The Anti-Peak Case for Commodities

From a paper recently presented at a U.K. mining conference, the anti-peak case for commodities.

Future Rx: Optimism, preparation, acceptance of risk

L. M. Cathles
Cornell University, Ithaca, New York 14853

The world population, presently at 7 billion, will rise to 10.5 billion in the next century, and all 10.5 billion will rightly expect at least a European living standard.  Our great challenge is to provide the energy and mineral resources needed to meet this expectation.  Can we?  I believe we unquestionably can, provided we have optimism, preparation, and acceptance of risk. Considering the oceans, the world is a planet awash in energy and mineral resources.  Raising energy consumption to the European level of 7 kW/p for the current population would require tripling our present total energy production from 15 TW to 45 TW, and accommodating a population growth to 10.5 bn would require 72 TWe.  Growing from 15 to 72 TW over 100 years represents a modest compound growth rate of 1.6%/yr.  With breeder technology, the 4.6x109tonnes of U dissolved in the oceans (not to mention Th which is a better nuclear fuel) can sustain a 72 TW production for 78 centuries.  My estimated seafloor Cu and Zn resources can sustain humanity for 50 and 140 centuries, respectively.  Three percent of the Li dissolved in the oceans could provide ¼ of a hybrid car per person for 10.5 bn. Deep-sea muds contain a resource of the rare earth elements that is at least as abundant as that on land.  The deep ocean could sustain the phosphate needs of world agriculture for 33 centuries.  Thus if we tap the oceans, humanity has the resources needed for a sustainable future. Furthermore, the oceans offer more equitable access to these resources, and the mobility of the ocean mining infrastructure  means these resources can be surgically mined and recovered with less environmental damage and greater safety than is possible on land.  Risk remains, but we need to accept it with the confidence that we can fix any problems that arise and thereby become ever better at mitigating it. This approach is far less risky than trying to avoid all risk.  To move forward we need to accelerate laying the knowledge foundation for recovering ocean resources in the most environmentally and ecologically acceptable way possible, and impress the next generation, not with the immensity of future pain, but the immensity of future gain:  sustaining everyone at a European standard indefinitely with the huge increases in the scientific understanding of natural systems that meeting this challenge will provide.