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U.S. Geological Survey
Open-File Report 02-335
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Economic Drivers of Mineral Supply

By Lorie A. Wagner, Daniel E. Sullivan, and John L. Sznopek


The possibility of future mineral scarcity is an important concern of environmental activists, those desiring to limit population growth, and those concerned with wealth distribution between industrialized and developing countries. Through the years, observers from Thomas Malthus (1798) to the 1972 Club of Rome report, (Meadows and others, 1972), for example, predicted exhaustion of resources at various dates, most of which have come and gone without the dire consequences of societal collapse they envisioned.

   The static model from which these predictions came continues to inform many who choose to believe that mineral production cannot meet the material aspirations of a rapidly growing world population if consumption (one component of which is resource capitalization, which is often overlooked by these analysts) of some resources continues to increase. The perception of future scarcity, for example, motivated the Factor Ten Club, a group of resource economists, to issue the Carnoules Declaration in 1994 and 1995. The Declarations called for a swift 10-fold increase in material efficiency among industrialized countries to free materials for people in developing countries (Factor 10 Club, 1995).

The concerns of future scarcity may in part be caused by misinterpretation and (or) the misuse of published mineral reserve estimates for non-fuel mineral commodities. A reserve is that part of an in-place demonstrated resource that can be economically extracted or produced at the time of estimation (U.S. Bureau of Mines and U.S. Geological Survey, 1980). Some misinterpret the term “reserve” as an estimate of all-that-is-left.

This series, “Scarcity in the 21st Century”, addresses resource constraints and opportunities, and the effects of their interactions on resource supply. Assessing potential supply requires a whole systems approach, both in physical terms by looking at the flows of materials through the economy, and in human terms by integrating the interactive domains of economics, environment, policy, technology, and societal values.

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This publication was prepared by an agency of the United States Government. Neither the United States Government nor any agency thereof, nor any of their employees, makes any warranty, expressed or implied, or assumes any legal liability or responsibility for the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of any information, apparatus, product, or process disclosed in this report, or represents that its use would not infringe privately owned rights. Reference therein to any specific commercial product, process, or service by trade name, trademark, manufacturer, or otherwise does not constitute or imply its endorsement, recommendation, or favoring by the United States Government or any agency thereof. Although data from this publication has been used by the U.S. Geological Survey, no warranty, expressed or implied, is made by the U.S. Geological Survey as to the accuracy of the data. The act of distribution shall not constitute any such warranty, and no responsibility is assumed by the U.S. Geological Survey in the use of this data.

Contact Information

For questions about the scientific content of this report, contact Lorie Wagner.

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