Monday, December 21, 2009

The Coming Shortage Of All The World's Most Important Industrial Metals

To read André Diederen's deeply scary presentation, 'Metal minerals scarcity and the Elements of Hope' (presented at the ‘Peak’ Summit, Alcatraz, Italy, June 27, 2009 and republished by Business Insider), click on the title of this post.

In essence: all the major metals on which western economies rely will peak within the next few decades. And then... To quote verbatim the conclusion:

  1. Less affordable mass electronic products
  2. Forget large-scale conversion towards alternative energy sources
  3. Forget large-scale electrification of land-based transport
  4. Chemical compounds will become more expensive
  5. Construction and machining will become more expensive
  6. Metals scarcity will aggravate energy scarcity

I think 2, 3 and 6 are quite enough. But there will be no Copenhagen for resource depletion until it is far too late, because all the key resources are owned by corporations or national governments. The USA and EU are especially exposed, and especially exposed to China - an almost equally scary idea.

As for Diederen's proposed solution:

  1. Use less or “managed austerity”
  2. Longer product lifetime
  3. Recycling and reuse of materials
  4. Substitution of materials
  5. Develop adapted new products
  6. Stockpiles

Hard to see how any of this can be achieved under the current economic regime:

  1. Use less or 'managed austerity' - In a production/consumption-driven capitalist economy?
  2. Longer product lifetime - As above.
  3. Recycling and reuse of materials - Possibly, but the maths of exponential growth means this will only put of the peak by a few years. Has no one learned from the Limits to Growth?
  4. Substitution of materials - With what? How often can metallic materials be replaced with non-metallic materials? Sometimes...
  5. Develop adapted new products - OK if these can be made profitable - and do not themselves involve any of the key materials. Hard to imagine.
  6. Stockpiles - Given the above, what will there be left to stockpile?

Finally, the effect of materials shortages and the domination all this hands to undemocratic governments and global corporations will be to undermine the possibility this very solution ever being carried out.

Very few 'elements of hope', I think.

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