How long before the Earth's bounty runs out – a future history
Scientific American provides a detailed, hypothetical response to the question which has no doubt crossed the mind of anyone involved with the mining sector – how long before the Earth's bounty of resources runs out?
The venerable US science magazine has published a hypothetical future history of the Earth based on existing data, providing a detailed as well as sobering account of humanity's exhaustion of its mineral and surface resources.
According to the hypothetical future history the late 2020's will be crunch time for reserves of heavy precious metals, with indium deposits exhausted by 2028, deposits of silver mined out by 2029 and all readily mineable gold deposits gone by 2030.
Copper, despite its ubiquitous presence in modern infrastructure and technology, will enjoy a slightly longer run due to its abundance, with Scientific American predicting exhaustion of reserves by 2044. Known reserves currently stand at 540 million metric tonnes, although the Andes Mountains may harbour a further 1.3 billion metric tonnes.
While peak oil is expected in only two years time, coal has much more to give with 2072 given as the year when 90% of viable deposits are exhausted. Although coal is widely believed to be "virtually inexhaustible", David Rutledge from the California Institute of Technology says reserves are frequently over-estimated due to the assumption that technological advances will deliver inaccessible deposits to human usage.