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Framework of the Future
DR. WALTER YOUNGQUIST: A GEOLOGIST’S PERSPECTIVE ON THE HUMAN PREDICAMENT
A Tribute by Leon Kolankiewicz
Several years ago I gave a presentation called “Geo Destinies in the Coming Age of Geo Scarcity.” It was, of course, inspired by the seminal research and writing about depletion of the petroleum and minerals geologist Walter Youngquist. At the outset of my talk, I extolled his landmark 1997 book Geodestinies: The Inevitable Control of Earth Resources Over Nations and Individuals.
Geodestinies was one experienced earth scientist’s refutation of the patent nonsense and magical thinking peddled by so many science-challenged mainstream (neoclassical) economists over the years, to wit, that innovation, technology, and free markets would ensure that there is essentially no limit to economic and population growth – even on a finite planet with dwindling natural capital. Professor Julian L. Simon was the most famous and ubiquitous of these gurus of growth. Yet another is MIT’s Robert M. Solow, winner of the 1987 Nobel Prize in Economics, who said in a 1974 lecture that: “The world can, in effect, get along without natural resources, so that exhaustion is just an event, not a catastrophe.” Depletion? Big deal! The price signal in a free market will always spur innovation and substitution so that progress can continue its inexorable ascent, forever.
Not so fast, responded Youngquist and a bevy of dissident physical and life scientists. The expanding human enterprise of the last two centuries, since the Industrial Revolution, is utterly reliant upon a host of renewable and non-renewable natural resources as well as crucial ecosystem services. No water, no food. No oil, no food – at least not in the abundance and variety that we now take for granted. It is delusional, argued the “limits” camp, to believe that human ingenuity is so omnipotent that it can simply wish and will resources into being.
Walter Youngquist’s vast store of knowledge and his insights on oil, gas, and mineral resource depletion were derived less from abstract theories and arcane equations in dusty academic libraries and more from authentic experience on the ground as a petroleum geologist. Yet his scholarly bona fides shine as well. He received his Ph.D. in geology from the University of Iowa. Youngquist is an emeritus member of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, as well as a Fellow of the Geological Society of America and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).
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