Peak everything: global resource depletion rates

This is something I’ve been looking for for quite some time – the depletion rates of various non-renewable resources. This graph shows the number of years of supply that remain, if we were to carry on consuming at today’s rates.

Of course, consumption of every one of these resources is growing rather than remaining at a steady depletion rate, so we don’t actually have as long as the numbers here might suggest. They also assume that all known reserves are recoverable, but the easily accessible reserves are mined first. The last dregs might be in mountainous terrain or war zones, and just uneconomic to exploit.

On the other hand, recycling means there will be life beyond these figures. Gold and silver will be melted down and recast, although expect the prices to rise considerably. There are also alternatives. Indium is a metal that can be spread in uniquely thin layers, and is used to make LCDs and touchscreens. There may only be 13 years of naturally occuring indium left, but it can be produced from zinc or copper refining processes.

I’d also like a second opinion on these figures. They’ve been compiled by the information agency CIRCA and published in their book Where we are now, using data from the University of Augsburg. If anyone knows of a more immediate source, please let me know.

Either way, it’s pretty crazy to think that in 50 years time we may have used up all the economically accessible supplies of some very useful and important things, such as tin, lead and oil. Managing the decline of natural resources could turn out to be one of the political priorities of the century.


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13 Comments on “Peak everything: global resource depletion rates”

  1. Sam Norton January 12, 2010 at 5:53 pm #

    The coal one looks a bit high, in the light of the various analyses done over the last five years – lots of stuff on the OilDrum about it, search under ‘Routledge’.

  2. Suhit Anantula January 13, 2010 at 7:02 am #

    One thing that can be different is that more the known reserves will increase and/or alternatives for their use will be found including more recycling.

  3. Jeremy January 13, 2010 at 10:01 am #

    I see what you mean Sam. Interesting that in this case global reserves have been revised downwards rather than upwards. Rather than finding more, we’re discovering there’s a whole lot less than we thought.

  4. Robert Rapplean May 31, 2010 at 6:13 pm #

    I was noticing that you said that indium can be produced from zinc or copper. This is an odd statement because indium is an element, and can’t be synthesized with anything less than a particle accelerator. Are you referring to extracting indium from zinc or copper ore?

    • Jeremy June 1, 2010 at 9:06 am #

      Sorry, an unclear statement from me – it cannot be created out of zinc or copper, but it can be extracted from the zinc or copper refining processes. It is unusual to find pure reserves of indium, but it is often found mixed with other metals.

  5. Custers November 13, 2013 at 12:49 pm #

    Hi, New Scientist had some very good graphs in 2007. Best, Raf Custers, researcher, Brussels blog

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