Are we running out of oil, copper and zinc yet?

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I am in the middle of reading the many books published in the mid 2000s about the growth of China. My rationale is simple: if you want to know how credible the soothsaying of pundits is on a subject it is worth going back a decade. The ability to predict the future rarely improves.

So, right now I’m reading Will Hutton’s “The Writing on the Wall: China and the West in the 21st Century“.

Here are a couple of excerpts.

On peak oil:

The peak of world oil production is clearly imminent. According to estimates it is already on us; if it is not, very few expect the peak much after 2020. [my italics]

On running out of copper and zinc:

Debate over how soon oil production will peak has become urgent, as has the imminent exhausation of copper and zinc reserves, predicted by industry analysts within fourteen and eleven years respectively.

So, by Hutton’s reckoning – the book was published in 2007 – we should start running out of oil, copper and zinc by the end of the decade.

Peak oil, well, I think concept is dead for a while. Likewise global copper and zinc production have risen by 22 and 33% respectively since Hutton’s book came out. Why do we not read about the imminent exhaustion of our copper and zinc reserves? Has this “imminent” event somehow been postponed?

As always I recommend Dan Gardner’s excellent book Future Babble to all readers.


One thought on “Are we running out of oil, copper and zinc yet?

    Sam Taylor said:
    May 26, 2015 at 9:48 am


    Peaking in oil or whatever doesn’t equate to “running out”, it just means that the maximum rate of production is reached. As long as the earth remains a finite sphere, peak oil will remain very much something which will definitely happen. The oil industry is in far from great shape at the moment (i should know, I work in it). We appear to be nearing a point where the oil price required to sustain and grow the global oil production is the same sort of oil price that starts to cause demand destruction and slows the global economy. This doesn’t mean that there isn’t a huge amount of oil still left in shales and tar sands. Just that it’s too expensive to be worthwhile extracting them. This was exactly the argument that limits to growth made in the 70s, but for some reason everyone chose to misrepresent them and said that they thought we’d have “run out” by now.

    Anyway, an oil analyst called steven kopits gave an absolutely excellent talk on the current drivers of the oil industry, and the state of peak oil, last year, which you can view here:

    Bearing in mind that the majors were in trouble last february, when oil was still around $100/bbl, I feel there are large question marks about what our supply situation will be like by the end of the decade.


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