Sustainable development and the exploitation of mineral and energy resources: a review
- Cite this article as:
- Wellmer, FW. & Becker-Platen, J. Int J Earth Sci (Geol Rundsch) (2002) 91: 723. doi:10.1007/s00531-002-0267-x
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Natural resources, e.g., metals, industrial minerals, water, and soil, are the essential basis for our economy and well-being. We have to know where these raw materials come from and how they are mined. Sustainable development requires the maintenance, rational use and enhancement of natural resources, as well as a balanced consideration of ecology, economy and social justice. Four general rules concerning the implementation of sustainable development for renewable and non-renewable resources are discussed. Examples of the consumption of selected materials from historical times to the present day are presented, as well as of regional distribution, usage (in contrast to consumption), lifetimes of resources, the supply-and-demand cycle, recycling and substitution in modern times. To fulfill the requirement of sustainable development, the efficiency with which resources are utilized has to be improved. The learning process, often driven by financial rewards, leads from one technology to a better one, thus increasing the efficiency of the use of a resource or commodity. Examples of learning curves are discussed. Industrial countries have to transfer their advanced technologies to developing countries in order to avoid undesirable development in the mining industry and use of natural resources in those regions. The use of the best available technology by the mining industry, taking into account economic considerations, and the necessity to establish environmental guidelines are essential if environmental impact of the production of non-renewable resources is to be minimized. Far more critical than the production of non-renewable resources under the aspect of sustainable development and the capacity of the pollutant sinks of the Earth is the element of natural attenuation with regard to the resources soil and water.