Resource Depletion

Key Points

Earth's natural wealth: an audit (New Scientist)

  • Platinum is a vital component not only of catalytic converters but also of fuel cells - and supplies are running out.
  • It has been estimated that if all the 500 million vehicles in use today were re-equipped with fuel cells, operating losses would mean that all the world's sources of platinum would be exhausted within 15 years.
  • There may be only 10 years before we run out of indium. Its impending scarcity could already be reflected in its price: in January 2003 the metal sold for around $60 per kilogram; by August 2006 the price had shot up to over $1000 per kilogram. Used in LCDs for flat screen TV's and computer monitors.
  • Take the metal gallium, which along with indium is used to make indium gallium arsenide. This is the semiconducting material at the heart of a new generation of solar cells that promise to be up to twice as efficient as conventional designs. Reserves of both metals are disputed, but in a recent report Ren� Kleijn, a chemist at Leiden University in the Netherlands, concludes that current reserves "would not allow a substantial contribution of these cells" to the future supply of solar electricity. He estimates gallium and indium will probably contribute to less than 1 per cent of all future solar cells - a limitation imposed purely by a lack of raw material.
  • Without more recycling, antimony, which is used to make flame retardant materials, will run out in 15 years, silver in 10 and indium in under five.
  • Terbium - used to make the green phosphors in fluorescent light bulbs - could run out before 2012.
  • When resources run short, conflict is often not far behind.
  • The US now imports over 90 per cent of its so-called "rare earth" metals from China, according to the US Geological Survey. If China decided to cut off the supply, that would create a big risk of conflict.

Manure More Precious Than Gold

  • Last year the prices of some farm fertilizers shot up to over a thousand dollars a ton. Ammonium polyphosphate is still nearly that high.
  • Deposits of potash in Canada, a main source of our potassium fertilizers, are declining. Natural gas, from which commercial nitrogen fertilizer is manufactured, is rising in cost as other uses compete for it.
  • If we run out of commercial fertilizers, there would be no way we could avoid a precipitous decline in crop yields while farmers switched to all-organic methods. It has taken us a couple hundred years to reduce the organic matter content in our soils to the low levels of today and experts say it might take at least half that long to build them back up again.
  • Cheap, plentiful manufactured fertilizers and a seeming infinity of farmland allowed the United States over the last two centuries to become the champion wastrel of agriculture (and everything else).

The real hunger crisis

Special report: How our economy is killing the Earth

  • Consumption of resources is rising rapidly, biodiversity is plummeting and just about every measure shows humans affecting Earth on a vast scale.
  • A growing band of experts are looking at figures like these and arguing that personal carbon virtue and collective environmentalism are futile as long as our economic system is built on the assumption of growth.

Minerals scarcity: A call for managed austerity and the elements of hope

Peak phosphorus: the sequel to peak oil ?

  • Phosphorus isn't quite at the top of the list of fashionable causes, but perhaps it should be. Dana Cordell warns of a looming problem, we've become addicted to it and, like oil, it's believed it will run out.
  • Phosphorus has been used extensively for over 100 years as a fertiliser in modern industrial agriculture. The widespread use has lifted crop yields and helped feed the world's growing population, but what happens when production reaches a peak?

Why the Recent Chinese Government Decision on Heavy Rare Earths Has an Impact on Matamec's Kipawa Rare Earths-Yttrium-Zirconium Deposit!

  • Dysprosium - Lasers, nuclear power control rods, magnets for hybrid cars
  • Terbium - Green phosphors for fluorescent lamps (CFLs), TVs
  • Thulium - YAG lasers
  • Lutetium - Catalysts in petroleum cracking in refineries
  • Yttrium - TVs, high temperature superconductors

From ocean to ozone: Earth's nine life-support systems

China's Rare Earth Metal Supply


The Imminent Collapse Of Industrial Society

  • Annual rate of post-peak decline tend to range from about 4 to 9 percent. At 9% decline per year, production would drop by 50% in a single decade.
  • Coal will be available for a while after oil is gone, although previous reports of its abundance in the US were highly exaggerated.
  • Natural gas is not easily transported, and it is not suitable for most equipment.
  • The use of electricity worldwide rose from 11,865.4 terawatt-hours in 1990 to 18,301.8 in 2005, an increase of 54 percent.
  • Peak production of uranium ore in the United States was in 1980. Mainly because the US was the world's largest producer, the peak of global production was at approximately the same date.
  • Figures from the US Geological Survey, however, indicate that within the US most types of minerals are past their peak dates of production. Besides oil, these include bauxite (peaking in 1943), copper (1998), iron ore (1951), magnesium (1966), phosphate rock (1980), potash (1967), rare earth metals (1984), tin (1945), titanium (1964), and zinc (1969).
  • Annual world production of grain per capita peaked in 1984 at 342 kg.
  • The world catch of wild fish per capita peaked in 1988 at 17 kg; by 2005 it was down to 14 kg.
  • Fresh water is declining in many countries around the world, particularly Mexico, the western US, North Africa, the Middle East, Pakistan, India, China, and Australia. If a population crash does not occur in the next few years, by the year 2025 about 2 billion people will be living with extreme water scarcity, and about two-thirds of the world will be facing water shortages to some extent.
  • Agriculture uses more than 70 percent of the world's fresh water and is mainly responsible for the depletion of aquifers.
  • With “low technology,” i.e. technology that does not use fossil fuels, crop yields diminish considerably. David Pimentel explains that the production of so-called field or grain corn (maize) without irrigation or mechanized agriculture is only about 2,000 kilograms per hectare. That is less than a third of the yield that a farmer would get with modern machinery and chemical fertilizer.
  • The world's population went from about 1.7 billion in 1900 to 2.5 in 1950, to nearly 7 billion in 2010. Overpopulation is the overwhelming ultimate cause of systemic collapse.


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