Updated: 21 Apr., 2008
Sustainable Resources? Do The Math!
By Charles Kubach, Mine-Engineer.Com (Updated 21 Apr 2008)


First of all, just what is "Sustainability? What does it mean? A broad definition was given by a expert in the environmental field as:

"In its broadest scope, sustainability refers to the ability of a society, ecosystem, or any such on-going system to continue functioning into the indefinite future without being forced into decline through the exhaustion or overloading of key resources on which that system depends." - Robert Gilman, President of Context Institute

Ok, now that we have a definition, is this remotely feasible, with respect to minerals? Considering the fact that the population is exponentially increasing in 3d world underdeveloped nations, without any end in sight, and the fact that current rates of consumption are bound to increase exponentially with increased population, and development in these countries, sustainability is nothing but a pipe dream. It is Alice In Wonderland, Disneyland and a completely absurd concept. Why then are every environmental organization, the UN and most government agencies spending billions of our tax dollars chasing this absurdity? They can, we allow them to do so.

Does an "infinite" supply of any resources exist? No, not on this planet, we have a finite quantity of resources, and the mineral resources below are world wide known resources, as given by the US Geological Survey, the most knowledgeable agency and the one tasked with keeping track of these resources. As shown below, tin, lead, zinc, gold and silver will all be gone in 60 or so years, at current rates of consumption. And, with developing countries demanding more resources each year, to keep up with their ever expanding populations and development, this rate of consumption is bound to skyrocket upwards.

The USGS has updated their reserve estimates since my first article, based on 2004 statistics, and they are giving estimated reserves for Known Reserves of Alumina (Bauxite ), Copper, Zinc, Nickel and other minerals. These are not based on standard reserve delineation methods which produce Proven, Probable and Inferred or Possible reserves. They are estimates based on a few samples, spread over a much larger area than is scientifically accurate. It is a best guess, at best. There is a big difference between a mineral present and a "ore". The definition of ore is the presence of a valuable mineral, in sufficient quantity and quality to be recovered economically. Those would be proven, probable or possible reserves, not best guesses.

So, I come back to my initial question, why do we spend billions of dollars pursuing a policy that a 3d grade student can easily see is impossible to achieve? Stupidity, politics and it has become trendy, a banter pushed by every environmental organization in the world that we "must" achieve. Our time, resources and energy would be better spent looking for scientific solutions, to either provide alternate materials, or sources of materials to sustain a high quality of life in the future, rather than wasting our precious resources, capital and energy pursuing a failed, impossible policy, of providing infinite resources for the future. The future will arrive, whether we are prepared for it or not, and it is better to be prepared, than to be comfortably ignorant and feel good about a ludicrous sustainability policy that in itself is completely fraudulent in its objective.

Science relies solely on facts, supported by evidence derived from observation and experimentation. Fairy tales (sustainability), relies on generating warm and fuzzy feelings, infantile reasoning, and baseless wishes. Most people can not understand science but they can understand fairy tales, so they opt for the easy "answer". The easy answer always costs us much money, time and precious resources, while providing no positive benefit. If you enjoy paying higher taxes to make a few radical tree huggers happy, then write your congressman and tell them to push Sustainability. If, however, you have better plans for your money, tell your congressman that sustainability is nothing more than a fairy tale, and you do not want your tax money spent pursuing the impossible dream. We, the taxpayers, always end up paying for the tree huggers bad ideas.

Planning for the future is one thing, dreaming wide eyed about fairy tales is another, and fairy tales appears to be the most popular approach to problems nowadays.

Commodity  Annual Use  World Known Supply  Years Left at Current Use Rates 
  (Metric Tons)  (Metric Tons)  (Years) 
Al4O32H2O (Bauxite Ore)  190,000  32,000,000*  168 
Cu (copper)  15,600  260,000,000**  16,700 
Au (gold)  2,500  90,000  36 
Pd (palladium)  224  80,000  357 
Pt (platinum)  230  80,000  348 
Ag (silver)  20,200  570,000  28 
Sn (Tin)  300,000  11,000,000  37 
Zn (zinc)  10,000  480,000***  48 
Ni (nickel)  1,580,000  150,000,000  95 
Pb (lead)  3,470,000  170,000,000*****  49 
The table, above, is from the most recent USGS statistics on mineral use and the world's known reserves. It is current as of 31 Dec., 2006.
*Bauxite is the only source of aluminum, other than recycling. It is processed to extract aluminum. No other ore has been commerecially processed tp recover aluminum. The USGS estimates there are 55,000,000,000 tone of alumina, howeer this figure is not based on ore grade (Proven, probable or inferred reserves). It is simply based on the fact that about 3% of the earth's crust is comprised of Al (aluminum). No process can currently extract alumina from the other sources, economically.

**"A recent assessment of U.S. copper resources indicated 550 million tons of copper in identified (260 million tons) and undiscovered resources (290 million tons).9 A preliminary assessment indicates that global land-based resources exceed 3 billion tons. Deep-sea nodules were estimated to contain 700 million tons of copper." USGS Report, 2008

*** "Identified zinc resources of the world are about 1.9 billion metric tons" USGS Report, 2008

**** "Identified land-based resources averaging 1% nickel or greater contain at least 130 million tons of nickel." USGS Report, 2008

*****"In recent years, significant lead resources have been demonstrated in association with zinc and/or silver or copper deposits in Australia, China, Ireland, Mexico, Peru, Portugal, and the United States (Alaska). Identified lead resources of the world total more than 1.5 billion tons."

NOTE: All identified reserve estimates are based on estimates, these figures are not based on proven ore deposits (Proven, probable or inferred reserves).