The depletion of natural resources is a global environmental issue that jeopardizes the livelihoods of billions of people on our planet.
The depletion of natural resources is caused by poor environmental human practices and mismanagement. It affects the health of our planet and all of its species - including us. The solution is to change human behaviors and modernize technology to be environmentally sound.
The majority of the natural resources that we utilize in our society are essential for our survival and way of life. However, the depletion of natural resources is an environmental issue that has only really been heavily felt in the last half-century or so. The reason for this is that our quality of life has greatly improved but at the cost of causing harm to our planet. This is being felt now more than ever, as the climate crisis continues to gain momentum, our oceans become more polluted, and our natural resources are exhausted. With that being said, there is a lot we can all do to ensure that our natural resources stay intact. Let’s explore the causes, effects, & solutions of natural resource depletion.
Natural resources are regulated by various government organizations such as the Environmental Protection Agency, the United States Department of Justice, and the United States Department of Agriculture. In addition, natural resources are owned by private individuals, corporations, and various land trusts.
Natural Resource Depletion: Causes
It’s easy to forget how much the daily actions of each individual contribute to the environmental issues that happen on our planet. The causes of natural resource depletion are complex and extensive, but ultimately, this is a result of human activity or inactivity.
To understand this better, we should reflect on how the industrial revolution changed our way of life. As we began to create technology that was highly dependant on natural resources during this period, we saw an economic boom occur in our society and an overall improvement in the livelihoods of all people on our planet.
While this revolutionized the way humans view and interact with the natural world in many good ways, there were repercussions to this societal advancement, which are beginning to be felt more and more today, as we see our natural resources get depleted or polluted. Since there are so many things that humans do that contribute to natural resource depletion, we need to dissect all of the actions we take as a civilization that are having a negative effect.
Once we have identified all of the causes of natural resource depletion, we can begin to make changes in our society that will help us sustain these precious - and often fragile resources. To understand this further, let’s examine what causes this environmental issue.
Much of the technology we use in the modern age has a lot of remnants of 19th & 20th-century innovation, which is simply outdated for our society. This type of technology is used in just about every sector of society and has been ingrained in our lives, which is why it can be quite challenging and even controversial to suggest a modernized change.
Unfortunately, many of the industries responsible for this have lobbyists to contest environmental action and progression through political influence. This makes it very hard to pass legislation that favors updating outdated technology that is responsible for depleting our natural resources.
One of the biggest causes for natural resource depletion is our dependency on oil and natural gas for societal functionality. Our energy needs are almost exclusively met through harvesting non-renewable natural resources, which all have an expiration date. Let’s dive into some of the outdated technology that causes natural resource depletion.
Regardless of how you commute or travel, there are very free modes of transport that are not contributing to the depletion of natural resources. The reason for this is that just about all types of transport are using oil and non-renewable resources to function.
Our vehicles are predominantly fueled by gasoline to this day and although they have gotten more fuel-efficient over the years, they are still major contributors to resource depletion. At this stage, large vehicles and trucks are what eats up the most gas in our society, however, this problem is perpetuated by each individual on the planet in some way or another.
Vehicles that are dependant on gasoline are used for commuting, traveling, and the transport of goods and services, which means that every aspect of our way of life is causing natural resource depletion through transportation.
This issue is exacerbated by countries like the United States, which have been primarily designed for personal automotive transport. The reason this causes so much unnecessary natural resource depletion is due to our urban living environments not being built with public transport in mind.
Utility usage is something that occurs in each individual’s private residence, every business, corporation, and every government organization. All of our utilities receive their energy primarily from natural gas, which is causing the depletion of this natural resource around the globe. The natural gas we harvest is used for utilities, which power the following:
- Heating & Air Conditioning
In addition to natural gas, our usage of water is also a major issue for natural resource depletion. Whether it is long showers, watering lawns, or filling swimming pools, our water usage is a major contributor to this environmental issue.
One of the biggest reasons our natural resources are being depleted at such a rampant pace is not always due to what we do, but how we do it. The quality of life in our western society is very taxing on our environment and is draining our natural resources.
The reason for this is that in order for capitalism to flourish we need to be avid consumers who support the system. This leads to a lot of marketing and advertisement which convinces the public at large to want things that they do not technically need. This type of consumerism leads to us using much more natural resources than our planet can sustain. Let’s take a closer look at some of the ways consumerism causes natural resource depletion.
- Over Fishing - as we continue to overfish our oceans, we are seeing how this is affecting global populations of fish and marine species.
- Fast Fashion - a major cause of resource depletion is our society’s obsession with fast fashion.
At the end of the day, consumerism is driving resource depletion directly and indirectly given that it is strung to so many facets of society. Banking and credit institutions take full advantage of consumerism by providing us with credit which leaves many people in debt. This sort of enabled consumerism only encourages the depletion of our natural resources further.
The United States, as well as every other country on our planet, participates in harvesting natural resources through deforestation. Cutting down trees for economic prosperity is essential in our society, but it is often carried out in an unsustainable way, which leads to the depletion of this vital natural resource.
We see deforestation occur for urban developments, infrastructure, public access, and logging. While it is necessary to utilize deforestation for many of these functions, we tend to abuse our forests with little regard to the environment. This is primarily done by the logging industry. By putting profits over sustainability first, we run the risk of depleting this natural resource.
In addition, deforestation is caused by many natural environmental factors as well. We continue to see wildfires sweep our nation and much of our planet far more frequently than we ever have before. There have been record-breaking wildfires in recent years in places such as California, Australia, Russia, and the Amazon Rainforest, which has caused millions of acres of forested lands to burn.
While wildfires like these are rarely directly created by man, humans do contribute to this problem by adding to the climate crisis, which makes wildfires much more common and larger in size.
It’s often the case that some of our resources become depleted through poor human action and response. When harvesting or utilizing a resource, we not only run the risk of physically depleting it but also contaminating it through pollution.
We can see resource contamination occur often in the oil drilling industry and through harvesting other natural resources. As we harvest these non-renewable resources, we put at risk any other resources that can be affected by the process.
This can commonly be seen with freshwater channels and oceans being polluted when something goes wrong during the harvesting process such as leaks and spills. This then jeopardizes all surrounding resources to pollution.
In addition, we see resource contamination occur in industrial farming. Large-scale farms have been responsible for depleting natural resources such as soil by practicing poor farming techniques that cause soil infertility.
These farms do this in a number of different ways. It’s common for resources to be depleted simply through unsustainable practices but also through pollution caused by using harmful chemicals and pesticides, but also through runoff from the farm.
In the past two centuries, our global human population has increased from 1 billion people to 8 billion. This is a staggering increase, as we have significantly raised our population more in 200 years than we have in our entire existence on our planet.
This is particularly troubling for our natural resources given the level of demand and strain that this puts on our environment. To adapt to overpopulation, governments and industries need to take adaptive measures to cope with this societal issue. This means that more natural resources need to be utilized to sustain all people on our planet.
Overpopulation becomes even more troubling for our natural resources, as we not only contribute to depletion through harvesting resources for our survival but we also have greater material desires than ever before.
Whether it is fast fashion, food demands, or any other non-essential material good, our society has an obsession with buying things we do not need. While this is mainly a symptom of consumerism, our overwhelmingly large population makes the depletion of natural resources to support our way much worse.
Natural Resource Depletion: Effects
After exploring the causes of natural resource depletion, it’s important to recognize that all of these actions trickle down and have long-term effects on our environment and our health.
These effects have been brushed under the rug for decades, as they either didn’t pose as serious of a threat in our past - or they were simply disregarded by governments, industries, and society as a whole.
However, we have reached a point where we can no longer ignore the effects of natural resource depletion, as the evidence is apparent and the symptoms are being felt around the globe.
An unfortunate aspect of resource depletion is that it tends to have a domino effect on so many environmental and societal issues. To understand this better, let’s take a look at some of the effects that depleting our natural resources has.
Wildlife & Habitat
Our planet’s natural habitats and wildlife bear the brunt of our resource depletion more than anyone. The millions of species of our world often live in very sensitive ecosystems that can be damaged or destroyed by the slightest human action, which is why the environment always needs to be approached with care and consideration.
The harvesting and pollution of natural resources often sabotages the livelihood of our plant and animals species and puts their entire existence at risk. This has led to millions of species going extinct with over 100 species going extinct every single day on average.
Wildlife and habitat experience this in a number of different ways, but the majority of it comes directly from the process of harvesting natural resources. When we practice deforestation, we are literally destroying the habitat of countless species, which depend on the forest for their way of life. Our overuse of water jeopardizes our rivers, lakes, and streams, which provide vital habitat and refuge for aquatic species.
With that being said, a lot of the damage that affects our wildlife and habitat comes from the mismanagement of natural resources. Harvesting natural resources rarely occurs without issues - either through outdated technology or through human error and incompetence. This has resulted in many environmental disasters occurring - primarily due to pollution.
The level of pollution that occurs from oil spills throughout the ocean and on land has led to the destruction of habitat and the deaths of countless plant and animal species. In addition, various mining organizations and other industrial developments have contributed to harmful metals and toxins entering our freshwater channels, our soil, and often animals themselves.
The biggest threat our planets and that we as a species are facing in the modern age is climate change. What for decades has been portrayed as a hoax and environmental disillusionment is now right at our doorstep with the global issue being more evident than ever before.
Climate change is an environmental crisis, which will not be easy to resolve and jeopardizes the livelihoods of all humans and species on our planet. While the Earth has experienced various shifts in climate in the past this is the first time that a global shift of this magnitude is being caused directly through human action and inaction.
In the past, our planet has experienced ice ages, extreme heat, and weather conditions that were uninhabitable for humans, but all were caused by a dramatic environmental event or developed slowly over the course of millions of years. Today we are seeing increases in atmospheric and ocean temperatures that are a result of human activity within just the last 50 to 75 years.
We continue to perpetuate the momentum of climate change through the depletion of our natural resources. The majority of the non-renewable resources that we harvest are directly contributing to the climate crisis by continuing to pump greenhouse gases into our atmosphere, which traps heat on our planet and increases global temperatures.
This has resulted in the extinction of countless species around the globe. Let’s explore the effects that depleting our natural resources has on climate change.
- Ocean Temperatures - the rise in ocean temperature has affected fish and marine species severely. Our planet’s coral reefs are a fragile and vital ecosystem for marine life, which are currently dying and a rampant pace through ‘coral whitening’. In addition, the rise in ocean temperatures is melting the polar ice caps, which are predicted to significantly raise ocean water levels around the globe.
- Draughts - the increase in atmospheric temperature has put at risk our freshwater resources by increasing draughts. States such as California have experienced massive water shortages and countries like Australia continue to battle with droughts exacerbated by climate change.
- Storms - In the past few decades, we have experienced storms and natural disasters, unlike anything we have seen before. The United States has been hit with hurricanes, which have taken lives, destroyed infrastructure, homes, and habitat. These storms are felt elsewhere in the world with tropical storms that have hit nations like Haiti, which result in environmental catastrophe and humanitarian disasters.
- Wildfires - Wildfires fueled by climate change become another ‘new normal’ for our planet, as we watch states and nations around the globe battle with this blazing epidemic.
Climate change also poses some obscure threats, which are being experienced by people around the globe and especially farmers. We can see bizarre weather patterns happening on our planet, which has resulted in unpredictable conditions for growing food. Farmers have experienced extremely warm winters and cool summers in places that normally have stability and consistency for their climate.
This can be an extremely disastrous effect on food production, as many crops are highly dependant on specific climate conditions to be harvested. This has resulted in farmers losing entire harvests, which their livelihood is dependant on. In addition, this ends up affecting all people on our planet, as this food production results in food shortages for all of society.
The pollution caused by the depletion of our natural resources not only affects the livelihoods of our plant and animal species but also our own quality of life.
As we deplete our natural resources more over longer periods of time, we are beginning to see the true threat that pollution has on our environment. Let’s dive into some of the types of pollution caused by the depletion of our natural resources.
As mentioned above, the greenhouses gases created by our CO2 emissions affect climate change but they also affect the quality of the air that we breathe.
The use of gasoline-powered vehicles and natural gas dependant industries are fueling air pollution on our planet. This effect is felt much more in large, urban living environments where carbon emissions stay trapped, which can make the air harmful to breathe.
We can see this happening in places like Los Angeles, Bakersfield, and various cities in China and Asia. Paired with deforestation, air pollution caused by the depletion of our natural resources is becoming all the more troubling, as we are destroying the very thing that filters our carbon emissions.
When we deplete our natural resources, it tends to have a lot of negative effects on the land itself.
The most common way land pollution occurs through resource depletion is when we practice unsustainable farming, which jeopardizes the quality and fertility of our soil. The industrial farming complex imposed farming strategies that were more economically viable for short-term results that ended up exhausting soil nutrients. This led to land degradation at a staggering rate occurring across the United States. If these farming practices are continued without reform, then we risk losing our means of food production. Given that we still utilize our soil for over 90% of all of our food - it would be catastrophic for humanity.
In addition, we contribute to land degradation through deforestation. When done unsustainably, deforestation destroys all of the land and soil nutrients, which new trees depend on to grow. We have also contributed to land pollution when we harvest natural resources that are toxic to soil. This commonly occurs when mining various metals and minerals such as nuclear materials.
The most precious resource we have is still our freshwater. The inability to produce freshwater would result in the extinction of all human life on this planet. With a large fraction of the planet still not having access to clean water and many western, developed countries experiencing water shortages, taking care of this precious resource has never been more important.
The amount of pollution to our water caused by the depletion of our natural resources puts this vital resource at serious risk. We have seen healthy rivers and streams turn into wastelands that are unfit for biodiversity and human utilization.
The depletion of this precious resource occurs from various industries mismanaging water supplies with little regard to the environmental repercussions. We can see this happening in places like Flint, Michigan, which has an alarming amount of lead content within its drinking water - making potable water a luxury for the city.
Water pollution in cases where a community’s primary source of drinking water becomes dangerous or even toxic results in health problems such as cancer and birth defects.
As we continue to advance and progress as a society, we have seen some of our planet’s most incredible natural wonders become destroyed in the process. Much of this has to do directly or indirectly with the depletion of our natural resources.
This occurs when economic prosperity is put before respecting and admiring the natural wonder of the world. Let’s examine some of the ways that the depletion of our natural resources damages the natural beauty of our planet.
- Deforestation - In addition to forests being vital habitats, they are also great places for outdoor recreation. By sweeping away millions of acres of beautiful forested areas, we have tainted a once beautiful landscape.
- Marine Life - As we continue to drill for oil in the sea, overfish, and pump chemicals and industrial waste into the ocean, we can see a decline in marine life around the world. This has put some of our ocean’s most incredible places, like the Great Barrier Reef, in a state of turmoil and inevitable death. Divers and marine biologists around the world are telling us that much of our planet’s most abundant and beautiful seascapes are at huge risk.
- Wildlife - Witnessing the wildlife of our planet in nature is one of the most awe-inspiring experiences a person can have. As we continue to deplete our natural resources, such encounters are becoming more and more challenging to find. Pollution caused by resource depletion directly destroys habitat, but also things such as noise pollution and large amounts of human activity contribute to wildlife simply migrating to locations that feel safer.
Luckily, in the United States, we have designated millions of acres of protected natural areas to be free of development and resource harvesting. However, much of the undeveloped world struggle with protecting the natural beauty of their lands due to resource harvesting being vital for their survival. This in turn has jeopardized the natural beauty of many nations that simply had no other options.
Economic Instability & Poverty
The natural resources that we utilize in our society have helped us make great advancements in our economy and our overall quality of life. Many of these resources have laid the foundation for much of humanity’s accomplishments in the past century.
With that being said, we have reached a point where these resources are nearing a point of depletion or environmental catastrophe - if they are continued to be used. This is an ironic truth of resource depletion, as the resources that once allowed us to prosper may well lead to our demise.
The depletion of particularly our non-renewable energy resources is a troubling notion for nations that are highly dependant on them for economic stability. At this stage, this includes almost every single country on the planet. Despite the fact that much of the world is attempting to start a green revolution, we are still heavily dependant on oil and natural gas for societal functionality.
Developed nations like the United States and various countries throughout Europe are the leaders in transitioning to less harmful energy sources, which will not deplete our natural resources. However, even these countries will experience economic turbulence during this transition, as it will result in needing to reinvest in everything from the automotive industry to household utilities.
In the long run, developed nations will have a much better chance at sustaining their economy through all of this. The countries that will experience serious repercussions, as we deplete our natural resources, will be less developed nations that have no other means of economic stability other than their natural resources.
There are many underdeveloped nations that have been subject to exploitation by developed countries, which essentially conned them into unfair trade agreements for their own economic benefit. This resulted in many poorer countries having their natural resources stripped away from them at their own cost, which hindered their development and economic prosperity.
Many of these countries still live in poverty to this day and are left with a polluted nation that is dependant on the very resource that was stolen from them; a vicious cycle of poverty and instability caused the depletion of natural resources.
Natural Resource Depletion: Solutions
The past and ongoing depletion of our planet’s natural resources paints a grim picture of humanity and where we are headed. Our actions have amounted to countless environmental catastrophes, the exploitation of underdeveloped nations, the destruction of natural wonders, and the ultimate risk of jeopardizing all life on our planet.
With that being said, there is a lot to be hopeful for as we move into an era of sustainability. Society is beginning to wake up to the damage we create to our planet and ourselves through the depletion of natural resources, which is resulting in a conscientious shift in how we view our environment.
With green living gaining mainstream appeal and the rise of new eco-friendly technologies reaching new heights, our potential to mitigate and remedy many of our past mistakes is a possibility on the horizon of humanity. Solving the issues caused by natural resource depletion is not something that will occur overnight and maybe not even within our generation, but taking the first steps in the right direction is how we can ensure that change can start.
To achieve this, it’s going to take more than one nation or one government to create the change our planet needs. It will take a combined effort from every person on this planet to create a sustainable future where resource depletion is no longer a threat. To understand this further, let’s examine the solutions to natural resource depletion.
The biggest threat to our resource depletion in modern society comes from our dependency on fossil fuels as our primary source of energy. We use fossil fuels to heat our homes, fuel our cars, and it is currently the backbone of Western Society. This needs to change.
As sustainable living becomes more popular, we are beginning to rethink and reinvest our energy demands. The depletion of non-renewable energy resources such as oil and natural gas is an inevitability.
To get out while we are still ahead, it’s vital that we act now to transition to clean energy sources, which are renewable and sustainable. Here are the most common renewable energy sources to help us combat natural resource depletion.
The most abundant and powerful source of energy that our planet has comes from our sun. Our sun is not only responsible for sustaining all life on our planet, but it will soon be the source of all energy on this planet.
The sun alone creates more energy on the surface of our planet than all humans could ever hope to use in a single. This means that simply by investing in solar energy as our primary global energy source we could take care of all of our energy needs without even needing to harvest fossil fuels.
The use of solar energy has long been dispelled by various industries and governments, but this is now beginning to change. With western nations aiming to fulfill The Paris Agreement and many businesses and private homeowners transitioning to solar energy.
Moving forward, we will need to establish solar panels on all private residences that are worthy of solar power and create solar energy farms in places that receive an abundance of sunlight.
The next contender for renewable energy is utilizing wind. We are seeing wind turbines pop up all over our nation and many other countries around the world.
Wind energy is considered to be the second most viable renewable energy resource. The irony is that windmills have actually been utilized for thousands of years - far longer than the use of oil and natural gas.
After the economic boom created by fossil fuels, we disregarded this highly effective approach for harvesting energy and began depleting the Earth’s resources at a much faster pace. These days you can see wind turbines in states such as Texas, which have great landscapes for harnessing wind power.
In addition, China is currently one of the world’s global leaders for utilizing wind turbines as a means of sustainable energy.
A key solution to preserving our natural resources is to become more energy efficient as a society. This solution is complex and needs to be approached pragmatically so that optimum results can be achieved.
As we have progressed as a society we have constantly found ways to become more energy efficient. While in the past this is something that generally occurs slowly over time, we have reached a point where need to take drastic measures in order to successfully be energy efficient. The reason for this is that we are currently at a transitional stage for the energy that we utilize to sustain society.
The biggest change that we will see occur to preserve our natural resources will be our transition from fossil fuels to clean energy to fuel our cars and energize our homes. This long-awaited technology has more momentum now than ever with hybrid and fully electric cars becoming highly advanced, practical, and more affordable.
In addition, we are seeing the implementation of green building and sustainable architecture having much more mainstream appeal. People are beginning to design homes and buildings in ways that are in better alignment with their local environment. This helps us mitigate the energy consumption and natural resource depletion caused by homes and businesses.
We can expect to see a huge shift in energy efficiency as we begin to green energy homes and clean energy vehicles make their way into the lives of everyday citizens.
Legislation & Leadership
For decades environmental activists have been fighting to create social change that would take care of our environment and preserve our natural resources. Unfortunately, one of the biggest opposition to this sort of change came from our very government.
The United States Government and various governments around the world contested legislation that would hinder the harvesting of natural resources and in many situations the direct protection of natural areas.
In just the last decade we have seen this change greatly, as governments have begun working together to create national and global legislation which aims to combat the depletion of our natural resources. We see this type of legislation in the United States with the Green New Deal - a piece of legislation that actively fights climate change.
While this has much of our nation in a panic - given our dependency on oil - the legislation not only encourages action that will allow for clean energy to be a focal point in our society, but it will also create jobs. Much like with our current energy demands, a lot of jobs need to be created to sustain these industries. Legislation that aims to transition us out of depleting our natural resources and harming our planet will create millions of green energy jobs.
This sort of legislation not only needs to be in writing but it also needs to be encouraged by our leaders. A lack of leadership by politicians is one of the many reasons why we have experienced such a slow transition to sustainable living, which has resulted in the exhaustion of our natural resources.
A lot of our natural resources are on the brink of depletion simply due to a lack of education and poor lifestyle choices by everyday citizens. Given our consumeristic way of life in western countries, most of us were not brought up with a mentality to care about the environment and to question how our daily lives affect our natural resources.
As we transition into a society that aims to achieve sustainable living, it’s vital that we instill the values that come with environmental conscientiousness. This means that environmental education is something that should be part of school curriculums so that kids are brought up with environmental values and respect for the natural world. Some of the most basic things that should be taught for preserving our natural resources are:
- Responsible Energy Consumption
- Conscientious Consumerism
There are a lot of educational platforms that teach these ideologies and lifestyle choices, but a good place to start is to try to instill the 5 Rs in your daily life: refuse, reduce, reuse, repurpose, and recycle.
In addition, industries and corporations need to play a significant role in this, as they are some of the leading contributors to natural resource depletion. Institutions, industries, and government organizations all need to enforce regulations and teach their employees and constituents the importance of sustainability.
A great way for preserving natural resources is to simply create land areas that are protected from development and resource harvesting.
We see these areas all over the United States in the form of National Parks, State Parks, Wildlife Refuges, and Wilderness Areas. These lands are protected by the United States government and fall under very strict guidelines for human activity.
With that being said, we can also see land areas that protect natural resources in urban environments in our public parks. By preserving even small land areas for protection we are able to secure natural resources in our society.
However, many private property owners and land trusts have taken it upon themselves to preserve private lands under conservation protection without the backing of the United States Government. This occurs when a private property undergoes a conversion process called a conservation easement.
These conservation easements exist to protect the environment and its natural resources. They can be seen in places that have an abundance of wildlife and habitat, vital natural resources, or simply natural aesthetics. Conservation easements have helped protect millions of acres of land with fertile soils, forests, freshwater, and they also prevent invasive development and unsustainable resource harvesting.
One of our most vital natural resources is our soil. It’s easy to take for granted the resource that is responsible for growing our food, as we have done in the past.
This occurs when we practice unsustainable farming, which leads to land degradation and potential resource contamination. During the rise of the industrial farming complex, farmers began practicing new-age farming techniques that appeared to be more economically viable for large-scale farms.
After decades of these farming techniques, we began to see soil become infertile and in many cases unusable. This was catastrophic for farmers and society, as it put at risk all of our food production. Ultimately, action was taken by the government to prevent soil degradation from occurring by enforcing regulations that require farmers to practice sustainable farming techniques.
These practices have resulted in farming that does not deplete our natural resources at the same rate that it once did. Sustainable farming could be implemented even better in our society if we optimized our water usage on farms and transitioned to organic farming practices.
About THE AUTHOR
James Parker has a Masters degree in Sustainability with a focus on land management, permaculture and regenerative agriculture. He also has experience managing sustainability projects, and is passionate about conservation and sustainability.Read More About James Parker