Due to be published later this month by the UN’s International Resource Panel, it highlights how global consumption of raw materials, having increased four-fold since 1970, is set to rise by a further 60% by 2060.
- Due to be published later this month by the UN’s International Resource Panel, it highlights how global consumption of raw materials, having increased four-fold since 1970, is set to rise by a further 60% by 2060.
- Already, the technosphere — the totality of human-made products, from airports to Zimmer frames — is heavier than the biosphere.
- The mining industry requires the annexation of large tracts of land for extraction and transportation; its energy consumption has more than tripled since the 1970s.
Critical raw materials
- “Critical” and “strategic” raw materials are those that face supply risk either in their scarcity or their geographical concentration, and which the major powers require for their military sectors and for competitive advantage in tech industries.
- Right now, the race for critical materials is geopolitical: each major power wants to secure supplies in allied countries.
- Critical raw materials are indispensable to the green transition too.
- There is scope for urban mining: for example, locating copper from inactive underground power cables or recovering elements from construction waste, sewage, incinerator ash and other garbage zones.
- The current economic system makes extractive mining cheaper and easier than urban mining.
- Urban mining by contrast is often labour-intensive and requires a complex and state-enforced regulation of waste streams.
- In short, there is nothing intrinsically “green” about urban mining or the circular economy.
Is degrowth the answer?
- The insufficiency of engineering and green growth programmes has informed the waxing interest in “degrowth” strategies.
- According to degrowth advocate Jason Hickel, political means should be forged through which to plan priority sectors.
- Reducing luxury and wasteful sectors such as SUVs, aviation and fast fashion would free up critical materials for the green transition.
Gareth Dale does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.