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Will my children live to see the world run out of key raw materials? And if so, how will it affect their lives?

Children are quick to grasp the idea of a finite amount of raw materials on Earth. Nevertheless, we adults do our best to extract as much raw material as possible from every mine, well and piece of metal that we can lay our hands on.
Peak oil has most probably passed us by a long time ago, and we are living in exponential times. Will my children live to experience the potential negative consequences of my generation's misuse of the planets resources? And if so, what will their future look like?

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    Feb 16 2011: Interesting question. Well I am not an expert, but as much as I have read or heard, I don't think that will happen.

    For one, we have the technology that can efficiently manage resources and reduce wastage to such an extent that we can create a near abundance. But sadly, I think the current economic practices limit science and technology. People die of hunger not because there is no food available for them, but because either they don't have the money to buy it, or their country is in huge debt to some other country/organisation.

    I might sound like an optimist, but I believe the top economists, journalists, scientists, leaders and other rational people in general, are aware of this problem. And they are working towards it! The fact that technology is causing rapid unemployment, is actually a sign of change.

    Hopefully, the current established systems will breakdown soon (I think they already are, at a significant rate!) and your children, or we in our old age don't have to see a "collapse of civilizations"!
  • Mar 16 2011: In my opinion, there are other worries for your children's generation. We are already experiencing the negative consequences of the industrial revolution's misuse of the world's resources. This can be attributed to the fact that originally there was an assumption of abundance of materials, but the drastic increase in population, and the dramatic scale of modern industry means that we are, as you said, living in exponential times.

    What comforts me, is the belief, and hope, that we have the power to innovate our way out of this. Simple, local solutions are available to global problems. The issue is that many of these problems represent a source of revenue for major players in the global economy. There is a lot of momentum behind the status quo, but I do believe that as time goes on, the scales will tip in favor of a new way, one that can actually sustain life, and not just survival, a prosperous life for as many people as possible!
  • Feb 23 2011: Simple answer, no. Long answer:

    First, materials that are important today, weren't yesterday and vice versa. Bronze used to be hugely valuable, but now we build our weapons out of steel. We used to build buildings out of dirt and brick, now we use iron, concrete, and glass. New technologies will demand new materials. Carbon seems poised to become invaluable in the next phase of material science and it's one of the most common elements on earth. Thorium and uranium are abundant if you have the technology to extract energy from them. In my opinion we aren't investing enough there fast enough, but that's a different debate

    Second, If you're worried about scarce materials, remember that elements (for the most part) don't disappear. Helium is the major exception to that statement and we're running out of that because of a HUGELY stupid US policy, not because it's impossible to keep around. But for everything else elemental substances don't disappear, they just change forms. Once a Lithium Ion battery is past its useful lifetime the lithium isn't destroyed; it's the internal molecular structure that has degraded, not the atomic one. The batteries can (for a significant energy cost) be recycled. Garbage dumps will become the mines of tomorrow, and they'll be more economical than old style mines because the desirable elements have already been concentrated. It's currently economically viable for the Chinese to process raw sewage because there's enough gold in it that they make a profit.

    Energy is the real driver behind creating everything we love. With enough energy anything can be re-purposed at an atomic level. With the right technology the Earth has ample energy reserves in the form of uranium and thorium for tens if not hundreds of thousands of years. And if all of that runs out, there's always space based solar for energy, and the moon/asteroids for new raw material.

    People think too small. There is no energy/raw material crisis. The crisis is imagination and will.
  • Feb 16 2011: This is a broad question. However let me see if I can give you some hope...

    Through out history, science and technology create alternate solutions to dilemmas like this. I think that people need to put their vanishing faith and pocket books into education and technology.