World Metals Production Surges

Michael Renner | Sep 03, 2009

In 2008, more than 1.4 billion tons of metals were produced globally—double the quantity of the late 1970s and more than seven times as much as in 1950.1 (See Figure 1.) Since the mid-point of the twentieth century, a cumulative 40 billion tons of metals have been produced.2 This figure includes aluminum, arsenic, cadmium, chromium, copper, gold, lead, mercury, nickel, and steel.

Following steady growth from the postwar boom years until 1974, world metals production leveled off during the next 20 years. The late 1990s, however, witnessed the beginning of a new expansion—one far more rapid than the previous one.3 This second expansion was largely driven by the dramatic growth of the Chinese economy.4 Consumption growth rates have also been high in India and South Korea, but much smaller in overall quantities than in China.5

Average per capita metals use rose from 77 kilograms in 1950 to 165 kilograms in 1975 and 213 kilograms in 2008.6 But these global averages conceal the fact that metals consumption is still heavily concentrated in a small number of countries. For instance, U.S. per capita consumption in 2008 (380 kilograms) was roughly nine times that in China and 15 times that in India.7

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