Friday, January 19, 2007

Goodbye, and Thanks for All for Fish and Copper

Seems like every time you pick up a blog these days something is peaking. The baloghblog reports that we are running out of oil, copper, and even wood chips. Since 2000, the price of copper has quadrupled, gold has tripled, and oil has doubled. South Africa, the largest gold producer in the world with one third of all supply, is in rapid decline.

The tin is almost gone, only 20 years left. We've got 18 more years of lead, 69 more years of bauxite, 64 years of steel. Platinum will probably be gone by this century as well.

Gone means different things to different people. When we talk about oil, the peak is generally referred to as the half way point, where half of the oil that is available is used, and the other half is in the ground. Many think peak oil will occur between 2008 and 2020. When we talk about metals, we're talking about the fact that it is uneconomical to extract material from virgin sources, such as ore. In this case, we will still have what we have already mined, but that stockpile will slowly whither away as the resource gets turned into non-recycled garbage. For example, a recent study suggested that 26 percent of the copper we have already recovered is now lost in non-recycled waste. We've lost 19 percent of our zinc too.

It's hard to do without, at least in the short run. When I wake up in the morning and don't have half and half for that morning coffee I can go a little nuts. Right now, I can go to the store and get some more, but what if I could never get any more half and half? I don't know what I would do, probably adapt, eventually. One astute blogger pointed out that resources only peak if you still need them; for example, horseshoes peaked long ago but no one cares. It is surprisingly hard to find examples of a resource that is still wanted but is now completely gone; the Newfoundland groundfish industry however, which is now completely destroyed, is a good example. Now it's happening in Maine too, where the traditional 200 year old chowder recipe has changed because there's no fish.

I enjoy my fish dinners as much as anybody, but I never planned a permanent goodbye to them. I love my computer too, and my iPod, and my TV, etc. too, but I never planned to love them to death. We have already said goodbye, and thanks for all the fish. Let's try and do a little better with the copper, and the gold, and the tin, and the steel, and the bauxite, and the platinum.


Keith R said...

Are we really that far along in depleting all the key metals? That's worth looking into, given the role LAC plays in the world metals market.

Seems to me you've just made a very good case for stepping up metals recycling. Did you catch ICMM's statement on that? Wondered what you make of it. I'm about to post my own musings on that subject on my blog...

Best Regards,

Mark Ontkush said...

Sadly, Keith, it's true. I missed ICMM but downloaded the report. I catch what you have to say at Temas...

wesley bruce said...

Don't panic there's plenty of gold, copper, etc in the sea. One gold deposit off New Guinea is several hundred meters in diameter and 3 meters thick and only two kilometres deep. One north east of Pitcairn is several kilometres long 300 meter wide and a meter thick, 80% gold, it's three km deep a little trickier but simple to mine if you know how. There are equivalent copper deposits. Once the red tape is out of the way, the sea miners can go for it. Some of us are even working on developing a sustainable mining technology. I do need capital if you know anyone rich. The prices we are seeing are just what the sea bed miners have been waiting for. The idiotic "Law of the sea" treaty has held things up but someone will challenge it soon I believe.