Peak (Almost) Everything


Courtesy of Courtesy of Ensia

The concept of resource use peaking and then declining first gained ground in the 1950s when M. King Hubbert projected the arrival of peak oil use around 2000. That failed to materialize, but according to researchers from Germany and the U.S. writing in the journal Ecology and Society, peak use rate (defined as year of maximum resource appropriation rate) already has been achieved for a lot of other resources — and, because most of them are renewable resources, we would do well to pay attention to the fact.

Wondering how resource use has changed over time and what important messages might lie in the patterns perceived, mathematician and landscape ecologist Ralf Seppelt and colleagues decided to calculate whether and when 27 of the most important resources humanity depends on have reached peak rate of use. They found that three of seven nonrenewable resources examined — cropland, irrigated area and peat — have already reached peak rate of use, along with 18 of 20 renewable resources, including wheat, rice, meat, dairy, cotton, wood and milk. Strikingly, the vast majority of resources found to have hit their peak did so between 1989 and 2008.

Discovery of that rapid-fire timing offers an important perspective on potential solutions, the researchers noted.

“The synchronization of peak-rate years for global resource appropriation can be far more disruptive than a peak-rate year for one resource,” they wrote in their conclusion. “Peak-rate year synchrony suggests that the relationship among resource appropriation paths needs to be considered when assessing the likelihood of successful adaptation of the global society to physical scarcity.”

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