Thursday, 13 November 2008

What is scarcity?

Copper isn't reckoned to be a scarce metal. Damnit, there are about three billion tons of it in the earth's crust, and only about a tenth of that has been mined in the whole of human history. But world production is now about 15 million tons a year, and at that rate it would take only 200 years to mine all of it - no longer than the time since Jane Austen! The amount per person currently used in America is reckoned to be about a twentieth of a ton, and if 6.7 billion people lived like them, we'd need a third of a billion tons - and that's reckoning without population growth and rising incomes. Only 16 atoms in a million in the earth's crust are copper atoms, which makes it eighteenth in abundance among metals, and many of those atoms will never be economically minable. Finally don't let's forget that mining is an immensely polluting activity and that it is very difficult to make mining companies clear up their mess. So is copper not a scarce resource?

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