To Choose a Future: Resource and Environmental Consequences of Alternative Growth Paths

By Ronald G. Ridker; William D. Watson | Go to book overview

(assuming no trade) is 2017, with a range between 2011 and 2020. World resources would be exhausted some time between 2097 and 2121.

Obviously, it would be possible to select combinations of such assumptions--for example, a conservative estimate of resources, the upper end of the demand range, and a scenario incorporating rapid rates of growth in population and economic activities--that would require within the given time frame significant price rises to balance demand and supply. But with equal logic combinations could be selected that would postpone the need for such price increases by many decades. Changing one variable at a time, however, as was done here, does not significantly alter the general nature of the overall conclusions.


Conclusions

The principal goal of this chapter has been to estimate whether reserves and resources for major nonfuel minerals are adequate to satisfy cumulative demand projections without significant increases in real prices during the fifty-year time horizon. Prices of only a few minerals--lead, tin, tungsten, and (given the discussion of technical note A) perhaps fluorine and mercury--might increase for this reason during the next fifty years, and there are only one or two for which the price increases might be described as being more than modest--more than, say, 50 percent during the whole period.33 These special cases are tungsten and perhaps fluorine and mercury, which may have relatively inelastic demand or supply curves. Because the cost of these elements is typically a small percentage of the cost of the final goods or services into which they are incorporated, and because most of these final goods and services are difficult to describe as essential to the safety and welfare of society, even a fourfold price increase would not disrupt the economy much. In addition, there are other minerals--particularly some of those associated with deep-sea nodules-- whose prices may well fall over time. Given the assumptions of this analysis, therefore, there is no reason to expect a general increase in nonfuel mineral prices relative to other prices.

Two important factors support this conclusion. First, it is a conclusion that is not very sensitive to changes in assumptions. Of course, this

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33
We are talking here about long-run trends in real prices, not shorter run fluctuations, which are quite likely to be greater than 50 percent.

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