Background

Just after the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) was held in 1992, the phrases "sustainable development" and "sustainability" appeared for the first time, in 1993, in the title of a paper that was published in the journal Resources Policy (Eggert 2008). These terms are now widely used in many research fi elds. In 1995, the Scientifi c Committee on Problems of the Environment (SCOPE) met to discuss "indicators of sustainable development" (Moldan et al. 1997), and many other expert meetings have been organized from the mid to late 1990s to quantify sustainability.

The first handbook, "System of Integrated Economic and Environmental Accounting" (known as SEEA1993), was compiled in 1993 (UNSD 1993). Natural resource accounting, environmental accounting, environmental adjustment of GDP, and similar approaches have since been applied in an effort to integrate environmental and resource concerns into economic indicators and accounting. Agenda 21, the well-known action plan adopted at the UNCED, refers to the need for new concepts of wealth and prosperity—concepts that are less dependent on Earth's finite resources.

Although the concepts of "sustainable development" and "sustainabil-ity" incorporate many issues, one of the key concerns involves limitations of Earth's carrying capacity for both present and future generations. This capacity includes a "source" function to provide human beings with natural resources (endowments) and a "sink" function to assimilate the residuals of human activities. The atmospheric capacity to assimilate carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted by human activities is a typical example of limitations in the sink function. Mineral resources, the focus of this chapter, are a typical example of the source function. Extraction of mineral resources also generates large amounts of solid waste to be assimilated. A pioneer of resource flow studies interpreted this (i.e., the treatment of the environment's assimilative capacity) as a situation in which free goods function as hidden subsidies to the extractive industry in the "cowboy economy" (Ayres 1997). In this chapter, I will attempt to capture various aspects of sustainability issues that are associated with the use of mineral resources.

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