Walter L. Youngquist, PhD
With the passing of Dr. Walter Youngquist in February, NPG and the many Americans alarmed by unending population growth and rapid depletion of earth’s resources have lost a distinguished and deeply experienced author, thinker, advocate and friend.
A petroleum geologist with a doctorate in geology, Dr. Youngquist taught, wrote and spoke publicly over several decades on the dangers to humanity of its profligate consumption of non-renewable minerals, including petroleum, top soil and water, intensified by the world’s driving quest for rapid and perpetual economic growth. One of his friends said that Youngquist sought gamely to bring his unwelcome message of limits on population size and economic growth in presentations to skeptical Chambers of Commerce and business groups: he did not get invited back.
Youngquist’s career as a scientist, author and environmentalist abounds with honors and accomplishments. He was Professor of Geology at the University of Oregon for nearly a decade. He worked as a petroleum researcher, advisor and consultant in more than 70 countries, including assignments with Exxon, Sun Oil, Shell, and Amoco. He was an emeritus member of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, and Fellow of both The Geological Society of America and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
In recent years, Dr. Youngquist had served on the Advisory Board of Peak–Oil.Org, a project of the Post Carbon Institute. He long worked closely with other distinguished geological and minerals experts and researchers in the petroleum field in developing and educating the public on the approach of “peak oil.” Peak oil, a concept pioneered by distinguished geologist L. King Hubbert, found that the world is rapidly approaching the peak of growth in production of crude petroleum, now at about 82 million barrels a day, and will experience in the next few decades petroleum’s progressive decline in availability and quality, and rapid increase in prices.
Production data has supported Youngquist’s and fellow scientists’ conclusion that the U.S. had already reached peak crude production in 1973 at about 9.2 million barrels a day and thereafter would be increasingly dependent on imports. Indeed, since 1973 U.S. annual production has fallen below that threshold a number of years, but never exceeded it by more than 4.5 percent in any one year while imports have soared. The outcome, Youngquist foresaw and feared, would be major disruptions of a global industrial society now addicted to cheap petroleum for such diverse uses as transport, power for industry, agricultural production and building materials.
The unique qualities of petroleum such as its high energy density and transportability, Youngquist warned in many of his more than 150 articles (eight of them for NPG) and ten books, could not be replaced by renewables. This portended the early demise of the petroleum era and the inescapable need for serious cuts in consumption along with reduction of the number of the world’s and the nation’s consumers.
Youngquist well understood, according to his fellow author and environmentalist Richard Reese, that “a sustainable world population is far, far less than seven point something.” He saw an urgent need for America’s transition to a steady-state economy.
Dr. Youngquist considered his major single contribution to public understanding of the dilemma of depletion of vital minerals was his 1997 book, Geodestinies: The Inevitable Control of Earth Resources over Nations and Individuals. Lindsey Grant, NPG consultant, author and long-time friend of Youngquist hails this book as “. . . a memorable exploration of the limits that geology places on human expansion.”
The world will miss Dr. Youngquist’s intellectual rigor, persuasiveness and deep concern for mankind’s future on our planet. NPG and millions of concerned Americans will miss him too.
World population, now over 7.3 billion, is predicted to rise to 9 billion by 2050, an increase of almost two billion, or 23%, in the short space of only 34 years from now.In the highly unlikely event that per capita greenhouse gas emissions could possibly be decreased by an equal percentage in such a short space of time (a blink of an eye) the total amount of worldwide emission would remain the same!
From this simple illustration it would appear that without drastically reducing the size of world population, there is no solution to the problem.None at all.So then why do our world leaders pretend that there is one?What is to be gained by pretending rather than by proposing a solution that would solve the problem – a reduction in the size of world population to not more than 1- 2 billion?