Copper is used in everything from automobiles to ordnance. Copper allows electricity to be generated, transported and conducted to the various outlets in a modern home. Copper is also relatively scarce compared to other metals like iron or aluminum that make up a good portion of the earth itself. So copper serves as an excellent metallic bellwether for potential future resource scarcity, according to a group of researchers who compiled data on its extraction, use, recycling and discard to estimate whether there is enough copper available to make a developed standard of living available to all the world’s people. The short answer is: no.
While some theorists had predicted that metal use would decline as economies advanced beyond building metallic infrastructure, the teams’ data showed that overall copper use in the U.S. climbed to a high of 238 kilograms per person by 1999. Declines in areas like manufacturing and railroads were more than offset by increases in areas like motor vehicles and domestic devices. In fact, residents of Canada, Mexico and the U.S. required an average of 170 kilograms of copper per person. Multiply that by overall population estimates of 10 billion people by 2100 and the world will require 1.7 billion metric tons of copper by that date–more than even the most generous estimate of available resources.