The depletion of mineral reserves poses no serious threat to society, a new monograph published today by the Adam Smith Institute has concluded. “The No Breakfast Fallacy: Why the Club of Rome was wrong about us running out of resources” argues that outcries over resource availability from environmentalist groups are based on a misinterpretation of numbers and a misunderstanding of what mineral resources actually are.
The monograph, written by Adam Smith Institute Senior Fellow and rare earths expert Tim Worstall, says that groups that have warned about the world running out of rare mineral resources, such as The Club of Rome, have been using the wrong sets of data, mistaking the exhaustion of mineral reserves for the exhaustion of mineral resources.
Mineral reserves, the monograph explains, are simply the minerals that have been prepared for use for the next few decades; they are minerals that can be mined with current technology at current prices. Some reserves are going to run out in the near future, but this is a normal process. Every generation runs out of mineral reserves.
Mineral resources, however, refer to a concentration of minerals of a certain quality and quantity that have shown reasonable prospects for eventual economic extraction. These are much larger than mineral reserves.
Organic farming, for example, may be a useful idea, the monograph asserts, but the idea that it is a necessity because we’re about to run out of inorganic fertilisers is based on a falsehood. The reserves for minerals used in fertilizers may exhaust in the next few hundred years, but the exhaustion of resources is not estimated to occur for 1,400 years for phosphate and 7,300 years for potassium.
The report concludes that efforts to conserve and/or recycle mineral resources are wasteful and often end up being net harms to society, by diverting economic activity from more productive uses.
Senior Fellow at the Adam Smith Institute and author of the report, Tim Worstall, said:
We have a basic problem in our discussion of resource availability. Which is that most of the people in that discussion are grievously misinformed about what a resource is and how much of any of them we might have. It really is true that Paul Ehrlich, Jeremy Grantham, the Club of Rome, Limits to Growth and the rest are looking at the wrong numbers when they consider how much of any mineral or metal there is that we might be able to use.
This is not some arcane economic point. It is not some mystery explained only to the illuminati. Quite simply, most people assume that mineral reserves are what we have left that we can use. This is not so: mineral reserves are only what we have prepared for us to use in the next few decades. As such, it's really no surprise at all that mineral reserves are generally recorded as being going to last for the next few years.
This book explains this simply enough that even a member of the Green Party should be able to grasp the point. We are no more going to run out of usable minerals because we consume mineral reserves than we are to run out of breakfast because we eat the bacon in the fridge.
To read the full press release, click here.