MSU researchers discover renewable resources have limits

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The days of assuming natural resources can be swapped to solve shortages - corn for oil, soy for beef - may be over. (view larger image)

Michigan State University (MSU) researchers have found that the production of many renewable resources has already peaked.

In a global survey of renewable resources, MSU researchers, in collaboration with scientists from the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research in Germany and Yale University found that 16 renewable resources, like corn, soybeans, milk and fish, peaked in production between 1988 and 2008. This presents a challenge for efforts to replace nonrenewable resources like oil with renewable ones like corn in a one-for-one sense, as it would require much larger quantities of renewable than are currently available. MSU AgBioResearch scientist Jianguo “Jack” Liu, a coauthor of the study, points to the need for a holistic approach to sustainability issues, rather than simply substituting one resource for another when it becomes scarce.

“People often talk about substitution. If we run out of one resource, we just substitute another,” Liu, the director of the MSU Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability, said. “The world is tightly telecoupled now. To produce one thing, you need multiple resources, often at distances, and we ignore that at our peril.”

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