The resource crisis: Closer to the edge

In 15 years time, silver will run out. In 20-25 years it’s zinc and lead – and in 30-40 years it’s copper. These are critical resources for nearly all of our beloved consumer goods, including cars, electronics and those must-have gadgets.

I’m referring to REM – but not the rock band or something our eyes do when we sleep. REM also stands for rare earth metals, the stuff we need for smart phones, flat screen TVs, iPods, computers and the like. The known and accessible reserves of REM’s like neodymium or indium (10-20 years left) are becoming very limited – and 95 percent of them are produced in China

In a world of 7 billion people, however, resource scarcity goes far beyond precious metals and rare earth metals. The per capita availability of biomass and fresh water is rapidly declining. Phosphorus and phosphate, critical to global food production, are also under pressure -- and more than half of the world’s remaining, mineable reserves of that substance sit in one country, Morocco. And some large deposits of these essential minerals are currently found in areas awash in violence and political conflict, creating other issues.

Amazingly, the scale and urgency of the resource challenge has not yet dawned on the world’s decision makers. The reality is we are in the middle of a paradigm shift from a global economy competing primarily on labor – prices, competencies, productivity – to an economy competing on resource efficiency, reuse and our ability to replace rare and expensive materials with new and recyclable stuff.

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