Resource depletion | the sneaky assumption tester

Resource depletion should worry everyone. 

When finances are depleted we feel pain — from the embarrassment of not having enough cash to buy the groceries through to the psychological trauma of bankruptcy.

This is all very personal stuff attached as it is to our hip pockets.  Money is immediate but it is not the only resource we need. 

We also must have a share of 

  • Water 
  • Energy 
  • Minerals 
  • Natural capital

For these secure our food, water and shelter either directly or via the complex supply chains that make up modern economies.

Our cultures and attitudes are shaped by the past availability of natural resources and our learned abilities to exploit them, especially to deliver food security. We know intuitively that natural capital is important.

The thing we do not notice is resource depletion. 

resource depletion | natural capital

Flick the switch

When we flick a switch on the wall the light comes on and we think nothing of it. There is no need to imagine the scale of engineering and infrastructure of the electricity distribution network, the complexity of market trading in energy or the resources needed to both build the network and generate the power.

We just assume that so long as we pay the bill the light will go on.

And it makes no difference to us that resource depletion might be happening so long as there is still enough resource to fuel the power stations. 

We just assume that the energy company is across all this or else they go out of business. And even if they do drop the ball there is always a competitor to take up the slack.

Of course this is a huge assumption on our part. 

In effect we are relying on the investment choices of the company directors who must decide that sufficient resources can be secured at least for the lifetime of the investment. This is why in China a new coal fired power station is commissioned every few days. The demand for energy is growing and an assumption has been made that there is coal enough to keep the furnaces running for decades. 

Assumptions

Obviously these are not blind assumptions. There is analysis of coal reserves, the coal supply chain and risk. Smart company directors and the investors they rely upon complete this due diligence very thoroughly.

The environmental issue is that the due diligence filter is rarely applied to natural resources that do not have an immediate utility.  

Adequate water supplies, healthy soils and intact natural ecosystems we assume are everywhere, endlessly renewable, and free. 

And we assume that they will never run out or even be depleted by the many ways in which we use them. 

This is at best a naïve assumption — natural capital that delivers free goods and services can be depleted. We can run out of healthy soil just as will run out of oil and coal.

We already have soil degradation from poor land managementEstimates are that already a billion hectares of agricultural land around the world suffer from soil erosion and a billion people are at risk from the effects of desertification.

Given that humans use nearly 40% of the global land area for crops and livestock to have any of this vital asset as recognisably degraded should be a concern, the worst type of resource depletion.

Pragmatology

Perhaps you are muttering now — not another page of doom and gloom information from Ask Alloporus. 

Fair enough, there is a looming catastrophe feel to much of the writing on environmental issues and environmentalism. And usually the pragmatology section on Ask Alloporus pages saves the day with a positive spin.

Well not this time.

There is no spin to be had when it comes to 7 billion people steadily reproducing as they seek a better quality of life.

Resource depletion is a reality that we have to face.

Our options are to 

  • Move resources around to even out shortages
  • Use technology to improve the efficiency of resource use 
  • Find alternative to non-renewable resources wherever we can
  • Take much better care of natural capital, especially soil and water
  • Be less profligate
  • Make sure that when resources are used they deliver the best return possible
  • And then pray that some clever dude invents a ubiquitous clean energy source

In short, we must become aware.

More Ask Alloporus pages on environmental issues related to resource depletion... soil degradation |environmentalismfood security | land managementhigh food prices


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