Availability, addiction and alternatives: three criteria for assessing the impact of peak minerals on society

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Journal Article
Journal Of Cleaner Production, 2011, 1, 19 (9-10), pp. 958 - 966
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The concept of `peaks' in the production of natural resources has attracted attention in the area of energy production, with concerns about `peak oil driving recent research and investment in alternative sources of energy. There are fundamental and important differences between a peak in the production of oil and peaks in the production of metalliferous minerals, but in both cases production changes from `easier and less expensive early in a resources life to `difficult and expensive as time progresses. The impacts of this change in production circumstances require critical consideration in the governance of national and subnational mineral endowments. This paper develops a framework for evaluating the impacts of changing patterns of mineral production. The framework considers three criteria: availability of a resource (considering its geological characteristics and geographical distribution); societys addiction to the resource (its centrality and criticality to economic, social and environmental systems); and the possibility of finding alternatives (whether the resource can be substituted or recovered). An initial assessment against these criteria provides an overview of how a production peak might affect the production of minerals in Australia and the impacts that this might have on the Australian economy. Assessing important resources against these three criteria will be imperative in future considerations regarding the roles minerals and metals play as service providers in our economic, social and environmental systems. Additionally, this analysis should prompt a reassessment of the value of minerals beyond economic measures. Indicators derived from these criteria will inform strategies that can address future changes in production characteristics e meeting challenges with strong governance, and realising opportunities with proactive policy.
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