Dr. Nafeez Ahmed is an international security journalist and academic.
Soaring costs of resource extraction require transition to post-industrial ‘circular economy’ to avoid collapse
A new landmark scientific report drawing on the work of the world’s leading mineral experts forecasts that industrial civilisation’s extraction of critical minerals and fossil fuel resources is reaching the limits of economic feasibility, and could lead to a collapse of key infrastructures unless new ways to manage resources are implemented.
The peer-reviewed study – the 33rd Report to the Club of Rome – is authored by Prof Ugo Bardi of the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Florence, where he teaches physical chemistry. It includes specialist contributions from fifteen senior scientists and experts across the fields of geology, agriculture, energy, physics, economics, geography, transport, ecology, industrial ecology, and biology, among others.
The Club of Rome is a Swiss-based global think tank founded in 1968 consisting of current and former heads of state, UN bureaucrats, government officials, diplomats, scientists, economists and business leaders.
Its latest report, to be released on 12th June, conducts a comprehensive overview of the history and evolution of mining, and argues that the increasing costs of mineral extraction due to pollution, waste, and depletion of low-cost sources will eventually make the present structure of industrial civilisation unsustainable.
Much of the report’s focus is on the concept of Energy Return on Energy Invested (EROEI), which measures the amount of energy needed to extract resources. While making clear that “we are not running out of any mineral,” the report finds that “extraction is becoming more and more difficult as the easy ores are depleted. More energy is needed to maintain past production rates, and even more is needed to increase them.” As a consequence, despite large quantities of remaining mineral reserves:
“The production of many mineral commodities appears to be on the verge of decline… we may be going through a century-long cycle that will lead to the disappearance of mining as we know it.”
The last decade has seen the world shift to more expensive and difficult to extract fossil fuel resources, in the form of unconventional forms of oil and gas, which have much lower levels of EROEI than conventional oil. Even with technological breakthroughs in fracking and associated drilling techniques, this trend is unlikely to reverse significantly.
A former senior executive in Australia’s oil, gas and coal industry, Ian Dunlop, describes in the report how fracking can rise production “rapidly to a peak, but it then declines rapidly, too, often by 80 to 95 percent over the first three years.” This means that often “several thousand wells” are needed for a single shale play to provide “a return on investment.”
For the rest of this article, click here: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/earth-insight/2014/jun/04/mineral-resource-fossil-fuel-depletion-terraform-earth-collapse-civilisation