Don’t Look Up

According to one I know who has actually bothered to watch the film it contains roughly this:

But at one point, there’s a tech billionaire (a version of Bezos or Jobs) who says that instead of destroying the asteroid, we can mine it for all the expensive rare minerals and it’ll be worth trillons. Something about yttrium, terbium, osmium, dysprosium and how we’re running short and the asteroid would contain 32 trillion dollars of it

Now, I’m going to have a very rough guess here. Osmium is fun, last time I saw – mebbe a decade back – possibly 500 a troy ounce. But a small market mind. Yttrium, $50 a kg for the oxide sounds about right. Hundreds of tonnes a year at tops. Dy is $couple of hundred, Tb $sixorsevenhundred a kg. 100 to 500 tonnes of each mebbe?

Not that I’d stand by those prices but they’re right range, so are market sizes. What the hell, call it all $250 million a year. So, someone drops 120,000 years of supply onto the planet in one large refinable lump. OK, let’s assume drops gently.

Prices just aren’t going to hold up, are they? Therefore the $32 trillion isn’t true either, is it? Prices, as we all should know, being reliant upon both supply and demand.

14 thoughts on “Don’t Look Up”

  1. A similar point was made on Billions (Showtime). Basically the hedge fund went on drugs and came up with a plan to make trillions through asteroid mining. But they were brought down to earth when the drugs wore off and someone made the above point.

    What makes this especially funny is that Jerry Pournelle used to argue for a similar scheme to make poor african countries wealthy.

  2. I thought of that during the movie, courtesy of the education provided by Tim Worstall and the posters on this blog.

    Thank you for the service Tim.

    p.s. tried donating but it says your account cannot make live charges…..whatever that means.

  3. They might have got that from me. Silicon Valley company announced they were going to mine asteroids. I wrote at Forbes (where they might have seen it) that it didn’t work for the above reasons. All back 6 or 7 years. Even ended up talking to the company promoters about it. So, it’s – just, maybe – possible that we’re coming full circle here. Talking on my blog about a story that I partly created.

    Of course, it’s such an obvious point that probably I didn’t.

  4. As folk are getting ever more creative with the Periodic Table then the demand for some of these may go up, but not to asteroid dimensions (what’s the asteroid concentration anyway?).

  5. Its the same moronic argument that says the government should tax wealth because its worth trillions, without considering that if the wealthy all have to sell their assets at once who exactly is buying, and what would the price be? Not the current market price for sure.

  6. As a lover of sci-fi, I naturally find your argument disheartening, Tim. But alas true.

    Of course this problem also existed during the age of European expansion. I’m thinking of Oz here. No one could bring themselves to colonise it, not even the sultans of Java. It was only when the British government decided to lavish the taxpayers money on it that it was possible to establish an, eventually, self-sustaining settlement.

    Perhaps the UK could establish a convict settlement on Ceres? If it annexed the place it’d make an excellent part of the empire to dump illegal immigrants!!! And of course it’d also be a splendid spot to dump the Rotherham rapists. No doubt others also have their favourite candidates for colonists.

  7. The environmentalists (sorry, mentalists) will make mining anything on earth so difficult that asteroids will be the only option.

  8. Philip, as so with the current government program to reduce energy consumption here in the UK. Just been told by my new supplier EDF, that the unit rate (on my ‘Welcome’ Tariff???) is 0.2087p, up from 0.1405p.

    OK, I accept that the rate I was being charged lead to my previous supplier going bust and all that, but…

    How to reduce electricity usage? Price it out of reach.

    And Daedalus, it’s ‘Don’t Look Up’.

  9. Worth pointing out that the value of anything depends on where it is. ( I presume Tim’s metal prices are those delivered to where they’re needed)
    The cost of a kilo to LEO is currently $2500. So anything in LEO is priced at $2500+. At the moment, for mining asteroids the gases are probably the most valuable commodities. Primarily O² & H². After that reaction mass. Stuff electric thrusters or ion drives can use. Then it’s anything can be used to manufacture that’s cheaper than shipping up the gravity well.

  10. Space mining will be for a space economy. It makes no sense to go out there to gain stuff we need down here now. This is not to say that there won’t be Earthly benefits from space, it’s just that we can’t know what they are. We got Jumbo jets and iPhones from America but that’s not why we went there.

    However, I doubt there will be any space colonies, at least not for a very long time. The next century or two will see some degree of military / scientific /commercial involvement something akin to Antarctica or Greenland; but no permanent, self-sufficient settlements in the sense of new “countries”.

  11. Dr Who, Vengance on Varos. We control the only supply of this rare mineral. Ooo!! We’ve just discovered another planet with this rare mineral, doubling the price! We’re all going to be rich!!!!

  12. I’m a cynic on this. We will never set up sizeable space colonies.

    It’s not an environment in which anyone would want to raise a child. We have no idea of the health risks, but until full artificial gravity they are massive. No-one raised in such a sterile environment would risk going to earth.

    We will build sub-sea colonies first. But since they will be cramped and dangerous, I predict early volunteers will be few.

    We can get what little there is remotely, in both cases. There’s nothing in space which isn’t found on earth much more cheaply.

    Subsea colonies will be set up for political reasons only.

  13. We might go to space if and when wormholes turn out to be real and we find a way of using them to get to habitable planets. There’s fuck all point in setting up ‘colonies’ on Mars, or the moon. We went to the US to get away from the politicians and other shite here – but it’s a toss up whether it would have been simpler to get rid of the politicians and other shite. x 1,000,000,000,000 for leaving the fucking planet.

    Subsea, maybe.

    But what about vast underground space? I wouldn’t mind having a giant basement in my house. In fact – our house is about 4,000sq ft. All above ground. Wouldn’t mind having it 3:1 undeground to be honest. Quiet, temperate.

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