Via New Scientist, comes this enormo chart on how long various resources will last:

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click for ginormo chart

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Hat tip Flowing Data

Category: Commodities

Please use the comments to demonstrate your own ignorance, unfamiliarity with empirical data and lack of respect for scientific knowledge. Be sure to create straw men and argue against things I have neither said nor implied. If you could repeat previously discredited memes or steer the conversation into irrelevant, off topic discussions, it would be appreciated. Lastly, kindly forgo all civility in your discourse . . . you are, after all, anonymous.

38 Responses to “Natural Resources: How Long Will They Last?”

  1. TrickStar says:

    This is such a huge issue. It’s tough to know where to begin. Apparently there’s very little innovation in waste management. That’s a growth area.

  2. Liz Tool says:

    Kinda depressing for a Saturday morning….but we can live without that stuff the worry should be water. http://www.princeton.edu/~ina/infographics/water.html.

    btw how are the dogs?

  3. Bob_in_MA says:

    I have to hard opinions on the issue, but I would note that in the 1970′s (during the last commodity run up) predictions were just as, or even more, dire.

    “Harrison Brown, a respected member of the National Academy of Sciences, published predictions in Scientific American in 1970 which estimated that humanity would totally run out of copper by 2000, and that lead, zinc, tin, gold, and silver would all be gone by 1990.” [http://reason.com/news/show/34758.html]

    That’s not to say this time the doomsayers aren’t right. But predictions of the future have an incredibly poor record.

  4. JD says:

    We’re not going to run out of natural resources. If there’s a shortage the government will just make more, like they do with money.

  5. Patrick Neid says:

    Julian Simon is laughing his ass off.

  6. RW says:

    Rare earths aside, it looks like going long Platinum would work if fuel cells come into vogue but many of the assumptions in the chart seem dubious or at least the foundation for them is not well established; for example, I can’t find any reference to widespread use of Antimony in drugs so it is unclear why supply would be depleted more quickly even if increased drug manufacturing is accepted as a reasonable projection.

  7. Neid,

    nice context.

    The environment is going to hell, and human life is doomed to only get worse, right? Wrong. Conventional wisdom, meet Julian Simon, the Doomslayer.

    This is the litany : Our resources are running out. The air is bad, the water worse. The planet’s species are dying off – more exactly, we’re killing them -at the staggering rate of 100,000 peryear, a figure that works out to almost 2,000 species per week, 300 per day, 10 perhour, another dead species every six minutes.We’re trashing the planet, washing away the topsoil, paving over our farmlands, systematically deforesting our wildernesses, decimating the biota, and ultimately killing ourselves.
    The world is getting progressively poorer, and it’s all because of population, or more precisely, overpopulation. There’s a finite store of resources on our pale blue dot, spaceship Earth, our small and fragile tiny planet, and we’re fast approaching its ultimate carrying capacity. The limits to growth are finally upon us, and we’re living on borrowed time. The laws of population growth are inexorable. Unless we act decisively, the final result is written in stone: mass poverty, famine, starvation, and death.

    Time is short, and we have to act now.

    That’s the standard and canonical litany. It’s been drilled into our heads so far and so forcefully that to hear it yet once more is … well, it’s almost reassuring. It’s comforting, oddly consoling – at least we’re face to face with the enemies: consumption, population, mindless growth. And we know the solution: cut back, contract, make do with less. “Live simply so that others may simply live.”
    There’s just one problem with The Litany, just one slight little wee imperfection: every item in that dim and dreary recitation, each and every last claim, is false. Incorrect. At variance with the truth.

    Not the way it is, folks.

    Thus saith The Doomslayer, one Julian L. Simon…
    http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/5.02/ffsimon.html

    “Peak Oil” and, the now, “Climate Change” are similiar Hoaxes to enslave your Future..

    Be Reigned by Fear, Live in Ignorance.

  8. [...] resources would be used up pretty quickly, as an diagram on the newscientist.com (information via ritholz.com) makes [...]

  9. George Mason economist Don Boudreaux, writing today (“The Ultimate Scholar”) in honor of resource economist Julian Simon, on the 10th anniversary of his death, revisits the famous bet in 1980 (it even has its own Wikipedia listing: “The Simon-Ehrlich Wager”) between scientist Paul Ehrlich and economist Simon:
    Stanford University’s Paul Ehrlich — author of “The Population Bomb,” foretelling disaster from population growth — found economist Julian Simon’s optimism about population growth to be so absurd that he famously accepted a bet from Simon in 1980.
    The essence of Simon’s position in the bet was that, despite the population growth that was sure to occur during the 1980s, the effective supply of natural resources would increase during this decade because human beings would figure out how to find, extract and use such resources more efficiently.
    And the surest measure of this increased supply would be lower inflation-adjusted prices of resources.

    Convinced that higher population is a curse, Ehrlich accepted the $1,000 bet. He chose (for Simon gave Ehrlich the choice of which resources to bet on) a bundle of copper, chromium, nickel, tin and tungsten and bet Simon that the real price of this bundle of resources would be higher in 1990 than in 1980….
    http://mjperry.blogspot.com/2008/02/would-julian-simon-have-won-second-bet.html
    ~~
    http://www.juliansimon.org/

  10. Myr says:

    Should increases in our paper money supply lead to inflation, then Julian Simon would lose the bet even though the underlying problem would be the money supply and not the supply of metals. I don’t believe the bet was constructed properly.

  11. DMR says:

    I’m not convinced. Last time I checked, the earth was more or less a closed system (unless you count the small chunks of metal we’re sending to the heavens from Cape Canaveral.) The same way that the earth will not run out of water, it is not going to run out of copper either.

    Extracting most metals from their natural states is an energy intensive process, as will the process of extracting them from the products that end up in land fills. The technology for refining petroleum has been changing since the streets of baghdad were paved with tar 4000 years ago. Humans have been smelting copper for 6000 years now, and I’m sure the sources of copper, oil, etc. as well as the extraction technologies used today are different from what was used in the past.

    Chart pornographers conveniently assume that the constant change in technologies will cease in 2000, 2008, 2009, etc. and then arrive at their spectacular conclusions. Give me a break.

  12. willid3 says:

    all resources are finite, there are no infinite resources of any kind. even hydrogen which as far scientists know today, is finite. the amount of it is just so huge that it would be extremely unlikely we would run out of it. but isn’t the claim that markets are suppose to be so smart they will adjust for shortages before they happen. presuming that as a resource is constrained the price of it goes up, which is suppose to lead to alternatives. now that might work in an ideal world where you actually know that you are running out of a resource, unfortunately the providers of any resource will hide that its running out till it does run out. consider oil. nobody really knows how much any body really has (a few years ago Shell was shocked to find out they had less oil than they had claimed. a lot less) . and thats just one example of how the market can’t really work as it might in an ideal (academic / philosophical) world . and its possible that even if it were run on this world, there might be other sources on other worlds.
    while real resources are finite, there are those like financial wizardry that are not. they can and do, create almost limitless financial resources. examples would be a US major bank that has 88 trillion dollars in derivative exposure, or Madeoff the financial wizard

  13. willid,

    this: “unfortunately the providers of any resource will hide that its running out till it does run out..”
    is backwards..

    think about when the last time you heard a ‘Seller’ tell you: “Don’t Rush, you have plenty of Time, there’s Plenny mo’ where these came from..”

    this: ” (a few years ago Shell was shocked to find out they had less oil than they had claimed. a lot less) ”
    was a case of securities fraud..

  14. willid3 says:

    no Mark a lot will hide it, since if they admit its running out depending on what it, you will work on replacing it. think of the oil companies. they are hardly ever to tell us just how much is there (if they really know). cause if they do, they risk every thing on you replacing it. leaving them with nothing. but it does work that way if your selling manufactured good, but not if it is a commodity.

  15. CNBC Sucks says:

    Apparently, the angry comedic mileage one could extract out of CNBC and the highly manipulated U.S. “free market” economic system is a limited resource, which is why I no longer post. I can’t even get mad anymore when I watch Joe Kernen. I still avoid the Kudlow show like the plague.

    Is there anything you can do to make the U.S. economy more interesting, Ritholtz?

  16. willid,

    that’s a tricky scene–weighing perceived scarcity/higher prices v. real scarcity/motivation of substitution..

    might have to Call Solomon, tomorrow, word has it, today’s his day off..

  17. Transor Z says:

    @MEH: *ding ding ding ding* :)

    This is also the kind of thread that attracts the Legalize Hemp crowd. Haven’t seen them yet.

    Of course, if one of these Swine/Bird flu outbreaks turns into a pandemic…

  18. [...] Sharing the truth one thread at a time What’s not to discuss? « NYT should buy Twitter? How much longer will we have natural resources? April 25, 2009 Via [...]

  19. usphoenix says:

    Perhaps the issue is not so much which resource is becoming scare. Why else are they called rare earths?

    Perhaps the issue is will demand exceed supply. As in Malthusian economics. $147 oil for instance.

    So far technology has saved our social order. That has not always been the case, and there are no future guarantees. History is replete with societies that one minute were the most prosperous on earth, and the next minute gone. It always seems to happen suddenly.

    Perhaps we can thank globalization for the prospect that we will either declare war on each other or all go down together.

    IMHO. we don’t have to become fearful of adverse outcomes, but we do have to become better stewards of the planet. I’m not sure carbon sequestration is much of a solution either.

    What would happen if China suddenly invented a solar cell ten times more efficient for a tenth the cost?

  20. jonhendry says:

    Bob_in_MA wrote: ” a respected member of the National Academy of Sciences, published predictions in Scientific American in 1970″

    You do realize that Scientific American isn’t a peer-reviewed scientific journal, right?

    “Guy gave mistaken opinion in mass-market popular magazine in 1970″ just doesn’t work as well when you’re trying to imply some kind of widespread scientific consensus existed at the time.

  21. Anonymous Jones says:

    With all due respect, many on both sides of this issue have far too much confidence to be taken seriously.

    The one thing I can be confident of is that none of us can see the future.

    Energy is the main constraint here. Energy is the one thing that is necessary to counteract the second law of thermodynamics. Will we have enough? Will we be able to harness the output of the sun’s energy (past, present and future) with sufficient efficiency to counteract entropy and provide 6 billion people with the elements/resources they need to live their lives as they wish? I don’t know, and you don’t know either.

    I do find it amusing, however, how so many people think it is proof positive that just because someone was early/wrong about depletion means that it can never happen. I’m not sure we have enough logic classes in schools.

    Calm down a little.

  22. voice of raisin says:

    We can argue about what the maximum limits on population and resource use are but we should agree there are limits. People have to consume a certain number of calories, there are limits on arable land and energy, etc. At some point we will be standing shoulder to shoulder on a huge pile of garbage eating soylent green. I think the planet will be uninhabitable long before that but clearly there are limits.

    The second point is that with the exception of medicine, there are two main ‘innovations’ that have allowed us to reach this population size and maintain a certain standard of living on an increasingly polluted planet – 1) a majority of the world’s population lives in abject poverty and 2) we have learned to use abundant fossil fuels to grow our food, clean our water, and move goods around the globe. If energy becomes expensive or China decides to live like the U.S. the entire scheme falls apart.

  23. ohemingway says:

    Does anyone know what happened to the Myans?

  24. Deborah says:

    This is silly, really silly…

    These are older posts I wrote that come up with an estimate of how much of those minerals there really is.

    http://makingsenseofmyworld.blogspot.com/2007/09/abundance-of-minerals.html
    http://makingsenseofmyworld.blogspot.com/2007/04/earth-for-sale.html

    The data in this post needs a really strong clarification of what will be lasting as many years as they suggest. I would tend to think it is either deposits that already have mines, or reserves, deposits that have had some kind of economic feasibility study done on it.

    But to suggest we are going to run out of metals is hilarious.

  25. Oleg says:

    This is Bullshit. Please, but Please don’t clog the blog with useless junk like this. It is OK to be a Doomer/Gloomer but try to stay within Reasonable bounds.

  26. wunsacon says:

    >> “Peak Oil” and, the now, “Climate Change” are similiar Hoaxes to enslave your Future..

    Just like the ozone, second-hand smoke, asbestos, lead paint, etc., etc. All hoaxes. All transparent to a select few possessing free intellect. So I’ve heard, Mark.

    I don’t like to gamble the way you do with our health and welfare. The way that “Peak Oil” and “Climate Change” become unimportant is for people to take them (and asteroids and anything else) seriously. Scoffing is risky business.

  27. wunsacon says:

    Mark, for the billion people living on about 1 dollar a day, the lack of resources — at a price they can afford — IS a big issue.

  28. wunsa-,

    I said nothing about: “Just like the ozone, second-hand smoke, asbestos, lead paint, etc., etc.”

    those are Your words, not mine.

    as I’ve told you before, don’t do that, it’s the worst of cheap tricks.

    w/this: “Scoffing is risky business.”

    you should remember a few things: Politics posing as Science is, truly, ‘risky’, and Science, unlike Politics, is not a Popularity contest–Things are, either, verifiably True, and repeatably so, or they are not.

    in the meantime, you may care to brush-up on: http://www.fallacyfiles.org/

  29. O2 says:

    @ Mark E Hoffer

    “Not the way it is, folks.”

    The planet is a finite sphere, and thus has finite resources.

    Unless of course you believe the world is flat, then it and the natural resources it provides can go on ad infinitum.

  30. VangelV says:

    Finding more resources is not an issue over the longer term because when prices increase there will be new investments, substitution and innovation that will solve most of the problems within a reasonable period. The real issue is how we go from point A to point B with the minimum amount of pain. Sadly, there has been a great deal of manipulation in the paper markets that has discouraged new investment in exploration and development activities at a time when many of the producers of commodities are looking to wind down operations of older mines that are becoming unprofitable. My main concern would be about the growth of the money supply relative to reserves and supply capacity.

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  32. O2,

    this: “The planet is a finite sphere, and thus has finite resources.”

    is, to me, a limited view.

    see: Ludwig von Mises: “Rational conduct means that man, in face of the fact that he cannot satisfy all his impulses, desires, and appetites, forgoes the satisfaction of those which he considers less urgent.” – Human Action
    +VangelV Says: April 26th, 2009 at 10:23 am , above..

    and read some: http://www.mises.org/resources/3250

    LSS: We are on the Planet that you reference, I don’t believe our Intellect has Limits. With that, much in the same vein as Dr. King, “We shall Overcome”.

    If you want ‘Limits’, you’ll find them via Fiat, in Spades, or in Calculus. Past that, as the PGA Tour will remind you: “Anything’s Possible~”

  33. voice of raisin says:

    The idea that we can innovate and substitute our way out of a lack of resources reminded me of this classic exchange from Raising Arizona.

    Cellmate: …and when there was no meat, we ate fowl and when there was no fowl, we ate crawdad and when there was no crawdad to be found, we ate sand.
    H.I.: You ate what?
    Cellmate: We ate sand.
    [pause]
    H.I.: You ate SAND?
    Cellmate: That’s right!

  34. craig k says:

    Lumber – it’s a resource that rarely gets much attention but from anecdotal data and public information, the lumber industry is going through one it’s biggest contractions ever! Mills are closing, timber owners are pulling standing timber off the market, distribution yards are closing at a gargantuan pace. Whenever the demand for lumber (softwood, hardwood, panel products, etc) returns, there won’t be much production capacity available and don’t think foregin sources will fill the bill, they’ve blown their credibility and are also closing capacity.

  35. slappy says:

    Barry et al.

    Big problem with this chart – the assumption that known global supplies do not increase, and that we can extract exactly as much as we need each year. Neither is true.

    New supplies of many of these commodities are being discovered every day (or at least they were when people were investing in risky exploration companies). New uses for them are also being discovered, which also leads to problems with supply and demand.

    No way in hell we will run out of silver in 9 years. I can put good money on that.

    The chart is understandably challenging our assumptions of infinite resource endowments, but it would be nice to do it in a way that doesn’t lead to false conclusions. Grant me a false premise and I can prove anything.

  36. Deborah says:

    The problem with this post is that every natural resource on that list is a metal. We will never run out of them, never. Earth is a big rock made of mostly metals. Unless you are doing nuclear reactions, they do not get used up.

    A good example of what happened with nickel from the outrageous commodity price bubble was that “pig nickel,” nickel that was economically unfeasible to process under $8-10/pound, was being processed big time in China. Nickel is one of the smaller metal markets controlled by fewer players and it had the biggest price manipulation and was priced the furthest from the mean at the peak of its bubble. China was importing this previously waste ore, processing it, and able to make money.

    The non-metal natural resources are very different, forests, water, oil, etc, many of these seem to get used up faster then nature can replenish them …

    Metals run into constant supply problems, either over supply or under supply, causing price collapse ( just happened) or price bubbles (also just happened prior to the price collapse.) But they do not run out. Look at copper, in the first km depth of the earth there is in the range 1000 times more per person then a person would use in a lifetime.

    Looking at the example with nickel, there was probably enough exploration because of the bubble pricing to find locations that would ultimately lead to hundreds of years of supply. Because of the price collapse little will be done to move these properties from known resources to reserves. Last price collapse mining companies were unloading properties because they could not afford the maintenance cost of the properties.

    And here’s a difference between the US and Australian mining industry, or at least it used to be a difference, in Australia the mining industry the industry was goal orientated to just have 5-10 years of reserves planned out. You are looking at significant investment to move properties from resource to reserve and the earlier you do that, the longer you have money invested with zero return.

    This chart has taken that difference to a new level to suggest that if it is not in reserves we are going to run out …

    I tried to find the original post, but I was lead to another post questioning how long uranium will last, http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=how-long-will-global-uranium-deposits-last, 230 years by the this estimate of known existing deposits and with technology that enabled it to be pulled from the ocean, 30,000 years …

    Uranium can be thought of a metal in its infancy, or early childhood, in terms of human exploration for it on this planet and we’ve already located enough to last through every one of our lives.

    Silly post I have seen in a long time…

  37. flenerman says:

    I’ll let the rest of you sweat this one out. I’m still struggling to decide whether the chart is simply enormo or truly ginormo.