2.4.5 Decline in Natural Resources

Our rapid consumption of natural resources is placing enormous stress on their natural renewal and recycling rates. We are rapidly running out of natural resources. For many resources, we only have a lifetime’s worth left in the earth.

One very important resource for consideration in this perspective is oil. The entire human economy is built on and powered by oil and other fossil fuels. Understanding how much is left to support our energy use is crucial. Peak oil  refers to the point in time that the maximum rate of extraction of petroleum is reached, and can be extended to the concept of peak production to include other non-renewable fossil fuels (e.g. natural gas and coal).

Source: ASPO 2010

Peak oil/production is a fundamentally economic concept, whereby both production and access to these fuel sources will decline as less expensive and more accessible energy sources become economically viable for production and use. A broad general consensus estimates that conventional peak production will be reached by 2030—2040. The decline in available fossil fuel sources presents humankind with an imposing question: how are we going to power our growing energy needs into the future?

Source: Edwards J.D. 2001 

What is the Tragedy of the Commons?

The tragedy of commons is an economic model that describes individual behavior in a shared resource system. When there is a set of common pool resources, individuals will act in their self-interest rather than for the benefit of the common good. Thus, as the demand for the resource increases beyond the availability of supply, every individual who utilizes another unit of the resource directly impacts other users who can no longer enjoy the benefits of that resource.

The resource is normally easily accessible to all parties to share, however the tragedy occurs when individuals neglect the well-being of the collective in pursuit of their own personal benefit. The end result is that the common resource is overexploited and eventually collapses.

The Grand Banks cod fishery off the coast of Newfoundland (Canada) is prime example of this phenomenon resulting in loss of an otherwise renewable resource. For centuries, the rich fishing grounds of the Grand Banks supported all the cod fishing that had been practiced in the region. Fishing advancements in the 1960s however increased commercial fishing efficiency, resulting in increased competition for larger catches annually. This led to the decimation of fish stocks by the 1990s, causing the entire industry to collapse.

Supplementary Resources

Friends of the Environment “Overconsumption? Our use of the world’s natural resources”

National Geographic 2014 Article “As the World’s population booms, will it’s resources be enough for us”

World Resources Forum Facts and Figures “Global Resource Use -Worldwide patterns of resource extraction”

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