It’s a legitimate question to ask:
… whether we will run out of resources on earth in the future, and what will happen if we do?
In this guide, we outline some of the key resources we rely on on earth, and what the supply of these resources looks like heading into the future.
Will We Run Out Of Resources On Earth In The Future?
It really depends on the individual resource, and the individual city or region.
Each resource has different natural supply/reserve levels, different feasibility levels for production and extraction (especially economically when talking about mining ores for example), different demand/consumption rates, different renewal rates, different present and future technology available, different alternative/substitute options, and ultimately different factors and variables that impact how close we will be to running out of it in the future.
These factors can differ from country to country, city to city, region to region.
For example, some of the most important resources we use on earth are:
– Freshwater and Drinking Water
– Agricultural and Arable Land
– Agricultural Topsoil
– Clean (and Breathable) Air
– Energy & Electricity (which mainly comes from fossil fuels)
– Metals, Minerals & Precious/Rare Metals
It’s almost impossible to guess exactly when a resource will run out, but estimates can be made.
Resources are more likely to run out and be a problem in terms of future supply when:
– Population size is increasing
– Consumption rates are higher
– The resource is not being renewed at a replacement, or above replacement rate i.e. we are consuming the resource quicker than it is being renewed
– The process of us producing a resource, or collecting that resource degrades the environment to the point that future production of that resource becomes unsustainable – especially in the instance of natural resources which are not renewable, or slow to renew. [apart from invasion, over extension of an empire and natural climate change, in cases where societies depleted forests, fisheries, freshwater, or topsoil, the consequences were dire.- undark.org]. Yes, we can augment our future from a technological perspective, but the environment must be considered too – most actions impact the environment. Pollution for example can degrade natural resources
– New technology and production methods don’t increase supply, or make it easier and more economic to supply the resource
One source indicates:
… that we could reach a point by the year 2050 where overconsumption/over exploitation of resources and environmental degradation are severe problems (theguardian.com)
But, this is a generalised statement – it needs to be broken down by individual resource, and individual geographic location.
Guides On Running Out Of Specific Resources On Earth
We’ve put together guides on the supply of the above resources which you can read here:
- How Much Freshwater & Drinking Water Do We Have Left
- Will We Run Out Of Clean & Breathable Air In The Future
- Will The World Have Enough Food For The Future
- Will We Have Enough Energy For The Future
- How Much Fossil Fuels Are Left, & When Will We Run Out
- How Much Arable & Agricultural Land Do We Have Left For The Future
- How Much Topsoil Do We Have Left
- Will We Run Out Of Breathable Air In The Future?
- How Much Metal Do We Have Left In The Earth
- How Much Gold & Silver Do We Have Left
- How Much Uranium Do We Have Left
- How Much Lithium & Cobalt Is Left
What Will Happen If We Run Out Of Resources On Earth In The Future?
Again, it depends on the resource.
In general, as resources become more scarce, supply and demand economic principles broadly assume that that resource will become more expensive to produce and also buy – so, it will be available to less and less people (that is unless a cheaper or alternative way to produce and deliver that resource becomes available).
Running out of something as critical as freshwater and drinking water for example could have severe consequences seeing as though we use water for almost everything.
We use it for drinking water, washing and bathing, cooking, household activities, agriculture and producing food, and in the water footprint of every product that gets manufactured.
Running out of freshwater has environmental, social and economic consequences.
Some of the major problems with freshwater supply are that it’s unequally distributed throughout the world (different cities have different supply levels and factors that impact supply), and secondly, the current options to augment water supply (increase capacity) tend to be expensive and/or energy intensive e.g. building a new dam, or building a desalination plant. We also have to consider external factors like severe weather events, global temperature rise, lack of rainfall, droughts, and water pollution and contamination, which can limit available freshwater supply in any one area.
So, with each resource, there are a different set of social, economic and environmental consequences to consider if supply decreases.
Changing our resource consumption behavior (to use less or use resources more efficiently), looking at ways to reuse or recycle resources, looking at alternative resources (such as moving towards renewable energy over fossil fuels), and looking at ways to augment/increase supply levels in an affordable and effective way, are some solutions to explore. We should also look to significantly re-build the environment (which is being degraded at a very fast rate), and conserve wildlife, biodiversity, plant life and ecosystems – all of which sustain natural resources and the things we need to live and produce the things we need to live.
theguardian.com reports that we could reach a point by the year 2050 where overconsumption/over exploitation of resources and environmental degradation are severe problems.
Beyond that, research is being done as to how we can better make use of the ocean, and even space to increase our supply of available resources.
Variables & Factors That Can Impact Our Supply Of Resources In The Future
13. https://www.bbc.com/bitesize/guides/zg34nbk/revision/3 (resources in the UK specifically)