Mineral Resources, Economic Growth, and World Populatic

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Science  05 Jul 1974:
Vol. 185, Issue 4145, pp. 13-19
DOI: 10.1126/science.185.4145.13


World population and world income can grow at any likely rate for the next 50 to 75 years, probably for longer, and mineral supplies will continue to keep pace with demand. Not, however, without environmental costs, without affecting Third World development, and, perhaps most important, without ignoring critical questions of power. In what might be termed the revisionist form of the limits to growth thesis, Aurelio Peccei and Alexander King, cofounders of the Club of Rome, seem to be saying that the forecasts of doom themselves are unimportant but they symbolize critical problems of the nature and uses of power in the modern world (30):

. . . the Club of Rome is questioning the quality of growth and its distribution around the world. . . . We know that the present structure of the world is obsolete. . . . Both private and state capitalism are stale . . . we have to develop something else.

Surely, continually increasing rates of mineral production are symptoms of this obsolete power structure, a result of the fact that, ultimately, population growth and monetary income growth lead to demands for natural resources that necessitate their being found and produced regardless of the implications. Since such higher rates of production are geologically and economically sustainable, we should choose among alternative paths of growth, and hence among alternative rates of mineral resource development, according to what we like or dislike about these implications. The key information will not be found in tables comparing reserves and consumption but in preferences and ethics.