Extractives, climate change, and development.


To read this blog, on a computer screen or mobile phone (or even paper!), a manufacturing process -used plastics derived from oil, and metals mined from ores. Many of the materials are non-renewable (oil, gas, metals), some are recycled, and some are from renewable sources (perhaps the paper). The manufacturing, transportation, and marketing that delivered the device for you to read this blog could not have happened without the consumption of energy. Much of that energy is produced by non-renewable means (derived from oil, natural gas and--worst of all - coal), but an increasing share comes from renewable sources (solar, wind, and--controversially - nuclear). Since humanity first emerged, it has been extracting materials and energy from the earth's surface, oceans and atmosphere, with increasingly sophisticated technology in the extraction itself and then in the manufacturing process (the bronze age, the iron age and so forth). The use of materials and energy defines and shapes human civilization.

The era of prosperity, and of climate change

Our modern era is characterized by levels of prosperity for millions that are unprecedented in human history. Millions have moved out of poverty over the last 30 years, notably in Asia, through a process of economic growth. But our era is also defined by accelerating climate change with the accumulation of carbon and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere from the consumption of fossil fuels. Samples of arctic ice dating from the time of Rome, show a jump in the presence of those gases as civilization first consumed large amounts of carbon-based energy. The pollution of water supplies by metals, noxious and dangerous city air quality, and the build-up of uncycled industrial waste (including poisonous metals such as mercury) also mark our era. Some 90 per cent of electronic waste goes unrecycled, most likely including the electronic device on which you are reading this blog. That material, both in use and dumped, came from the world's natural resources--both renewable and non-renewable.

Keep it in the Ground?

"Keep it in the ground" is one response to this crisis. Yet, many developing countries rely on fossil fuels for foreign exchange earnings, and for their own energy production. Mozambique has vast reserves of coal, and India is reliant on coal for electricity generation, for example. Climate change adaption and mitigation will have big impacts on the demand for fossil fuels, and therefore the future development prospects of producing countries. They too have a major interest in...

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