About the blog: What Things Are Made Of


The United States relies on imports for dozens of commodities in everyday use. Often enough, that reliance is 100%. In this book I aim to provide awareness of the hidden geology and mineralogy behind common things, and to develop an appreciation for the global resource distribution that underpins our society. While concerns about oil import reliance are in the news every day, our needs for other minerals are comparable and are typically unknown even to technologically aware Americans.

Friday, January 1, 2010

American dependency on natural resources

Many people I talk to have the mistaken impression that the United States is not only self-sufficient in most resources (with the generally known exception of oil), but that we are also the world’s 600-pound gorilla when it comes to most of the important natural resources we use. Not so.

In the list below, I’m focusing only on some of the main mineral resources, things that are familiar to most people. For each commodity, I’m providing the world production leader (in some cases, a very close #2 is also given) with the percentage of world mine or factory production that nation contributes, using 2008 figures from the US Geological Survey. U.S. percentage and world rank is given for comparison. For most of these resources, the U.S. consumes far more than it produces.

Aluminum (smelter): China (33%). US= 7%, #4
Cement (plant): China (50%). US= 3%, #3
Copper: Chile (35%). US= 8%, #2
Gold: China (13%). US= 10%, #3
Iron Ore: China (35%). US= 2%, #7
Raw Steel (foundry): China (38%). US= 7%, #5
Lead: China (40%). US= 12%, #3
Manganese: South Africa (21%), China (20%). US= none
Molybdenum: USA (29%, #1), China (28%)
Nickel: Russia (17%). US= none
Silver: Peru (17%). US= 5%, #7
Sulfur: USA (13%, #1)
Tin: China (45%). US= none
Tungsten: China (75%). US= est. 1%, est. #14
Zinc: China (28%). US= 7%, #4

My point is simple: Isolationist attitudes about natural resources are untenable. Modern society, especially in the United States, relies on a thoroughly globalized interdependency—whether we like it or not.

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