3E Intelligence

With all the political and media hysteria about climate change, might we be overlooking an even bigger challenge? Some of us have already woken up to the danger of declining energy reserves (keywords: peak oil, peak gas and even peak oil – see an earlier post), but neither the media, nor the political world has any real interest in the issue.
There is one exception this weekend with the British journal New Scientist publishing a brilliant article called Earth Audit. Author David Cohen calculated that lots of minerals essential for new technologies such as LCD TV screens, fuel cells or efficient solar panels could run out very fast. Some of the technological solutions to tackle our energy security and climate change problems would therefore be hard to implement.
Could it be that after the age of abundancy we are entering a era of “new scarcity”? And what will be the implications in a world that will grow in the next 30 years from 6 to 9 billion people? Isn’t this an even scarier “inconventient truth”?
Read also the Wall Street Journal’s Informed Reader blog for more on this New Scientist article.

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  1. Not convinced. As a species, we’re really good at finding substitutes. About thirty years ago , people worried we’d run out of copper – all those telephone lines! Well, glass (i.e. sand) does the job now. Flat screens already come in a number of varieties, and some upcoming ones are made with lowly plastic. Photovoltaics – think thin film technology.

    As the price for any input rises, the rewards for replacing that input rise too – and with the world producing more engineers each year than ever before, I’m not worried about the lack of brains to figure out how to replace some mineral in a given application.

  2. Patrick,
    I know and partially share this view that our human ingenuity will solve problems when new technological developments become competitive because of price rises, but I still believe at the same time that there are physical limits.
    It is interesting to see that you give the example of plastic flat screens. Where does the plastic come from? Oil, another finite resource.
    We should start to use our ingenuity and our engineers’brains to learn again to live with nature, not against it.

  3. Running out of metals? Garbage – pure garbage. Just do some back of an envelope calculations based on a table of the crustal abundance of elements. Then realize that in most cases, the rare metals are somewhat more abundant than most of the tables suggest. Then realize that vast resources are known and available, and just waiting for the price to become high enough to make their exploitation economic. Things like Germanium may be a slight exception, but by and large, we are NOT about to run out of metals!

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