The scarcity factor of non-renewable resources is absent in conventional accounting methodologies. This chapter proposes an approach for accounting for abiotic resource depletion through the second law of thermodynamics. It is postulated that each chemical element has associated a cycle that should be closed either naturally or technologically. Once a mineral is extracted from the Earth, the cycle starts. The overall process from mining to dissipation is the cradle-to-grave path and is generally well characterized and accounted. However, to close the cycle, we need to account for an imaginary path through the “grave-to-cradle” approach. This semi-circle is a debt we acquire with future generations. It represents the effort that we should invest in returning minerals from a dispersed state to the initial conditions found in nature, and hence, it is a measure of depletion. This is calculated through exergy replacement costs, which indicate the energy effort required to close the cycle from the grave with prevailing technologies. The grave is the model of degraded Earth (called “Thanatia”), which was developed previously. This chapter concludes proposing the inclusion of this approach in the System of Environmental-Economic Accounts (SEEA), converting it into a “Global System of Environmental-Thermo-Economic Accounts” (SETEA).
Part of the book: Sustainability Assessment and Reporting