A review of natural ressources depletion as 2017 approaches

Despite the Paris agreement, exploitation of our natural ressources, driven by our everyday life consumption, is going faster and faster. Focus on some worrying points.

 

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A simple fact to visualize : since the 8th of August, mankind has consumed  by all the resources that the planet can regenerate in one year. Consequently, from the 9th of August to the end of the year, we all live on resources borrowed from future generations !

 

Several resources are concerned by depletion :

The obvious ones are fossil fuels. According to estimations, we possess oil reserves for approximately 40 years of consumption at the current level. Oil prices have fallen these last years ; however, there is a long term trend towards a huge price increase, according to all reports. Shale oil is indeed far more expensive than conventional oil, and production of the last one is declining.

Oil plays a major role in the world economy, as a raw material needed for most fuels, plastics and so many others sectors. The main question is not really how much oil is left, but at what price it can be extracted. Economic growth requires low oil prices, because of its utmost economic importance.

Concerning gas, reserves can sustain about 55 years of consumption at the present rate, a bit more than oil. Although called ” natural ” gas, it is nevertheless a fossil fuel that contributes to the greenhouse effect, just like oil.

Coal reserves are larger, approximately 110 years of consumption, but this source of energy is very polluting. If we want to solve the crucial climate change issue, we can simply not make use of that ressource anymore.

Aside from fossil fuels, a more important resource affected by depletion is water. Theoretically, water is perfectly renewable thanks to its closed cycle. But all countries are not equal when it comes to the distribution of this resource, and it will get worse in the future. Many states, especially in Africa, will face great difficulties to get enough water. Beside not being the richer and best prepared for that issue, those countries are experiencing rapid rates of population growth, which makes the matter even more complex.

 

Predictable risks of shortages 

 

Certain metals reserves are dangerously low, according to specialists  :

  • Silver will be depleted in 2021. It has many applications in electronics
  • Gold and Zinc in 2025. They are also important for electronics
  • 2028 : pewter
  • 2030 : plumb
  • 2040 : uranium and copper, which are very important for the nuclear and electric power industries
  • 2087 : iron

 

A real problem or a fantasy ?

 

Some experts, like the economist Jacques Attali, argue that dematerialization of the economy and the expansion of the service sector will reduce our natural resources needs. But others, like the economist Serge Latouche, demonstrate that it is an illusion : goods production was simply relocated to other countries or sectors. For example, the internet relies on data centers, which are large electricity consumers.

 

Sources :

 

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