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January 26th, 2012

Minerals consumption: Tale of two countries

Published on January 26th, 2012 | By: pwray@ceramics.org

This is part of the chart USGS’s W. David Menzie presented today at a hearing in Washington, DC. Credit: USGS.

Not totally surprising, but I hadn’t seen these number aggregated like this before.

From today’s hearings in Washington by the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission on the topic of “China’s Global Quest for Resources and Implications for the United States” (emphasis added).

(Testimony (pdf) by W. David Menzie, chief of the Global Minerals Analysis Section, USGS) If one compares China’s per capita mineral consumption in 2010 with that of the United States in 2000, (the last year of domestic consumption data preceding the recent economic downturn) one can form some idea of how far China has increased its consumption. For a few mineral commodities (cement, steel, tin, and zinc), China’s 2010 consumption already equals or exceeds that of the United States in 2000. With the exception of tin, these minerals find a significant proportion of their use in the construction sector.

For many other commodities (aluminum, copper, lead, salt, soda ash), China’s 2010 consumption is less than half of that of the United States in 2000. It would be reasonable to suggest that China’s consumption of these minerals is likely to continue increasing for some time to come. These minerals find their uses in a variety of manufactured products (aluminum, copper, and lead) and in industrial chemicals (salt), and glass manufacture (soda ash). The resulting production and consumption is likely to support continued high prices for many mineral commodities, and continued investment in and competition for mineral projects and companies. The increased mineral consumption is also likely to be accompanied by a significant increase in environmental impacts from mining, processing, and consuming the minerals, particularly in the vicinity of these activities.

Menzie also said:

For the United States a particularly worrying trend is the declining domestic consumption of a number of processed metals (aluminum, copper, lead, finished steel, tin, and zinc), both in terms of absolute consumption and in terms of per capita consumption. The declines in per capita consumption follow decades in which the per capita consumption of many metals was stable. These declines may reflect a decline in U.S. manufacturing of goods that use these metals.

I am not sure I fully agree with the speculation in his last sentence. The drop in per capita consumption, in part, is also likely due to the fact that in the US, household income is now less than in 2000 or 1990.


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