Keywords: absolute scarcity, relative scarcity, resource prices, sustainability, sustainable development, natural resources, ecological economics, resource use, resource depletion model
How well are resource prices likely to serve as indicators of natural resource scarcity?
It is generally believed that when a resource becomes increasingly scarce, a shadow is automatically cast in the form of a higher market price. The higher price induces substitution towards more abundant resources and the development of resource-saving technological progress. A growing number of ecological economists argue that, while resource prices adequately reflect the relative scarcity of various resource types, they are unable to reflect the absolute scarcity of either a particular resource type or the entire stock of all resources. They therefore believe resource prices cannot be used as a basis for determining the sustainable rate of resource use. In support of this emerging ecological economic position, a resource depletion model is employed under specific conditions to show that, for some considerable period of time, the price of a resource can fall even as the stock of the resource declines. Furthermore, the extent of the fall is greater if both a higher discount rate is applied and the marginal cost of resource extraction is assumed to be a function of past resource prices – a reasonable assumption given that the resource extraction process requires the use of previously extracted resources.