Has the Earth Run out of any Natural Resources?

Jeremy Puthumana November 16, 2011 0

Oil wells at the Cyrmic Oil Field have been increasing their rate of production faster than any other oil field in California due to advanced oil recovery techniques. Photo courtesy of ridelust.com.

The media has been littered with so many critiques of modern resource consumption that it would not be surprising if the Earth had run out of a natural resource by now. Even in 1798, Thomas Malthus, already predicted that famine would be an unavoidable consequence of our exponential population growth. In 1972, the global think tank, the Club of Rome, asserted that the world’s gold, mercury, tin, copper, and oil reserves would last less than twenty years in their book Limits to Growth. However, despite what doomsday predictions may suggest, the Earth has not run out of any resources nor is it likely that it will run out of any in the near future.

In fact, resources are becoming more abundant. Though this may seem puzzling, it does not mean that the actual quantity of resources in the Earth’s crust is increasing but rather that the amount available for our use is constantly growing due to technological innovations. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the only resource we have exhausted is cryolite, a mineral used in pesticides and aluminum processing. However, that is not to say every bit of it has been mined away; rather, producing it synthetically is much more cost efficient than mining the existing reserves at its current value.

If history is any indicator, man will continue to develop new technologies, stretch the uses of our remaining resources, and find alternatives as resources becomes scarce. New technologies will change resource demand – from the development of hybrid cars to making timber renewable through recycling. Based off the work of Nobel Prize-winning economist Robert Solow, it is clear that, like in the instance of cryolite, humans will likely find substitutes for natural resources before they run out.

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