Session No. 141
A Healthy Society, Geosciences, and Natural Resources II
Minneapolis Convention Center: Room M100BC
1:30 PM-5:30 PM, Monday, 10 October 2011

Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs, Vol. 43, No. 5, p. 355

© Copyright 2011 The Geological Society of America (GSA), all rights reserved. Permission is hereby granted to the author(s) of this abstract to reproduce and distribute it freely, for noncommercial purposes. Permission is hereby granted to any individual scientist to download a single copy of this electronic file and reproduce up to 20 paper copies for noncommercial purposes advancing science and education, including classroom use, providing all reproductions include the complete content shown here, including the author information. All other forms of reproduction and/or transmittal are prohibited without written permission from GSA Copyright Permissions.