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Page added on May 15, 2019

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Why Resources Aren’t ‘Natural’ and Will Never Run Out

Consumption

Last week, the World Wildlife Fund proclaimed May 10 to be Europe’s “Overshoot Day,” the day that Europe consumed its portion of Earth’s resources for the year. The WWF, the United Nations, and universities continue to warn that modern society is rapidly depleting our natural resources. But instead, trends show that for all practical purposes, Earth’s resources will never run out.

The World Wildlife Fund proclaims August 1 this year as Earth Overshoot Day, where society will have used “more natural resources than the planet is able to produce in a 12-month period.” They estimate that Overshoot Day for the United States occurred already in March, warning that the US is using four times its share of sustainable global resources.

Overshoot Day is a continuation of the long-running ideology that humans are consuming too much of Earth’s resources. Environmentalist David Suzuki said, “We live in a world of finite resources. Although it may sometimes seem quite big, Earth is really very small―a tiny blue and green oasis of life in a cold universe.” Margaret Beckett, UK Environment Secretary pointed out in 2006, “It is a stark and arresting fact that, since the middle of the 20th century, humankind has consumed more natural resources than in all previous human history.”

Price trends are usually a good indicator of resource scarcity. The World Bank maintains a world commodity price database of 41 commodities from 1960 to present. Inflation-adjusted trends show that from 1960-2015, food prices have declined, agricultural raw material and industrial metal prices have been flat, and energy prices, dominated by the price of oil, have increased. Commodity prices fluctuate widely from decade to decade, but we don’t see a rising price trend indicating resource exhaustion.

The 1972 international best-selling book Limits to Growth predicted humanity would run out of aluminum by 2027, copper by 2020, gold by 2001, lead by 2036, mercury by 2013, silver by 2014, and zinc by 2022. But today, none of these metals is in historically short supply.

Global production of industrial metals soared from 1960-2014. Annual production levels were up: aluminum (996 percent), copper (417 percent), iron ore (531 percent), lead (343 percent), nickel (455 percent), tin (66 percent), and zinc (348 percent). At the same time, the World Bank industrial metal real price index of these seven metals was flat, down a little more than one percent by 2015. World reserves of copper, iron ore, lead, and zinc stand near all-time highs. Prices are not rising as predicted by resource-depletion pessimists.

“Natural resources” is a misleading label. The term “natural resources” conveys the naive idea that food, energy, or materials can merely be plucked from a tree or gathered from a field or stream. Raw materials are natural, but resources are created by humans from raw materials.

Consider the miracle of copper refining. Rock containing copper is fragmented by explosions and then loaded onto huge trucks with 240-ton capacity. Each ton of rock contains only 13 pounds of copper. The copper ore then goes through a series of milling machines that grind the rock down to a fine powder. Next the powder goes through a flotation cell, where the copper floats to the top of a solution and is skimmed off, producing 28 percent copper concentrate. Three different furnaces come next, smelting the metal into 98 percent copper. Finally, electrolysis is used in a half-mile-long factory to produce ingots that are 99.99 percent copper. Advancing human technology continues to produce high-quality copper from ores of declining copper concentration.

But aren’t we running out of raw materials to make copper metal and other resources? Most people don’t realize the vast quantity of raw materials available on our planet. Canadian geologist David Brooks estimated that a single average cubic mile of Earth’s crust contains a billion tons of aluminum (from bauxite), over 500 million tons of iron, a million tons of zinc and 600,000 tons of copper.

There are 57 million such square miles of Earth’s land surface and almost triple that area under the surface of the oceans. Of course, only a tiny fraction of metals in Earth’s crust is economically recoverable with today’s technology. Nevertheless, Earth’s supply of raw materials is finite, but vast.

But aren’t we running out of hydrocarbon energy? In 1977, President Jimmy Carter told the nation, “World consumption of oil is still going up. If it were possible to keep it rising during the 1970s and 1980s …we could use up all the proven reserves of oil in the entire world by the end of the next decade.”

President Carter and his advisors were wrong. Petroleum engineers changed the world with the technological advances of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling. United States daily oil production more than doubled from 5 million barrels in 2008 over 12 million barrels today. US natural gas production also doubled over the last decade.

From 1980-2017 world petroleum production increased more than 50 percent. But world crude oil reserves increased 150 percent, from 27 years of supply to 46 years of supply at higher production rates. The same doomsayers that continue to forecast resource depletion were certain we had reached peak oil a decade ago.

Today, humanity has the greatest abundance of resources in history. Human ingenuity determines resource availability, not the amount of fruit on a tree or the number of rocks on the ground. Driven by advancing human technology, for all practical purposes, Earth’s resources will never run out.

Heartland.org



22 Comments on "Why Resources Aren’t ‘Natural’ and Will Never Run Out"

  1. Mick on Wed, 15th May 2019 3:47 pm 

    Absolutly no mention of Eroei, its never been about how much resources we have but the cost and energy to extract them.Thats why we dont get gold from the oceans even though theres millions of tons in there. never mind human ingenuity will save the day.lol

  2. Gaia on Wed, 15th May 2019 4:33 pm 

    Humanity is committing mass suicide by overpopulation, climate change, overconsumption of natural resources. Greed and ignorance are the root of all evil.

  3. peakyeast on Wed, 15th May 2019 5:14 pm 

    As usually the writer obviously hasn’t even bothered to read – much less understand limits to growth.

    Billy Aouste – Media Specialist at The Heartland Institute…

    Media Specialist – I can believe that. And obviously a liar, manipulator and creator of fake news.

  4. Nostradamus on Wed, 15th May 2019 6:12 pm 

    What a waste of bandwidth.

  5. DerHundistLos on Wed, 15th May 2019 6:18 pm 

    After reading the title of this article, I immediately accessed the article credits, and what a surprise this nonsense is being offered up by the Koch Bros. funded, Heartland Institute.

    Move on.

  6. DerHundistLos on Wed, 15th May 2019 6:21 pm 

    And the conservative Koch Bros. Heartland Institute misquoted President Carter. He was speaking about the larger issue of sustainability and the need for the citizenry to address these environmental challenges now, not wait until the moment of catastrophe when the suffering will be greatest and our options limited.

    Scum.

  7. DerHundistLos on Wed, 15th May 2019 6:34 pm 

    The first official act of the Reagan administration was to tear down the solar panels President Carter had installed to demonstrate leadership from the top. The Reagan people stated conservation is not the purview of government, but instead focus exclusively on growth.

    Gee, that’s turning out to be a swell idea…….

    In Morris Berman’s book, “Why America Failed”, Berman observed how America has a history of marginalizing alternative voices like Emerson, Thoreau, John Kenneth Galbraith, and lastly Jimmy Carter.

    Berman stated, “Whereas Reagan understood that the American people are narcissistic, require an enemy, and are driven by endless consumerism, the honest and good Carter way over estimated the quality of the American people…. Carter was the last public figure to possess the courage to speak the truth, and for this honesty he lost reelection.”

  8. Duncan Idaho on Wed, 15th May 2019 6:40 pm 

    Sir Ronnie was not the brightest porch light on the block, and was working underground for the feds.
    But the repugs loved him–
    The 70’s were much too scary for the average repug. They needed something dumb.

  9. makati1 on Wed, 15th May 2019 7:28 pm 

    Pure lies, disinformation and bullshit to pacify and distract the dumbed down masses in the US from their eventual self-caused demise. America deserves what is coming and it is coming fast.

    GO TRUMP! TRUMP IN 2020! TRUMP, AMERICA’S GODZILLA!

  10. Sissyfuss on Wed, 15th May 2019 8:28 pm 

    If this article was printed on actual paper, I wouldn’t recycle it, I’d burn it. And I recycle everything.

  11. Antius on Wed, 15th May 2019 9:41 pm 

    “The 1972 international best-selling book Limits to Growth predicted humanity would run out of aluminum by 2027, copper by 2020, gold by 2001, lead by 2036, mercury by 2013, silver by 2014, and zinc by 2022. But today, none of these metals is in historically short supply.”

    Absolutely not what LTG actually said. It was a series of computer simulations of the state of human society at different times into the future, with different input assumptions for the abundance of many different types of resources, both renewable and non renewable.

    What it predicted was an inevitable decline in human living standards, life expectancy and population as resource sets depleted and natural sinks for toxins were filled. Because growth is exponential, you can double, triple or more the size of many important resources and gain only a decade or two in reaching the final peak in terms of resources per capita.

    In a sense, the article is correct. Resources will not run out. But as energy requirements for materials rises, whilst energy cost of energy increases; human prosperity is caught in a pincer movement, that will gradually grind down real prosperity per capita. At the same time, environmental degradation will make it progressively more expensive to feed everyone. The end result? Inevitable poverty; declining birthrates and rising death rates. We are starting to see this actually come true in the western world.

    If you understand the problem, then you will also understand why I strongly recommend space colonisation. Both myself and Jeff Bezos are on the same page here. It is probably the only thing in the universe that we would agree on.

  12. Antius on Wed, 15th May 2019 9:45 pm 

    “Absolutly no mention of Eroei, its never been about how much resources we have but the cost and energy to extract them.Thats why we dont get gold from the oceans even though theres millions of tons in there. never mind human ingenuity will save the day.lol”

    Exactly Mike. You hit the nail on the head.

  13. DerHundistLos on Wed, 15th May 2019 11:08 pm 

    Siss-

    You are too kind. Quite frankly, I’m not comfortable soliciting money. And it’s surprisingly inexpensive to make a big difference. The biggest issue for extranjeros is security, although I get along well with the left-wing guerillas known as the FARC (the real danger is with the criminal right-wing paramilitary death squads that were created and funded by the mega wealthy land owners). The FARC have strict laws that are honored without exception. For example, if a person is caught poaching, regardless of nationality, typically the offender(s) is delivered to the local Indians for swift punishment. The Indians are tiny people unlike their North American cousins, but fierce, and the absolute worst possible crime is to defile “the giver of all life”- the environment. Before they kill an animal while hunting, they go through a ceremony thanking the animal for its sacrifice. Several months ago, they caught a group of Chinese nationals gathering up huge quantities of wildlife from an elaborate network of traps. I don’t know the details, but I do know what was left of them was delivered to the Chinese consulate in Cali.

  14. DerHundistLos on Thu, 16th May 2019 1:50 am 

    Why is it important the president of the US is trusted and respected by the rest of the world?

    President Carter is the only president to have negotiated a true and lasting Middle East peace agreement. Forty years ago exactly the Camp David Peace Accord was signed between two historic enemies- Israel and Egypt. Ever since then peace and cooperation have remained between the two countries.

    When Begin and Sadat were asked why Carter succeeded while all other presidents failed, they replied that Carter could be TRUSTED to be a fair arbiter.

    It’s interesting to note, every US president for the past 100 years has presided over a state of perpetual warfare, except for one Peace President- Jimmy Carter.

  15. Mick on Thu, 16th May 2019 3:28 am 

    My take is Human Ingenuity has managed to drag this experiment on for another decade or so with Q.E and all the other senanigans TPTB come up with to keep kicking that can up the road . but the can is about to hit that wall very soon

  16. Davy on Thu, 16th May 2019 4:45 am 

    “If you understand the problem, then you will also understand why I strongly recommend space colonisation. Both myself and Jeff Bezos are on the same page here. It is probably the only thing in the universe that we would agree on.”

    Bezos is a bozo. I read through his space colony idea lightly. I read lightly when the shit is a waste of time but one should see what is going on in others heads. Space colonization is like a possible refuge here on earth for collapse by some chosen few. Maybe in South America on the edge of the Andes in caves or something a few can hide while the SHTF. A few lucky chosen ones maybe will find refuge in space. It won’t be me. Last I looked nobody has found refuge from mortality of the flesh. Space colonization may be possible but it will be for a few lucky ones.

    I preach honesty with adaptation individually and local to an end time process. There is no way to tell if this collapse process is extinction but the status quo of billions living like energy kings is nearing an end. Space travel is just more of thinking we can continue to be king and rule a vast energy kingdom. Our species is so far out of scale to a planet how would a spacecraft suffice? It is not valid and it is a huge waste of resources at a time when we have none to waste.

  17. forbin on Thu, 16th May 2019 10:04 am 

    so here – >

    “Advancing human technology continues to produce high-quality copper from ores of Advancing human technology continues to produce high-quality copper from ores of declining copper concentration..”

    think about it , that last bit ” declining copper concentration ”

    The article gave the game away there .

    Forbin

  18. southwest_PA on Thu, 16th May 2019 2:23 pm 

    “a series of milling machines… a flotation cell… Three different furnaces… Finally, electrolysis in a half-mile-long factory”

    Gosh, that’s a lot of effort for 13 pounds of metal.

  19. Outcast_Searcher on Thu, 16th May 2019 4:13 pm 

    forbin: When we’re running out of copper and substitutes, including recycling, be sure and let us know.

    Meanwhile in the real world, as usual, the truth is somewhere in the middle, as evidenced by reality re data and trends.

    No, the resources aren’t infinite. But yes, resources end up going a LONG LONG way further than the perma-doomers forecast, due to technological progress, discoveries, the profit motive, etc.

    Since both of the extremes re preaching are more interested in advocating their “side” than looking for truth, neither side will ever admit (even to themselves) when they’re clearly wrong.

    Just look at “peak oil” as an example. More oil than ever and trends continue upward, yet the clowns around here keep claiming peak, when no peak is even in sight.

    Little wonder the public loses interest and buy giant trucks and SUV’s, and can afford the fuel for them.

    That’s stupid, but clowns lying about peak oil don’t help.

  20. Ikata on Fri, 17th May 2019 7:10 pm 

    We are back in 1970 again, when good greens predicted the extinction of humanity by 1990 or 2000 at the latest. It’s happening again!!!

  21. Anonymouse on Fri, 17th May 2019 7:23 pm 

    No, I seriously doubt any ‘good greens’ (define please), made any such claims. And if anyone did express such sentiments, none of those people were oracles for some kind of ‘good green movement’ that exists only in your head.

    I notice you are squawking about straw-men greens from the 1970s. Do you have anything to say about all the cornucopian diptards that were predicting we would all have flying cars, vacations on the moon, and robot maids or all the other cheery predictions about how awesome life in the ‘future'(tm), was going to be?

    For every 70s doomsters, the was at least one, if not more, cornies predicting the future would be so bright, we’d all have to wear shades. Well, the future came and went, and it wasn’t a complete disaster, but it sure as hell isnt anything like the Star-Trek post scarcity techno-utopia we were all promised either. In fact, the future has been a bit a shit-show all around in case you hadn’t noticed.

  22. DerHundistLos on Sat, 18th May 2019 9:14 pm 

    Anonymouse-

    Compliments for an excellent retort to a cornucopian clown. It’s always entertaining how people will make up facts to support their claim.

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