This paper provides a preliminary review of the trends in worldwide metals and industrial minerals production and consumption based on newly developed global metals and minerals Material Flow Accounts (MFA). The MFA developed encompass data on extraction and consumption for 25 metal and mineral commodities, on a country-by-country and year-by-year basis, for the period 1970 to 2004. The data-base, jointly developed by the authors, resides with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) as individual commodity Excel workbooks and within a Filemaker data management system for use in analysis.
Numerous national MFA have been developed to provide information on the industrial metabolism of individual countries. These MFA include material flows associated with the four commodity categories of goods that are inputs to a country's economy, agriculture, forestry, metals and minerals, and nonrenewable organic material. In some cases, the material flows associated with the creation and maintenance of the built infrastructure (such as houses, buildings, roads, airports, dams, and so forth) were also examined. The creation of global metals and industrial minerals flows is viewed as a first step in the creation of comprehensive global MFA documenting the historical and current flows of all of the four categories of physical goods that support world economies.
Metals and minerals represent a major category of nonrenewable resources that humans extract from and return to the natural ecosystem. As human populations and economies have increased, metals and industrial minerals use has increased concomitantly. This dramatic growth in metals and minerals use has serious implications for both the availability of future resources and the health of the environment, which is affected by the outputs associated with their use. This paper provides an overview of a number of the trends observed by examining the database and suggests areas for future study.