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Abstract: Rethinking Resources

William L. Fisher

We class energy and mineral resources as finite because we are reasonably certain that they do not form at a rate remotely approaching man's rate of use. We have certain environments of the earth that have limits in carrying capacity, and we presume that the global environment does as well. These facts and presumptions, coupled with anxieties over growth in population and consumption, have posed pictures of impending catastrophe from Malthus through the Club of Rome and currently, among certain advocates of what is called sustainable development. To avoid future calamity, command and control management of resource use is urged by many. But, quite simply, such management would presume a wisdom that historical experience suggests does not exist. As a recent example, consider natural gas resources. A decade and a half ago, the resource base of natural gas in the United States was judged to be near exhaustion. Estimates of remaining resources by governmental agencies, academicians, and several major energy companies indicated the ultimate resource would be at about 100 tcf today, with essential depletion by the end of the century. Such was the near universal wisdom that compelled Congress to enact legislation to outright prohibit certain use of natural gas. Today, after nearly eight years of gas supply in excess of demand and with entirely new appreciation of the impact of technology, estimates of the remaining gas resource by industry, government, and others are an order of magnitude greater than those made just 15 yr ago, and the same government that then sought to husb nd a resource presumed to be near depletion now aggressively promotes its use and consumption.

Limits to resources and limits to environmental carrying capacity do indeed exist, but we have yet to define those limits and the paths thereto. Limits historically thought to be at hand have been overtaken as limits now posed are likely to be. It is because, as Pecora so aptly said in Limitations to the Earth a quarter of a century ago, "We have not reached the limits of the basic resource, man's intellectual capacity." Our faith should be in our capacities, not our contrivances and presumptions of wisdom we do not yet have.

AAPG Search and Discovery Article #90983©1994 GCAGS and Gulf Coast SEPM 44th Annual Meeting, Austin, Texas, October 6-7, 1994