China consumes mind-boggling amounts of raw materials

September 10, 2015. China Consumes Mind-Boggling Amounts of Raw Materials. Visual Capitalist.China consumption raw materials






Over the last 20 years, the world economy has relied on the Chinese economic growth engine more than it would like to admit. The 1.4 billion people living in the world’s most populous country account for 13% of global GDP, which is significant no matter how it is interpreted. However, in the commodity sector, China has another magnitude of importance. The fact is that China consumes mind-bending amounts of materials, energy, and food. That’s why the prospect of slowing Chinese growth is likely to continue as a source of nightmares for investors focused on the commodity sector.

The country consumes a big proportion of the world’s materials used in infrastructure. It consumes 54% of aluminum, 48% of copper, 50% of nickel, 45% of all steel, and 60% of concrete.

China has consumed more concrete in the last three years than the United States did in all of the 20th century.

China is also prolific in accumulating precious metals – the country buys or mines 23% of gold and 15% of the world’s silver supply.

With many mouths to feed, China also needs large amounts of food. About 30% of rice, 22% of corn, and 17% of wheat gets eaten by the Chinese.

Lastly, the country is no hack in terms of burning fuel either. Notably, China uses 49% of coal for power generation as well as metallurgical processes in making steel. It also uses 13% of the world’s uranium and 12% of all oil.

These facts really hit home to show how important China is to the global consumption of raw materials. If China is unable to navigate its tricky transition to a consumer-driven economy and has a “hard landing”, it will be unlikely to see any growth in commodity prices triggered from the demand side. That said, supply is equally as important and it tells a different story: with companies like Glencore cutting copper production by 400,000 tons to better service its massive debt, the floor for commodities could be in.


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4 Responses to China consumes mind-boggling amounts of raw materials

  1. Lidia17 says:

    I have a hard time reading articles like this: at the same time it recognizes the consumption as “mind-boggling”, the message is still a desire to forge ahead with increased “growth”. When will capitalists figure out that consumption is actually incompatible with future wealth?

    • energyskeptic says:

      I don’t think capitalists will ever figure out there are “limits to growth” because that puts into question the whole paradigm of the distribution of wealth. They are deliberately, and aggressively, denying limits, because if they admit it, then there’s no justification for the massively unfair distribution of wealth. If it became common knowledge there were limits, which even the middle class has swallowed as “techno-optimism”, everyone’s pie will stop growing and start shrinking. People will then realize that the oil, gas, gold, lumber, and most of the good agricultural land of the nation that belongs to everyone was captured and privatized by the very rich, who used capitalism to justify their taking of the commons. They love to talk about how capitalism is better than any other system — well, it sure is — if the goal is to plunder and pollute the planet as fast as possible and leave little for future generations.

      • RDG says:

        Capitalism cannot possibly be this loosely defined if “it sure is” better than whatever alternative. Either we had something resembling capitalism in the past 40 years or its been nothing of the sort because its definition cannot justify your use of words such as ‘massively unfair’ being better than any other economic system.

        So you’re basically stating that whatever economic system could have been in place was replaced by a con…not an economic system at all.

        Is attempting to trade with countries who have no labor, environmental, accounting, etc standard an act of treason or just happy economic suicide?

        • energyskeptic says:

          We pretend that democracy and other nicey-nice stuff is what we’re all about, but in the end it’s the Great Game, it is all about gaining access to other nation’s resources as cheaply as possible.

          But I’ll let Senator Lugar of Indiana make my case: “For the better part of 50 or 60 years, our foreign policy had been deeply entwined with oil, in one form or another. Despite past campaigns for energy independence and the steady improvement in energy intensity per dollar of GDP, we are more dependent on oil imports today than we were during the oil shocks of the 1970s. Now, we could have made a case for bringing democracy and human rights and education for children, and so forth, to a number of countries, but some would say, ”This is, at best, sort of a second or third order of rationalization as to why you were there to begin with and what sort of wars you engendered by your physical presence.” And why were we there? Well, in large part because we were attempting, as President Carter expressed in the Carter Doctrine, to make certain we cannot be displaced from oil sources that were vital to our economy throughout that period of time. We put people in harm’s way to make sure that all of those vital things occurred, did the best we could to rationalize that we were doing a lot of other good things while we were in the area. And that still is the case.” (Senate 111-78)

          That’s what empires do, though the U.S. has been incredibly inept at being an empire. For example, instead of making other nations pay the U.S. to fight Middle Eastern wars and provide us with mercenaries to keep the oil flowing, the U.S. spends its own money and lives — hundreds of billions a year and the death of hundreds of young American men and women. Saudi Arabia treats their people, especially women, horribly — see my book review “On Saudi Arabia: Its People, Past, Religion, Fault Lines – and Future” about what it is like to live there at We sure as hell aren’t telling the Saudi’s to have fair labor, environmental, democratic, and so on standards. We want their oil. They can do whatever they want. At this point corporations are beyond the control of any government, and their charter is to rape and pillage the planet for the sake of the shareholders, and I don’t see that ending until they run out of stuff to plunder, or they cause so much misery that social unrest prevents them from doing so (i.e. the Democratic Republic of the Congo)

          Senate 111–78. May 12, 2009. Energy Security: Historical perspectives and Modern challenges. U.S. Senate. 45 pages.