11:32 am - Monday May 28, 2012

Natural Resource Depletion

Resource DepletionResource depletion is an economic term referring to the exhaustion of raw materials within a region. Resources are commonly divided between renewable resources and non-renewable resources. Use of either of these forms of resources beyond their rate of replacement is considered to be resource depletion.

Causes of Resource Depletion

  • Over-consumption/excessive or unnecessary use of resources
  • Non-equitable distribution of resources
  • Overpopulation
  • Slash and burn agricultural practices, currently occurring in many developing countries
  • Technological and industrial development
  • Erosion
  • Irrigation
  • Mining for oil and minerals
  • Aquifer depletion
  • Forestry
  • Pollution or contamination of resources

Effects of Natural Resource Depletion

The increased public and political focus on global warming has diverted discussion away from world resource depletion, particularly the depletion of fossil fuel energy with its potentially disastrous impact on world food production. According to its own internal whistleblowers, the International Energy Agency appears to have falsified information on world fossil fuel depletion- on the grounds that telling the truth that world energy resources may already have peaked in production and are exceeded by demand, could cause skyrocketing oil prices and stampede the world into a new recession.

Depletion of finite resources such as oil, gas, useable water or minerals is likely to impact on world GDP well before the worst impacts of global warming. The two together are likely to constrain world food production seriously, particularly in countries with high population densities or insufficient fertile lands. Food security in these countries is behind the huge “land and water grab” by foreign nationals that is now occurring across the developing world.

Worldwide, governments have dealt with the recession by increasing consumption to prevent job losses which has increased demand for scarce resources, in order to return countries to growth (or business as normal). If peak oil has already arrived or is imminent, providing public funds to already damaged businesses that have large carbon footprints, is clearly irrational. Historically, global economic growth has never occurred without a simultaneous increase in the use of fossil fuel energy; GDP growth and world oil production growth have tracked each other for decades.

It seems that while the IEA expects a steady increase in available oil, recent, more believable, evaluations of the decline in oil from the major giant oil fields that are already in the phase of depletion (e.g. Cantarell in Mexico and the North Sea province etc) suggests that Peak Oil arrived in 2008 and that by 2030 the production from fields currently on stream could have decreased by over 50 per cent (Hook 2009). The probable effect will be high prices flowing on into every walk of life, especially the cost of food with its huge embedded fossil fuel energy costs. This will inevitably increase financial instability and produce more recessions.

Although global warming is probably the greatest problem humanity has ever faced the most immediate issue is the finite nature of fossil fuel that has supported the presently high standard of living (in industrialized countries). Without cheap oil there is no cheap food. There is no cheap water, health care, travel, housing or recreation. Without cheap energy the world contracts to using local resources and local activities.  As food availability and diversity declines, it may lead to a decrease in the human population. This is contrary to the forecasted increase from 6.7 to over 8 billion people in the next 20 years.

Human population increase is often considered the major problem that will impact on both resource depletion and global warming but consumerism by the wealthy is presently of major concern  The carbon footprint of multi millionaires can be up to ten thousand times that of the average person in industrialised countries, which in turn is 10 times that of the average person in developing countries and many of the 1 billion subsistence farmers in the world have almost insignificant use of fossil energy. There are around 10 million people world wide with assets greater then a million dollars and therefore have disproportionate effect on world resource depletion and global warming.

Solutions of Natural Resource Depletion

Humankind has consumed more natural resources over the past century than over all earlier centuries put together(Molnar). Planet Earth struggles to reproduce these precious resources, which are sometimes taken away too quickly to be made again. The depletion of natural resources caused by humans requires immediate and intelligent solutions for the benefit of our world.

Resources, such as forests, fish, fossil fuels, and healthy soils are rapidly being depleted, and these valuable gifts of nature are in danger of vanishing from the planet. For example, statistics show that 1.5 acres of forest are lost every second, which adds up to an area the size of Germany being cleared each year (Molnar 76). Forty percent of forests worldwide have been depleted since the 1700s (Molnar 3).  Deforestation occurs when people want the land to grow crops or to obtain timber to make products (Spilsbury 25). Only one quarter of the world’s population disproportionally consumes fully three quarters of all processed paper and lumber, which are products generated from deforestation (Chandler 40). Nearly twenty percent of climate warming greenhouse gas emissions are due to deforestation that releases stored carbon back into the atmosphere (Molnar 157). As a natural resource, the planet’s forests are being destroyed at an alarming rate with definite effects.

Another depleted resource involves various fish species. Ninety percent of large fish have been overfished in the seas (Hayden). Fish species are becoming limited; in 2004, 156 million tons of seafood was eaten throughout the world (Worldwatch).  Many people rely on fish as a major food source and they are being depleted at record rates. Another resource that is being majorly affected is fossil fuels . Three quarters of all our energy comes from fossil fuels (Spilsbury 8). In 2006, the world used 3.9 billion tons of oil for automobiles and powering machines (Worldwatch). In 2005, the United States gave off over twenty-one percent of global carbon emissions from fossil fuel burning (Worldwatch). Over the entire world, fossil fuel usage in 2005 produced 7.6 billion tons of carbon emission (Worldwatch). Fossil fuels are largely being depleted but the Earth’s land is also being affected greatly. A quarter of the planet’s fertile soils have been destroyed by overuse and misuse (Hayden). One-third of the world’s cropland has been abandoned in the past forty years after erosion made it unusable and almost one-fifth of the world’s cropland is characterized by desertification (Alliance). Coral reefs provide an environment for more than a quarter of all marine life and close to one-third of coral reefs have been damaged or destroyed by humankind (Alliance). Marine life has also been affected by the demand for fresh drinking water. In 2009, more than one in five people on earth lacked clean drinking water (Molnar 80). Agriculture is one of the largest water consumers, consuming about seventy percent of global water use (Molnar 114). Many valuable resources are tragically being affected.

The loss of resources puts people’s livelihoods and food security at risk, and affects the world economy (Alliance). Humans are using up the planet’s raw materials about twenty percent faster than they are being replenished (Molnar 80). One and a half billion people rely on forests for their life, and as much as forty percent of the world’s population still relies on wood products for their energy source for cooking and heating (Alliance). Fifty-four nations are already more than ninety percent deforested (Alliance). Americans are estimated to waste nine hundred billion gallons of water each year, yet more than two billion people suffer due to water stress, or pollution of the water(Molnar 114). Nearly three billion people rely on fish as a primary protein source which could be a problem in the future (Alliance). Environmental issues largely affect national politics, and state and local politicians must convince voters that they will work to solve environmental problems in the area (Sonneborn 104).

Humankind has consumed more natural resources over the past century than over all earlier centuries put together (Baumol 2). As human populations continue to grow to over 6.7 billion, the rates of consumption and waste are increasing rapidly. As populations grow more rapidly, more people are forced to compete for resources (Molnar 80). Developed countries, such as the U.S, consume thirty-two times the resources per person than countries still developing (Molnar 81). Resources have been worn away because of people’s greed (Hayden). Increased wealth has spurred the demand for resources, like luxury foods (Hayden). Humans in arid, populous regions, like the Middle East, demand more fresh water, which is endangering freshwater environments and species (Molnar 115). In less developed countries, like some African countries, surprisingly more water is wasted and pollution is less carefully controlled than in more developed countries (Spilsbury 22). People all over the world have been forced to focus more attention on consumption of resources and moving beyond individual action (Molnar 81). In years to come, people may no longer have the luxury they have today (Molnar 81). Humans may have to step up their commitment to environmentalism; they will have to find better solutions to save resources (Sonneborn 113).

If we want to live sustainably, we need to reduce the size of our environmental footprint (Spilsbury 6). Innovation has increased the productivity of natural resources over time (Baumol). We will need to find new sources of energy to power our lives without hurting the air (Alliance). Smart consumers can reduce the use of new materials by buying products without extra packaging and investing in longer lasting products (Molnar 81). The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administers all the federal government’s existing and future programs concerning the environment (Sonneborn 59). The EPA was created by Richard Nixon and its headquarters are in Washington D.C. Many countries must begin cooperating with other nations immediately (Worldwatch). Individual nations have passed thousands of laws to protect common resources (Molnar 160). People all over the world have established more than 100,000 protected areas to protect natural resources from damage of development (Molnar 150).

In many nations, a multitude of businesses have had to alter their business practices to obey environmental regulations. Some companies in America have provided consumers with eco-friendly goods to help the environment. Other companies are developing alternative fuels, such as biodiesel and ethanol. Companies are also developing other renewable energy sources, including solar and wind power, to combat global warming. People have had to alter the amount of resources they have been consuming. One way that people have had to change their lifestyles is by trading in their largely gas consumed cars to more fuel efficient cars, like hybrids, which only use electricity to run and are environmentally cleaner. Former governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, pledged to cut fossil fuel emissions by thirty percent by 2020 (Sonneborn). To save electricity, it could be as easy as turning off lights and electrical appliances when not in use, or buying more energy efficient appliances (Spilsbury 11). The use of compact fluorescent light bulbs is more common now instead of traditional light bulbs, which consume more energy (Sonneborn 108). The state of California is expecting to create thirty-three percent of electricity from renewable resources by 2020(Sonneborn 101). To produce energy, people all over the world use moving water and wind turbines to create electricity (Spilsbury 12). By 2003, in the U.S, more than 8,000 curbside collection programs have served about 140 million people (Molnar 81). Recycling was a requirement by local governments, but is now a daily habit for Americans. People will have to recycle and reuse on a very high scale to balance the convenience of consumption and the wisdom of conservation (Hayden). If everyone in the United States recycled just one out of every ten newspapers or magazines, they would save twenty five million trees a year (Spilsbury 27). If solutions are not created, our future could be headed for an economic downfall.

It is estimated that the total number of natural resources being depleted will double or even quintuple by midcentury (Molnar 80). If humankind continues to use fossil fuel at the same rate we do today, the world’s oil will run out by 2030, the world’s gas by 2040, and coal by 2200 (Spilsbury 9). Once the minerals that we use, such as metals and ores, are gone, we will have to find replacements or do without them, or scramble to find more (Hayden). Scientists predict that unless overfishing and marine degradation is put to a stop, the world’s major commercially, harvested wild seafood stocks will be exploited by 2048 (Alliance).

By 2025, the number of people suffering due to water stress will rise to approximately 3.5 billion (Molnar 114). Almost half the world’s population is expected to experience high water stress by 2030 (Alliance). The Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory predicted that hybrids could account for ten to fifteen percent of new car sales by 2012 (Molnar 108). The United States is encouraged to follow the lead of Europium Earth Group, by committing to reduce its total greenhouse gas emissions by eighty percent by 2050 (Worldwatch). The future of our earth is at risk for losing these natural resources forever.

In conclusion, the depletion of natural resources caused by humans requires immediate and creative solutions for the benefit of our world. Planet Earth needs help in reducing the consumption of natural resources by people who need to create better solutions, for a path to an improved future. Humankind has consumed more natural resources over the past century than over all earlier centuries put together(Molnar). If humankind consumes any more of these natural resources, there may not be any more for people in the next century.

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