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An economist, a scientist, and a geologist walk into a bar...

...and discuss resource depletion

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John Sykes, Daniel J. Packey, Allan Trench

There are two main paradigms of thought in resource depletion. Economists tend to subscribe to the 'opportunity cost' approach, seeing rising commodity prices as a sign of resource depletion. Scientists, in particular environmental scientists, look at resources as a 'fixed stock' which can be depleted - with declining resources read as a direct sign of depletion. Drawing from the contradictory evidence of rising copper prices and increasing resources, along with ever more environmental and socio-political problems, economists and scientists have opposite conclusions on whether resource depletion is occurring, but make similar forecasts for the future of copper mining - and in particular the limited role for exploration in this scenario. This article outlines these two paradigms, and then suggests an alternative - the view of the exploration geologist, which highlights the importance of exploration to the future of the copper industry. Achieving this future vision will need the exploration industry to more explicitly target reserves (deposits with a good chance of becoming a mine), rather than mere resources (evidence of mineralisation with very limited economic criteria attached). This will require the integration of mineral economics into economic geology, whilst the increased focus on sustainable development will require a more systemic understanding of mines and mine projects and the many fields of expertise that bear on the industry.