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THE CHEMIST IN CONSERVATION

THE WORK OF THE CHEMIST IN CONSERVATION[1]
By Professor ELBERT W. ROCKWOOD

STATE UNIVERSITY OF IOWA

AMONG business firms it is the custom at regular intervals to stop and take an inventory of the stock on hand, to set opposite one another the income and expenses of the past, and to strike a balance which shall show the condition of the institution. "Within the past few years this country has been engaged in such a stock-taking of its natural resources and we have reports from various quarters as to its condition, showing that its affairs, in respect to these resources, have been recklessly managed and that without a change in its methods it is rapidly traveling toward insolvency.

We learn that the end of our mineral deposits is in sight; that the United States produces every five years as much iron as the whole world in the 350 years previous to 1850; that in 1907 over 100 times as much steel was made as in 1874; that our coal, which was millions of years in formation, is being dissipated in hundreds, and even in tens. We are told that the next generation may see the end of our anthracite coal and that, while the bituminous may last ten times as long, the limit of the amount available can be closely calculated.

Recent developments in the use of petroleum as a fuel have been rapid. This is also true of its derivative, gasoline, which, up to the present time, is the only satisfactory fuel to furnish energy for aviation and one of the most successful in boats, automobile motors and for many other purposes. Such an enormous demand has been created that the United States Geological Survey predicts that the known supplies of petroleum can not last more than about fifty years. The closely related natural gas is being used at an alarming rate and no scientist claims that its production approaches the rate of its consumption. Charcoal as a source of heat is practically negligible. Our forests are disappearing—half a million acres annually for railroad ties; fifteen acres for a single issue of a metropolitan newspaper; an estimated total consumption of wood amounting to one hundred thousand million board feet.

This depletion of our resources is perhaps a necessary accompaniment to the demands of an increasing national prosperity; but the case has an even darker side. The waste of material is terrific. The Anthracite Coal Waste Commission reported in 1893 that "for every ton pro-

  1. ↑ An address delivered to the Society of Sigma Xi, State University of Iowa.