The depletion of mineral reserves poses no serious threat to society, the Adam Smith Institute, a right-wing think-tank, has concluded.
The world is not running out of valuable minerals; claims from environmentalist groups are based on a misunderstanding of industry terminology. Reserves are only a measurement of the minerals we know we can mine and make usable in the near future. Mineral reserve numbers have nothing to do with how much of the actual element can eventually be recovered. The reserves for minerals used in fertilizers, such as phosphate and potassium, may exhaust in the next few decades, but the exhaustion of resources is not estimated to occur until 1,000 – 7,000 years time.
Mineral reserves 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. 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.
Organic farming, for example, may be a useful idea 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.