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As the human population continues to grow and more countries seek to emulate the standard of living enjoyed by developed countries, the demand for certain strategic minerals will increase. These elements range from the common copper to the exotic niobium. Our mission is to devise plans to ensure that all nations, including those that aspire to be developed, have access to these ever decreasing resources by implementing recycling technologies, searching for non-traditional sources, and developing an environmentally sensitive global management plan. A broad and complex problem such as this necessitates a multifaceted solution. Our technical solutions are a combination of plans designed to improve supply through increasing current production, reduce future demand through alternative technologies, and recycle and reuse goods that use strategic metals. All of our solutions will require various degrees of research, development, and implementation.
Within our plan we will also implement political solutions, designed to ensure equitable access to strategic elements for all countries and to moderate trade disputes dealing with said resources.
These solutions can be implemented sooner than many of the technological solutions, but as they depend primarily on political climate and timing, the effectiveness of implementation is hard to predict.
Similarly, there are many economic, environmental, and social solutions that will help alleviate many supply and demand issues. Our plans call for these solutions to be implemented as soon as possible; they should be reviewed and revised as often as global supply, demand, and power structure changes.
In order to understand the various aspects of our problem, we have constructed a wedge and a grid model to illustrate how we plan on meeting the projected future demand. To the left, the fundamental idea of the wedge model is that at the beginning of our plan, we make small investments in the future that will grow to match our demand.
The bottom portion illustrates the supply level for the future if society sticks to the status quo (purple). However, the total projected future demand (top line) is much higher than even the most optimistic status quo projections.
Thus, we need to look to bridge this gap by increasing the supply of strategic metals and implementing new reusing and recycling techniques (turquoise). Finally, we need to look to reducing the overall demand with alternative technologies or more efficient use of strategic metals in the future (red).
The second half of the graph, to the right, illustrates the many constraints that economic, political, environmental, and social factors put on the various factors or "wedges" of the graph. Each of these categories offers a specific facet of the plan under each of these categories, and together, they comprise our solution.
In order to increase supply to meet with the growing demand for strategic elements as technology develops, new sources must be found and utilized. These include:
- Traditional Mining, using our current mining technology with more stringent supply chain regulations in place to correct for current environmental and human rights issues. For example, some major environmental concerns are waste disposal and contamination,
- New Sources of Mining of landfills and stockpiled used materials.
This will involve recycling on a massive scale with regulations in place to correct for current environmental externalities and waste.
This will also involve mining of currently unused sources of strategic materials, specifically ocean mining.
3. Asteroid mining, while promising enough to have accrued private investment recently, will not be viable in the near future (roughly 100 years) and is thus not recommended in this report, for reasons further explained in the asteroid mining page.
All of this mining will be done with new regulations enforced through our regulatory body - this will include improving how we search for new locations of deposits and refine strategic metals, while still being environmentally conscious with greener mining and providing for the safety of miners.
Developing technologies and systems to increase efficiency of recycling strategic materials is a key component of increasing the supply of these materials. New methods will need to be researched and developed to facilitate the retrieval of strategic elements by altering the design of the goods themselves or by improving element-retrieval technology.
A recycling system will be incorporated effectively into manufacturer supply chains. In this model, companies will develop their own recycling facilities and retail sellers and consumers will return recyclable products to these manufacturers. Moreover, each government interested in a supply of strategic metals can begin a stockpile of manufactured, strategic-metal containing products. Once a stockpile is started, the governments can also sell the material to a company with recycling capabilities domestically or internationally.
Recycling is vital to our solution because it allows for meeting future demands by decreasing dependence on mining, a method with which it will become increasingly difficult to meet demand.
A critical part of our plan is to decrease the current demand for strategic elements. The world must find a way to combat rising demand for critical elements, as much as feasible given our current dependence on them and our lack of alternative sources of technology. Our plan involves researching, developing, and deploying alternative technologies to the current, strategic-element-intensive ones. These technologies will either use less of the critical material or find a more common replacement. To formally begin, this solution will require government funding for research and development of new technologies, and governmental assistance through subsidies or tax breaks to encourage the switch from current technologies to the new ones. A comprehensive plan to make this switch will be put in place as soon as possible by most governments, especially of developed countries, so that the technologies can come online quickly.
Ensuring Fair Access
Guaranteeing that all countries who desire to have strategic metals will have access to them will also be a major cause for concern. This problem is not just limited to the typical dichotomy of developed or developing (either second or third world) countries. One crucial facet of the problem is that developed nations will require immediate and stable access for manufacturing many crucial goods. We will implement a regulatory body under the United Nations and use the World Trade Organization in order to enforce fair trade and to uphold high standards for these strategic metals. Another major aspect of this problem is developing nations will begin aspire to understand these strategic metals to build their own infrastructure (such as mines and refineries) as necessary and economically prudent. Our solutions then looks to secure and stabilize a market with a variety of producers via open information exchange. We will also focus on building public awareness and encouraging governments to make Transparent Supply Chains.