5 Most Critical Non-Renewable Resources (NRR) Depletion issues facing humankind-Research Esssay

Investigate and discuss which are the 5 most critical Non-Renewable Resources (NRR) depletion issues facing humankind, and summarize what you believe to be the most appropriate and effective technological interventions which can be made or worked towards in order to ensure sustainable global development beyond 2100?


This paper addresses all the issues that humankind is facing in non-renewables’ depletion. Different factors are involved which are contributing in the depletion of these natural resources so quickly one of them is population explosion. The stress has been shifted from the renewables towards the non-renewable resources, as a result they are eliminating so quickly. Though, economists and environmentalists are in serious trouble to find the ways to shift the world back towards the renewables, but there are issues. However, technological advances found helpful in releasing stress from the non-renewables. These technological advances are helpful in reshaping the distribution and existence of resources.

 Key words: Non-renewable resources, depletion, issues, technological sustainable development.


Among the various natural resources present on Earth, minerals due to their nonrenewable nature, are considered unique/uncommon. Since they are usually nonrenewable, from economic as well as physical point of view, so their utilization and reprocessing is done by keeping in view their scarce nature, in order to secure their availability for the coming generations. The two main elements affecting the utilization of resources are:

  • Knowledge regarding geology and confidence.
  • The taking into account environmental, social, economic, metallurgical, marketing, legal, governmental and mining factors i.e. the modifying factors.

Conventionally, the activity of government is employed for the inspection and recognition of resources while private enterprises are concerned with the well-marked and explicit resources. With the development of technology, the marketplace could become a home to non-traditional resources as presented by the ongoing studies on seawater, seabed nodules and eventually space mining, the lot of which may play a role in providing minerals for the coming generations. Technology acts as centerpiece for all industries, which includes mining, given its flexibility, at times in unpredictable ways, in a manner material are introduced to the producers and consumers similarly. sustainability and conservation are the two aspects of the same thing as the availability of resources to the future generations is affected by how much we conserve. (Adelman, 1990)

Therefore, the environmental laws and policies have become stricter over time indicating the importance for achieving a better standard of life by various stakeholders. The hot topics of the 1970s, which caught the attention of many thinkers, were industrialization, the increasing human population, the predominant malnutrition, the exhaustion of non-renewable resources reserves and collapsing environmental conditions. To address these issues, various steps were undertaken such as the proposal of global models. The “Club of Rome” was well known and had highly influenced the planning attempts and macroeconomic studies undertaken by various nations. It stirred controversy as some groups were worried this would lead to decreasing supplies of raw materials and energy resources which could threaten the western lifestyle.

Notwithstanding, the studies for development of global models was continued and to this day exists. In the present day, the major mining companies are interested in places such as tropical rainforests of South America and Southeast Asia and ice-covered areas of Northern Canada, Siberia, Greenland and Antarctica. As these technological renovations take place every year, the life cycles of many mines are expanded or new deposits become practical, in a way that the illusion of decreasing world resources is continuously vanishing. (Blair,1999)


The USGS definition of resources is:

“Resource is a concentration of naturally occurring solid, liquid or gaseous material in or on the Earth’s crust in such a form and amount that economic extraction of a commodity from the concentration is currently or potentially feasible. ”

To begin with, mineral resources are divided into 2 major parts: the identified and the undiscovered resources.

 Non-renewable Resources

A source which is finite is called a non-renewable source. It is one that have no tendency to replenish itself within a given time-frame and it exhausts. This way future generations suffer and sustainable development concept goes on back step. One of the examples of non-renewable resource is organically-derived fuel which is a carbon based non-renewable source. The simple process is by continuous heating and pressure the organic material gets converted into oil and gas. Other non-renewable sources include: metallic ores, minerals, fossil fuels like coal, oil & gas, in some confined aquifers groundwater is also a non-renewable.


Civilization of a country clearly resides on the presence and availability of natural resources. Generally, they relate to all the living and nonliving attributes on Earth, but the conventional use of this term refers to the naturally present resources and systems, which can be of great advantage to human beings or could be subject to the usual economic, social, legal and technological conditions. Given below are the main classes of natural resources:

Agricultural land, forest land and the various products and usages arising from it, natural land areas safeguarded for the motive of leisure, aesthetics or scientific research, salt and freshwater fisheries, mineral resources encompassing fuel and non-fuel resources, energy resources that are inexhaustible such as solar, tidal, geothermal and wind energy systems, water resources and the ability of our environment to subsume wastes in all of its compartments. Traditionally, natural resources are divided into two parts i.e. natural resources can either be renewable (synthetically or naturally) or non-renewable. Under the renewable category comes resources such as tidal, solar, wind, farmland, surfaces waters, fisheries and forests. The non-renewables include resources such as mineral ores and fossil fuels. Although renewables resources can be replenished over time (geological time) but its availability largely depends on the rate at which it is consumed by the human race. (Burton et al., 1996)

In order for the renewability of resource to remain intact, there should exist adequate non-destructive management techniques in systems such as farmlands, fisheries and waste disposal as irreversible alteration to the natural resources can result due to their mismanagement. During the examination of the natural resources deposits, the consideration of interaction with other systems and the irreparable alteration is essential. For example, if the strip mining of coal ores is not managed properly, the course of groundwater can be obstructed leading to the permanent drying of the waterways and wells. Acid resulting from the subjection of sulfur to rain can lead to water pollution the death of plants and aquatic life. Therefore, natural resources should be viewed as components of greater systems.

An important question posed by the world’s natural resource context is that “How long and under what circumstances can humans survive on this planet with the limited untouched resources, replenish-able but destructible resources, and the restricted number of environmental systems”? A few facts are very clear: first, that the reserves of some very important resources (i.e. fossil fuel) are limited; that their consumption rates in recent decades have far more exceeded the historical rates; that some revive-able resources (marine fishery and freshwater) are being over-used and ruined; that the environmental potential is being depleted at an alarming rate. So, if the use of a natural resource grows by 5% per year, then its consumption rate doubles every 14 years. To find the location of known reserves s the 2nd issue. Petroleum is one of the vast/abundant non-renewable source but most of its reserves are not located in western hemisphere where the demand of this non-renewable source is higher as compared to the others. Same situation is faced in the case of iron, bauxite, tin and also the natural gas distribution systems.

It was a cause of serious geopolitical implications and geopolitical wars between the nations as developing countries were in desire to increase their export earnings. In the history stressed relations were observed between the producer and consumer countries. The situation got settled peacefully later via agreements or contracts signed.

Third, even if the stocks are doubled to 200 times present use after some big discovery, they will only last 84 years. Another problem is the location of the known stocks.

There are vast reserves of petroleum and more are being uncovered each year but they are not located in the major consuming western countries. The same goes for natural gas, iron ore, bauxite, tin and chromium. In old times the weakness of the consumer countries resulted in greater geopolitical implications as the developing countries yearned to increase their exports for revenue generation. Fortunately, the issues between producer and consumer countries in the past were resolved by the agreements and contracts signed in present. A third problem is the old “shift away from renewable resources” to reliance upon non-replenish-able resources. Some writers take the British industrial revolution as the replacement of vegetable or animal substance with mineral. For example, importance of coal was realized when prices of charcoal increased because of high demand, both in regard with unwanted environmental repercussions and distance to forest. One more example, in US agriculture has moved away from animal power to petroleum driven machinery and natural fertilizer to the ones made with natural gas. To some point, in 1980’s the use of biomass and alcohol etc. as another source of energy meant reversal in the shift. Would this shift be advantageous now? A fourth problem is the modern assessment of the “wisdom of past patterns of utilization”. Certainly, there are many examples of irresponsible, unreasonable and downright predatory utilization of natural resources along with their relevant social system. (Gertsch et al., 1999)

The misuse of coal in Appalachia is considered a stereotype, even considering the factors other than coal present such as; of monopolistic misuse, corruption and unexpected technological change. Likewise, was the iron ore of Mesabi Range utilized too soon? Was the process of furrowing, planting and leaving the plain too soon, irresponsible and ill-advised? Although, many historians and environmentalists criticized those practices but they are not so easy to judge. A fifth and major problem, which relates more to the previous one is whether we understand the “the role and importance of natural resources and environmental services” as components in our economic growth. Evidently, much importance is given to technological development and rise in human capital by the analysts in comparison to input of raw material and waste disposal service provided by environment. It is plausible that these resources might be more important than realized, and they may not be there for future generations. A sixth problem is of reliance upon low-quality stocks of the resources. In simple words, the grade of all metallic ores used now is much lower than the ones utilized in the past. For many resources reserves, it is true that greater reserves can be uncovered but of poor quality. In US copper ore is being mined now containing only 0.3% of copper, meaning that for every 1 ton of copper 333 tons of ore is to be mined, processed and moved. There are also many minerals in the salty seawater but the energy resources required for recover are too great in most cases. Another question that needs to be answered is that, will energy requirement hinder the resource exploitation or should they be forgotten about as useable stocks.  Since 1970’s this problem is partially solved by importing resources from developing countries having better grades of ores. For instance, in Chile there are mines of copper ore with 1.3% copper in them. Moving to developing countries for better grades of minerals and ores meant that the grade problem was only in the industrialized countries, not necessarily the whole world. The seventh problem and relevant to the last two, is the changing of the limited global environmental conditions. It is acknowledged that CO2 has accumulated in the atmosphere as a result of the fossil fuel use and clearing forests. (Ernst, 1999)

An eighth concern is the task to be assigned to “market processes for the evaluation of resource management over time”. From historic point of view markets have predominantly played a key role for the determination of research activity and rates of use. Apart from this, it has been clearly intimated that modern technological innovation has largely been introduced from changing relative prices. Most countries, including the United States, have shown a great contradiction, proclaiming the morality of free enterprise, but still, pure market is not allowed to work because of controlled prices and bureaucratic regulations. With decline of planned economies, focus on market processes greatly increased, in 1989, some of the former socialist countries gradually while others rapidly shifted towards a market economy system. However, is it practically possible for a market process to be applicable in an area with natural resources in a socially responsible way? What is the function of state? Recently, the function of state has been redesigned by privatization programs all over the world. According to which, state is solely a regulatory authority responsible for high level policy formulation as well as regulating and supporting actor.

It is quite unbelievable how easily technological advances are neglected that have become an important part of our lives; tangible possessions are now assumed necessities, as they have just sneaked into our houses, making us dependent- though unconcerned- about how they just reached our door steps. Visualizing the conditions which led us to get our most prized possessions often feels stupendous-a thought streaming in the back of our minds. However, it is important to consider just for a moment how artistically each and everything that makes our material world is interlinked with our life. (Pinch, 2008).

Right from the beginning, humankind has exploited natural resources for living. But, for humans such need has grown more than just a survival reflex. Resources not only fulfil our basic needs, but now the management of the supply and trade of these resources has become the keystone of our latest civilizations. (Dasgupta, 1991).

Before the 1960s, it was not proven how excessive use of natural reserves for a luxurious lifestyle could alter the environment (Kellogg, 1987).

– Rachel Carson was the first person to focus on this matter in her book ‘Silent Spring’ (1962). As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the academic community begun illustrating this matter, and soon clarified that Humanity was being lead to a dreadful path- one not without drawbacks due to lifestyle alterations introduced since the prevailing use of coal (Houghton et al., 1990).

  • Many studies have been reported that there is a connection between human activities and natural resources depletion. Even the increase in carbon dioxide concentration levels also are the result of anthropogenic activities like burning of fossil fuels and land degradation. (McMichael et al., 2002). These links prove the natural resources are not infinite forever. (Schilling and Chiang, 2011)
  • The year 2100 will be one of the most important year as economists estimate that there will be huge stress that time on the non-renewable resources. (Grant, 2014).
  • That time when, fossil fuel reserves are projected to be depleted, as a result it will be the end of oil, natural gas and reserves of coal. If conservative technologies are being used and we find out new resources the situation will be the same these non-renewables will be sooner or later vanished away. That is why it is high time to take some preventive and precautionary measures for saving these resources. (Princiotta, 2011).

For this issue the technical replacement can be electric vehicles. By using solar energy, they can be charged, basically solar energy gets converted into the electrical energy. For example, Tesla is one of the examples of such technology. It also depends on the companies that such technology is yet not so much famous and having less scope. Few reasons of this cause are:

  • In comparison to a petrol vehicle the distance/mileage capacity of these cars is low (without refueling). However now battery technology has been improving.
  • The process of charging the battery is much time taking as compared to the refueling of the car. This is complementary problem as the previous one.
  • This technology is new so limited edition is available so selection process becomes more difficult.
  • People sometimes enjoy the petrol engine roar.
  • Although incentives are given and fuel is saved but after even this electricity cars are much more expensive. The cost is related to the battery.

Sustainable Development and Nonrenewable Resources . . . . . . . . .

By usually looking, at the link between sustainable development and nonrenewable resources, it seems to be uneven and varying the reason is these resources are limited. Sustainable development is an old debate that has been continued since decades, from about 200 years ago, it has passed through a host of definitions meanwhile it was put frontward by Malthus in 1798. The philosopher argued that if the human growth continues in the same manner the fixed land base will not be able to sustain it. People if confine their reproduction, it will be helpful in population reduction. Different ways of doing this can be through war, starvation and diseases invasion. This was the very old initial thinking but now days we take it as the central principle of sustainable development according to the World Commission on Environment and Development

(Brundtland, 1987, p. 8)

Defining Sustainable Development

It is a very complex concept which has been laid a number of definitions. On the World Commission on Environment and Development (Brundtland, 1987, p. 8), the most quoted definition is present as “Sustainable development actually means to fulfill the needs of present generation without compromising the needs of future generation with respect to natural resources. According to the great organization The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) it is said that this theory must include human face and invented the term as “sustainable human development.” The idea is further expounded in that by the statement “sustainable development is a procedure of modification in which the misuse of natural resources, the direction of technological expansion, the orientation of investments, and other official changes are occurred in a synchronization and increase both present and forthcoming potential to meet human requirements with specific goals.”

Therefore, by build different country’s capacity to design, this organization help nations in their hard work to attain sustainable development. UNDP helps in carrying out different programs to reduce poverty, making livelihoods by providing employment, the empowerment of women, by protecting the environment, the first priority however is to poverty eradication. One-dimensional view has been taken, which is contradictory, in the context of mineral nonrenewable resources and their link with sustainable development. Mineral resource development is always unjustifiable only someone ignore the compound interface of economic growth, environment and social growth. The fact is not continuously self-evident that this present up-to-date technological society needs a continuing source of minerals. The environmental impacts of mineral production if continue to be an indispensable portion of guaranteeing the economic welfare of this society. If we do not compromise the mineral resource requirements of upcoming generations and then we meet today’s needs it means that we are approaching mineral resource growth in all-inclusive outline including all components of multifaceted interface amid humans and the environment on which they are dependent. This concept would no extended to be appear as a contradiction if we reinvest the nonrenewable resources for capital formation in economic and social works.

Nonrenewable Resources

When the debate reached to a point where we synchronize nonrenewable resource and sustainable development both seemed incompatible. The fact is somehow true because the idea of nonrenewable resource is actually the permanent depletion of a resource since it cannot reproduce itself, which is sustainability impossible. This superficial interpretation of nonrenewable resources appears to sustenance widely detained opinion. Which is the extractive industries will never be in support of the concept of sustainable development. But when we go through a closer examination of the problem then we reach at a different perspective. For the financial security of the world Nonrenewable resources, in specific the mineral possessions, are obligatory. Global economy will be drastically impacted if supply of mineral products is stopped dramatically. The modern amenities like as automobiles, farming equipment, for increased food production, television sets, building and fertilizers computers, transportation substructure, solar panels, aircraft, medical analytic as well as treatment approaches and tools, and cooking tools and utensils, need mineral products. It is a truism that what is not grown must be mined. To fulfill the above mentioned needs it is vital to extract the mineral resources from earth to meet present needs. (Dasgupta et al., 1974)

Beyond the super cycle:

How technology is reshaping resources

Technology is very much helpful in reshaping the natural resources and their distribution in the following manner:

  • Robotics, artificial intelligence and analytics are some quick advances in automation technologies. These technologies alter and reshape the distribution and quantity of non-renewable resources produced and spent. There are a lot of energy-efficient technologies in industries which are now more energy-efficient, are electric and self-driving. A very clear decline in the use of resources has been observed with the use of energy-efficient technologies in plants, industries, and homes. Technology-driven alterations comprised of drones that deportment the preventive keep on utility lines, submerged robots that automatically repair pipelines, and the usage of statistic analytics to classify new fields that can raise the output.
  • Cost benefit analysis has also been done which shows that of these technologies can help in saving between $900 billion and $1.6 trillion by the year 2035. This amount is equivalent to the GDP of Indonesia or, at the upper end, Canada. Analysts and economists says where there is total prime energy demand progress is concerned it will be slow down notwithstanding rising GDP. A lot of stress from the resources will be released as reduction in transportation energy demand and amplified replacement of fossil fuels by renewable energy sources like solar panels. Cost decreases in renewables will be responsible for as much as $1.2 trillion of the entire savings in this case of advanced technology adoption. By saving the five commodities including oil, natural gas, iron ore, thermal coal, and copper world will be able to save $300 billion to $400 billion annually in 2035.
  • When people at home and offices started using energy efficient appliances and devices the situation will be less intense with regard to the resource consumption for energy production. Shift of technology towards of analytics and automation will help the world to reduce the stress on the non-renewable resources.

Cost of renewable energies such as wind and solar energy, as well as their storing worth will become less when world will start using energy more efficiently. This will help renewable resources to play a superior role in the global economy’s energy mix and consumers of fossil fuels.

In this way resource manufacturers will be helped in a number of ways to install a variety of technologies in their processes, reaching to the wells and mines that were unreachable in the past in this efficacy of extraction devices will also be enhanced. All the scenario will also help in shifting to predictive conservation, and using sophisticated statistics examination to classify, extract as well as manage resources. (Mckinsey’s et al., 2017)

Appropriate Technology- A Dead Movement!

The struggle is very old to devise and design diverse kinds of technology, which suits to the natural systems. The appropriate technology movement which started in the 1970s made an effort to achieve this. Appropriate technology is “technology personalized to fit the psychosocial and biophysical context prevailing in a particular location and period”. The purpose of designing this was not to rule over the nature but to develop an accord with it.  Appropriate technology movement includes trying to certify that technologies are either suitable to the setting of their use or not? It includes both the biophysical aspects which takes justification of climate, well-being, biodiversity along with ecology. It also covers the psycho-social background which comprises of social institutions, economics, culture, politics, ethics, and the personal needs of individuals. (Willoughby, K., 1990)

Some technological advances which can be helpful in reducing stress from non-renewables by 2100 are:

  1. Shift of technology from non-renewables towards renewables. It will be the cheapest form of power also use the combination of decentralized and centralized sources.
  2. By adoption of telematics of travel patterns for Long-haul transportation distances the fuel and oil consumption will be reduced to half by 2100.
  3. Usage, weather and occupancy based optimization of heat and light can be achieved in the offices and homes by using electrical sensors.
  4. Health and safety and productivity will be increased by using sensors, analytics, and automation in industrial technology.
  5. Autonomous ride distribution facilities collect travelers at their homes, improving route and picking up other commuters to carpool, it also reduces the number of vehicles on the roads hence helped in regulation of traffic.
  6. Utilities can be installed and connect with users and strategies to recognize optimization opportunities such as ripostes or upgrades to novel appliances.

Electric cars may become responsible for the mainstream of new car sales, taking benefit of their lesser whole price of ownership.

15% of new cars sold in 2030 could be fully autonomous

Oil is one of the most precious nonrenewable resource which is more than a half is consumed by transportation sector. Transportation is experiencing significant shift towards as improved engine performance and fuel efficiency in forthcoming years. Novelty in technology-based mobility such as automated self-driving and electronic vehicles, are now gaining popularity. According to an estimate of McKinsey by 2030 15 % of new sold cars will be completely autonomous. (Paul et al., 2016) these autonomous vehicles will be supplementary fuel effectual. Oil will be replaced by electricity in these Electric vehicles, and road traffic reduction will be done by ride sharing, who will decrease the number of vehicles. Additionally, they will cut short oil demand. Globally observing these practices consumption of oil will be reduced on a large scale. As a result, between 2015 and 2035 first will rise and then lower down in the light vehicle series. It is roughly estimated that the oil demand the oil demand will lower down almost 13%, in case of tech acceleration, as compared to the present-day vehicles. This all scenario will cut short the oil demand of about 4.5 million barrels per day by 2035 in light vehicles.

Technology – a helping hand to increase efficiency and reveal significant value

It has been observed that the trend to adopt new technology is not given much importance by resource sector and mining companies. The main reason behind this is risk asymmetry. This term actually means ‘the consequences (loss) in case of failure of technology’. Such large businesses and companies face a lot of monetary loss in case of technical collapse. However, the part of technology is given much importance which is related to the productivity-enhancing technology. As around the globe automated drilling machines and haul trucks are getting very common. In Australia’s Pilbara the automation technology has observed an increase of 40% increase in buying trends of these haul trucks and 15% developments in utilization regarding safety, maintenance and higher operational accuracy. (Hotelling et al., 1931) Technology helps us in many manners as it does, by allowing prognostic maintenance and profit and energy efficacy optimization. There are different areas where it plays its role without the need of being understanding the manufacturers, consumers and investors. By considering the regional demand channels related to each commodity type we can determine the potential trajectory of demand and supply.

(Leontief et al., 1977)


By looking at the statistics and facts it has been resolved that, due to the increasing demands of energy with the increasing of world population so quickly, non-renewable resources are under serious threat. However, measures have been taken and continuous research has been going on this area. Somehow technological interventions are helpful in combating nonrenewable demands, by 2100 it will be helped a lot in shifting the world from non-renewables towards renewables.


It will be unjust without paying the credit to books, journals, articles and blogs to share such an edifying information that has been used in this research. After that I would like to thank my teachers for help and support in this research.


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