This graph purports to say how long each resource will last. It is insane. (Click the image to embiggen greatly)
Sidebar about the image: When I went to embed it, I ran into difficulties with the download. I resorted to a screen capture and crop of the open page in my browser. I’d had that image cached for a good while (weeks) thinking I ought to do something with it. It would seem to not be at the original source now ( https://www.newscientist.com/data/images/archive/2605/26051202.jpg ) I’ve not gone hunting to see if it is just a name change or if they got enough flack about it to do a retraction. The basic thrust of the article it was in, and of the graph, is that we are consuming the resources of the planet so fast, and they are all so limited, that shortly technological society will come crashing to a halt. That’s wrong, but that was their thesis.
WHY is it insane? Let me count the ways…
First, and most important, the quantity of a resource available depends on its price. At higher prices, more sophisticated extraction and refining methods that are already known and used for higher value metals and material become economical to use. At each high cost extraction method, an exponentially larger amount of material is recoverable. Shortage is its own solution.
Resource Substitution, it’s a thing. Short of hardwoods? We moved to veneers. Shorter? We invented polymer overlays that look like hard woods over pressboard substrates. Silver scarce for RFID tags? Use copper. Shortage of Lithium for batteries for eCars? Use the Potassium Ion Battery instead. There is NO resource that can not have a substitute.
When did any given metal or material pack up and rocket off the planet? Really. A high concentration resource might be made more dilute as the material ends up disbursed by use into the general environment, but the stuff did not pack up and rocket off of the planet. There really is no such place as away. Shit stays right here on this rock. At present, we can extract Uranium from sea water cheaply enough to provide all the power we could ever want. We don’t. only because land based mines are just a bit cheaper; but the fact remains that any element we want is available in functionally unlimited quantities; it is just a matter of price. How much does it cost to concentrate it?
Technology advances. As of now, most lettuces and tomatoes for the table are best raised in an entirely artificial greenhouse. Even agricultural land isn’t a limit to growing food. Hogs can be raised in “High Rise Hog Towers” so even meat is not limited by land. Since the ability to produce meat, eggs, and plants depends on refining minerals and making polymers from the environment, and that depends on energy, which in the limit depends on Uranium for nuclear power, that is in unlimited supply even at present thanks to known U extraction from sea water methods: There simply isn’t a problem. For decades to centuries with known existing technologies. There is no reason to think that the people of 100 years from now will be more stupid or less able than we are now, so any “issue” is far far in the future, at worst.
The Stone Age did not end for lack of stones, nor did the Bronze Age end because bronze ceased to exist, nor did the Iron Age end for lack of iron. We invent new things that cause the prior higher cost method of living to be less valuable.
The entire planet is a resource. Have we run out of Planet?
We have more rocks than we can use, and more sea water and …. but if for some reason they were important to use we would find the price rising and they would become a resource.
That’s the basic issue to wrap your mind around. A “resource” drives a price that makes more resources happen. The only time a resource ceases to be of interest is when the price makes it unattractive. Heard a lot about the shortage of Whale Oil lately? No? That’s because we substituted Kerosene for whale oil in lamps in the 1800s for lighting (and electric lights for kerosene in the 1900s) and in the 1980s to 1990 we substituted Johoba oil for Whale Oil in lubricating automatic transmissions. Whales are not much of a strategic resource nor much of an economic commodity today, precisely because of Resource Substitution and Technological Advancement. It is that factor that drives all else.