Here’s a graph. It’s like a lot of other graphs that have to do with natural resources in that it is “going up.” We need a lot of natural resources to live our 21st century lives.
The graphs shows the production and consumption of aluminum, which is expected to reach 65 million tonnes annually. (The graph is in kilo-tonnes, so the 60,000 kilo-tonnes above is the same as 60 million tonnes.) A tonne is a thousand kilograms or about 2200 pounds, so 65 million tonnes is 1.433 x 1011 pounds or 140,330,000,000 (140 billion) pounds. That’s twenty pounds for each person on the planet.
The graph comes from the website of Rusal (Russia Aluminium), the second-largest aluminum producer in the world. (They still call it “aluminium” over there.) It’s the largest company outside of China which dominates the global aluminum market, both producing and consuming more than any other country.
Aluminum is the most abundant metal in the earth’s crust. It is a very reactive metal and is bound up tightly in the rocks. It is hard to separate as a pure metal and the processes require enormous amounts of electricity.
But our lives depend on aluminum. These days we make just about everything out of the stuff.
What’s weird about aluminum is that is has no biological function. Our bodies need lots of metals like iron and calcium. Zinc, copper, cobalt, magnesium—all are found in living systems. Not aluminum. It isn’t particularly toxic to us either as we tend to pass it out readily via our urine and feces. You can cook with aluminum and store food in it, it won’t cause Alzheimer’s or anything like that.
Most of the aluminum in the world is used to build lighter ships, planes, cars, and other transport vehicles. Aluminum is strong for its weight and modern alloys are nearly corrosion-proof. Only steel is used more.
We don’t need aluminum to be alive. But we certainly need it to live.