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Bureau Seminar, April 18, 2014

Chickens and Gallium: Evidence for peaks
of material use from the United States

Link to streaming video: available 04.18.2014 at 8:55am

Jesse H. Ausubel
Director, Program for the Human Environment
The Rockefeller University, New York

Can changing preferences and improved efficiency ever overwhelm generally rising GDP and decrease the absolute tons of materials America uses? A century of American experience and learning reveals several typical trajectories for materials use. Looking at a collection of 100 different commodities from titanium and timber to water and nitrogen we note that both relative and absolute amounts rose across the board from 1910 to 1970. The year 1970 offers an inflection point. The data from 1970 to 2010 show a more mixed story for the two indicators. Analysis of our basket during 1970-2010 reveals three classes of commodities. Thirty-six commodities dematerialized relatively and also experienced peaks in annual consumption; fifty-three commodities dematerialized relatively and continued to grow in absolute annual consumption but may be nearing peaks; only eleven commodities, including chickens and gallium, experienced both rising relative and rising absolute consumption. The USA may be nearing peak use of many resources and commodities, which would have strong implications for security, business, and environment.

About Jesse Huntley Ausubel
Jesse Huntley Ausubelis Director of the Program for the Human Environment ( at The Rockefeller University in New York City. Mr. Ausubel spent the first decade of his career in Washington DC working for the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) and National Academy of Engineering. On behalf of the Academies, he was one of the main organizers of the first UN World Climate Conference in Geneva in 1979, an event which substantially elevated the global warming issue on scientific and political agendas. He also coordinated and authored much of the 1983 NAS report Changing Climate, the first comprehensive review of the greenhouse effect.
Since 1989 Mr. Ausubel has served on the faculty of The Rockefeller University, where he leads a research program to elaborate the technical vision of a large, prosperous society that emits little or nothing harmful and spares large amounts of land and sea for nature. With colleagues from IIASA, he invented and developed the concept of “decarbonization” and published the first paper using the word in 1991. In 2009 Mr. Ausubel helped initiate the Deep Carbon Observatory ( to search for secrets of volcanoes and diamonds, roots of oil & gas, and origins and limits of life.
Mr. Ausubel is an adjunct scientist of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and has led several activities of the US Council on Foreign Relations about environment and resources. From 2006-2010 served as a director of the Electric Power Research Institute and is now a member of its Advisory Council.

In 2009 Dalhousie University (Canada) awarded Mr. Ausubel an honorary doctorate for his contributions to environmental science, in 2010 he received the Blue Frontier/Peter Benchley prize for ocean science, in 2011 was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, in 2012 St. Andrews University (Scotland) awarded him an honorary doctorate and in the US he was named National Ocean Champion.



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