Tuesday , December 7 2021
Home / Tim Worstall /Unkind, perhaps, but drivel’s not a good starting point for a policy decision

Unkind, perhaps, but drivel’s not a good starting point for a policy decision

Summary:
We must, apparently, do much more recycling:The UK must scale up recycling of materials for low carbon industries or risk facing a critical shortage of key metals, a new report warns.The projected use of lithium, cobalt, silver and rare earth elements by the UK’s low carbon industries over the coming decades is set to soar. China controls 60% of global mine production and 40% of rare earth metal reserves, raising fears of a significant threat to the supply chain for businesses.But the thinktank Green Alliance said the UK could limit the threat by building up domestic recycling of valuable materials and reducing energy use.Why, yes, by “reducing energy use” they do mean that you’ll have to walk and if you can’t get there by walking then you’ll not get there. Why do you ask if they do?The

Topics:
Tim Worstall considers the following as important:

This could be interesting, too:

Lydia Mashburn writes End the Fed! How Ron Paul Made Monetary Policy an Issue

Murray N. Rothbard writes Hoover’s Attack on Laissez-Faire

Jeff Deist writes Welcome and Introductory Remarks

Daniel McAdams writes The Ron Paul Doctrine

We must, apparently, do much more recycling:

The UK must scale up recycling of materials for low carbon industries or risk facing a critical shortage of key metals, a new report warns.

The projected use of lithium, cobalt, silver and rare earth elements by the UK’s low carbon industries over the coming decades is set to soar. China controls 60% of global mine production and 40% of rare earth metal reserves, raising fears of a significant threat to the supply chain for businesses.

But the thinktank Green Alliance said the UK could limit the threat by building up domestic recycling of valuable materials and reducing energy use.

Why, yes, by “reducing energy use” they do mean that you’ll have to walk and if you can’t get there by walking then you’ll not get there. Why do you ask if they do?

The problem with this, as with all other such claims about how we’re all about to run out of everything, is that it’s based upon drivel. The purest, most wholesome, drivel. As detailed in this free and usefully short book of ours.

The story is that if we go green then:

UK demand for certain critical raw materials is set to soar as a result of the move to a net zero carbon economy. Under its current transition strategy, it is likely to use up double its fair global share of known reserves of some critical raw materials by 2035, and this could increase to as much as five times its fair share by 2050. We have assessed ‘fair share’ based on the amount of known reserves available, divided per head of population.

Those who pay attention will know that reserves aren’t a useful measure of anything other than reserves. In their background paper - yes, we checked - they define their counting as:

UK critical raw material demand is calculated cumulatively from 2021 and compared to known global reserves (the amount estimated to be economically and technically recoverable), based on United States Geological Survey data.

Yes, drivel.

Mineral reserves are not what there is out there to use. There’s no even connection between those two things, what can be used and reserves. Reserves are what has been proven to be there, to a high legal standard, and can be extracted using current technology, at current prices, and a profit made from doing so. It costs a lot of money to prove all of this so people only do it for deposits they are, or about to, mining. The useful definition of reserves is therefore the stock at mines.

This bears no relationship at all to how many other mines we might be able to have, other minerals we might extract from, what happens when prices change or how much is actually out there. There’s just no connection at all.

So, the claim here is that the UK must start doing lots of very expensive recycling - for if it were cheaper than digging holes we’d already be doing that, as we do with many other metals - because, well, apparently because the Green Alliance know jack about the subject under discussion.

Ignorance and drivel not being the way to decide upon public policy to our mind. But then perhaps we’re just picky on that point.

The GA say to us that:

We conducted the analysis based on known global reserves and understood the definition we were using, including discussing it with our Circular Economy Task Force member Colin Church who is CEO of IoM3. Nowhere in the report do we claim that it is not possible to find further reserves. Rather, we are using this analysis to indicate that by failing to limit rises in future demand, the UK will either use more than its share or drive up new mining. Both scenarios lead to us causing detriment to other countries, including lower-income mineral exporting countries, in terms of environment & social impacts as well as potentially making it harder for other countries to scale up green techs.

We tend to think that’s been cobbled together. At least we hope it has been. For look what is actually being said there. If we buy something from foreigners then that’s bad for foreigners.

Just to twist the knife a little, from their report:

Some processes also exacerbate water scarcity. Brine‑based lithium extraction in South America requires 500,000 gallons of water per tonne of lithium, in a region already suffering water stress.

Brine is salty water, those South American brines are much saltier than seawater. They cannot be and are not used for other things - largely because they kill any plants or animals they are applied to. One of the salts in that salty water is a lithium salt (salt can be the stuff we put on our food, but also a large number of chemical compounds). The way that 500,000 gallons of water is used to process the lithium is that we take the lithium out of the salt water.

That is, we don’t use 500,000 gallons of water to get a tonne of lithium, we clean 500,000 gallons of water to get a tonne of lithium.

Basing public policy on this sort of drivel just isn’t going to make us a richer and happier nation. Who knows, perhaps we could start basing what we do on some knowledge of reality? Or is that too much to ask?

Media enquiries: 07584 778207 (Call only, 24 hour)

Tim Worstall
Tim Worstall is a British-born writer and Senior Fellow of the Adam Smith Institute. Worstall is a regular contributor to Forbes and the Register. He has also written for the Guardian, the New York Times, PandoDaily, the Daily Telegraph blogs, the Times, and The Wall Street Journal. In 2010 his blog was listed as one of the top 100 UK political blogs by Total Politics.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *