Friday, June 20, 2014

The Limits to Extraction

The Club of Rome had shot into fame with its first authoritative report The Limits to Growth, released in 1972 The seminal report on the future of mankind had not only triggered a hot debate but degenerated in all-out smear campaign.. The public perception on the report was nothing more than a series of wrong predictions made by a group of deluded scientists. So much so, subsequent reports by this global think tank did not merit much attention.

Extracted is the latest report from the elite club. Had The Limits to Growth attained popularity, the title of this report could easily have been The Limits to Extraction. However, the nature of the report has remained much the same. Digging out the history of mining, from the prehistoric days to the modern age, the report suggests that mankind has almost extracted almost the entire (cheap) mineral resources alongside plundering of the earth’s ecosystems and displacement of millions in the process. It is one of the biggest global industries but the gradual depletion of low-cost minerals, including fossil fuels, is fast becoming a major limitation to economic growth. As high grade ores are extracted first, it will become much more expensive to produce most mineral commodities in future. Given the growing demand for precious metals and rare earths, a resource war is likely to emerge among countries that hold monopoly over mineral deposits.

Since everything we use cannot be grown, the same must be mined. Therefore, the political economy of mining makes it an important growth engine for most countries. China has 97 per cent of all active rare earths, including exclusive deposits of molybdenum. South Africa holds 82 per cent of global platinum. China leads countries like Chile, Australia and Argentina in global copper output. Tibet has become the new mining destination for China. Under a new regime, India intends to go full throttle to extract its mineral deposits. 

Extracted is written by a team of experts, headed by Italian scientist Ugo Bardi. The report says that deposits of many high-grade ores are running low: copper, zinc, nickel, gold, silver and others are expected to reach their productive peak within less than two decades. Not only will it affect our lifestyles but agriculture production could decline as well. By the time the world wakes up to the impact of mining, plundering of earth ecosystem would have caused lasting impact by contributing to the climate change. 

The solution, says Bardi, is to replace costly minerals with cheaper ones; recycle as much as possible, and generate energy through renewable energy sources such as sun, wind, and water. It is not far when the mining machines and the drilling rigs will disappear without corresponding decline in the demand for minerals. 

Written for the consumptive generation, Ugo Bardi has dedicated the book to his son, who is a geologist. 

by Ugo Bardi
Chelsea Green Publishing, USA
Extent: 273, Price: US$ 24.95

A shorter version of this review has also appeared on Anthem EnviroExperts Review, coordinated by Prof. Larry Susskind of MIT  

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