The resource challenges of the net zero transition: update

In July 2019 we reproduced the letter written by Professor Richard Herrington, Head of Earth Sciences at the National History Museum and other scientists to the UK Committee on Climate Change, explaining the resource challenges of reaching net zero emissions in the UK by 2050 (https://ecosophic-isles.org/2019/07/18/natural-history-museum-letter-to-uk-statutory-committee-on-climate-change-june-2019-copy/). We published the letter here because we were surprised by how little impact it seemed to have in the mainstream media.  Some two years later, and following many more net zero commitments from government and organisations around the world, the resource implications of the plans hardly cause a murmur in popular discourse.  If one searches Google for news items on Herrington’s work on the topic the only mainstream articles seem to be in the Guardian on deep-sea mining, and a BBC article from 24 May this year saying that moving to net zero “inevitably means more mining” (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-57234610). The latter based on an article Herrington published in Nature Reviews Materials that month (https://www.nature.com/articles/s41578-021-00325-9).  Why is it, with so much written about the need to decarbonise by adopting renewable energy and electrifying everything, that the implications of such moves are discussed so little?  What might we do to increase public awareness of the issues?

Our advice to those who may be interested in this topic is “listen to the engineers and geologists”, and in that regard there are some voices that are well worth listening to in addition to Herrington and his colleagues.  First, Professor Julian Allwood and his team on the UK FIRES research project at the universities of Cambridge, Oxford, Nottingham, Bath and Imperial College London, have done detailed work on the resource implications of net zero, and advocate placing resource efficiency at the heart of the national industrial strategy.  Their web site at https://ukfires.org is a great source of information.  Second, Simon Michaux of the Geological Survey of Finland has been vociferous on the resource challenges, in particular in his ‘The Mining of Minerals and Limits to Growth’ report published earlier this year (https://tupa.gtk.fi/raportti/arkisto/16_2021.pdf).  In a very interesting recent podcast he was interviewed by broadcaster Phil Dobbie and economist Steve Keen as part of their Debunking Economics series (https://debunking.podbean.com/e/266-the-mineral-supply-crisis-that-s-rarely-talked-about/). This is well worth a listen.