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.
- Peak everything: waking up to the century of decline, by Richard Heinberg
- Rising powers, shrinking planet, by Michael Klare