Cassandra has moved. Ugo Bardi publishes now on a new site called "The Seneca Effect."

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The problem with mining

Table courtesy of Steven Rocco.

The image above is one of the best illustrations of the real problem we have with mining. As it was said already with the 1972 study "The Limits to Growth" we are NOT running out of anything. What we are running out of is the resources needed for mining, facing increasing fuel costs and diminishing ore grades.

So, in the table created by Steven Rocco, you see how the cost of diesel fuel used in gold extraction has nearly doubled during the past four years, arriving, at present, to represent about 10% of the market price of gold. We can still afford to mine gold, but the writing is on the wall and not just for gold. The cost of extraction is increasing for all mineral commodities, including fossil fuels, as an unavoidable result of progressive depletion. Obviously, that's not good news for the world's economy, and the increasing expenses needed for extraction are one of the reasons of the present economic troubles.

The question of depletion is the main theme of my new book "Extracted," published by Chelsea Green and expected to be available in May of this year.


  1. Since in an earlier book of yours you also had discussed the whale oil industry of earlier times you might be interested in this recently published account of both the sealing and whaling industries....i.e. other forms of extraction and exploitation (and plundering and destruction) characterized by the same mentality and fundamentally predatory mindset (while at the same time "proper and morally conventional and acceptable") that still prevail today....

    "The Empire of Necessity":

    "whaling may have represented the promethean power of proto-industrialism, with all the good (solidarity, interconnectedness, and democracy) and bad (the exploitation of men and nature) that went with it, but sealing better predicted today’s postindustrial extracted, hunted, drilled, fracked, hot, and strip-mined world....

    Seals were killed by the millions and with a shocking casualness. A group of sealers would get between the water and the rookeries and simply start clubbing. A single seal makes a noise like a cow or a dog, but tens of thousands of them together, so witnesses testified, sound like a Pacific cyclone. Once we “began the work of death,” one sealer remembered, “the battle caused me considerable terror.”South Pacific beaches came to look like Dante’s Inferno. As the clubbing proceeded, mountains of skinned, reeking carcasses piled up and the sands ran red with torrents of blood. The killing was unceasing, continuing into the night by the light of bonfires kindled with the corpses of seals and penguins. And keep in mind that this massive kill-off took place not for something like whale oil, used by all for light and fire. Seal fur was harvested to warm the wealthy and meet a demand created by a new phase of capitalism: conspicuous consumption"

    I once stood at the top of a huge (truly gargantuan) (I believe it is about 3-4 km long, 1.5 km wide and 500 meters deep) hole in the ground which was the Kalgoorlie Super Pit Gold Mine just south east of Kalgoorlie, Western Australia. I didn't know whether to feel terror (just like the sealers above) or awe, or what exactly. And in Australia they do these things in "socially and environmentally responsible ways", so one can only imagine elsewhere.

    But regardless, none of these "industries" will be over until there is nothing left to plunder or it becomes impossibly expensive to continue doing so. So maybe the problem described in the post is a kind of blessing in disguise? And how will the 7.1 billion denizens of planet earth continue to consume all the goodies produced with mineral resources then? Perhaps better to start thinking about that sooner rather than later? "Cornucopians" beware.

  2. The diesel price should be one tenth of today or less, as oil lobby is just holding prices up. Actually oil is not being depleted, it is anorganic and there is lots and lots of it for million of years to come. But this information is hold back by the oil lobbies.

    1. Yes, and all those geologists and petrochemical engineers get their brains washed after they start working for oil companies, after years of hard college study, where they have been taught exactly the opposite of what you are saying. Give us a break, go to a museum of natural history, have a look at various fossils and stone samples, it will help you realise what an illusion it is to believe that "oil is anorganic", and, as an additional bonus, you may learn more about nature.

    2. To give you some other arguments, I'll put there a random generator of conspiracy theories

      Enjoy ! With this you have a inexhaustible set of paranoid topics to waste your time.

    3. I am surprised that a good percentage of the public still adheres to THE EARTH IS FLAT MENTALITY. We almost can't blame them as shows such as Coast-to-Coast A.m. with George Noory promotes the notion that there is no Peak Oil or Global Warming.

      Noory continues to bring on these guests such as the one who wrote the book, NOT BY FIRE, BUT BY ICE who suggests we are heading into a little Ice Age. Of course they have no idea that in order for the world to enter an Ice Age, the Arctic has to get even colder.

      However, this is not the case at all. As the U.S. and parts of Russia suffer from -20C temp anomalies this winter, the Arctic is experiencing +20C.

      That being said, Ugo... I look forward to your new book. The front Cover is great. The Book cover can sometimes make or break a book's success. I think you got a real winner there.




Ugo Bardi is a member of the Club of Rome, faculty member of the University of Florence, and the author of "Extracted" (Chelsea Green 2014), "The Seneca Effect" (Springer 2017), and Before the Collapse (Springer 2019)