Depletion of Natural Resources, Causes, Effects and Solutions

Why do we keep experiencing depletion of natural resources? What effect does it have on us and what can be done to address it? These and more are questions that will be answered in this article.

What is Depletion of Natural Resources?

Depletion of natural resources is defined on the premise that the value of a resource is measured in terms of its availability in nature. Day by day, a lot of resources that used to be abundantly available to man become scarce. Crude oil for instance used to exist beneath the earth’s crust is about 3 trillion barrels (according to U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) estimate).

According to OPEC 56th edition of her Annual Statistical Bulletin (ASB), we have 1548.65 billion barrels of crude oil reserves globally. Today, because of the low level of crude oil, we are beginning to shift our focus away to renewable sources as alternatives to crude oil.

Depletion of natural resources is the removal of principal substances from the earth. These substances are natural because they are provided by nature. They are formed from natural processes without any input from human activities.

Depletion of natural resources can also be defined as the reduction in the quality and quantity of natural resources. Some of these natural resources are renewable while others are not. Resources such as sunlight, geothermal heat, wind fresh water, wood, latex, guano, nutrients are renewable.

They can be replenished by nature faster than the rate at which they are being consumed. Others such as coal, crude oil, minerals, aquifer, etc. are non-renewable because their rate of replenishment is very slow compared to the rate at which they are being consumed.

The use of resources in a manner in which the rate at which these resources are replenished is slower than the rate at which they are being used results in depletion of these resources. Depletion of natural resources is a major environmental issue. It negates the concept of sustainability.

Sustainability ensures that resources are used in such a way that they can serve the present and future generations. Resources are being depleted because the needs of the future generation are not being considered by the present generation.

What is the Fate of a Depleted Natural Resources?

Natural resources are those substances, materials, and services provided by nature. A natural resource may exist as a separate entity such as fresh water, air, and land or as a raw material that needs further processing to derive the resource such as ores, elements, and most sources of energy.

When natural resources are used indiscriminately, they gradually decline in quantity and quality until they become exhausted. This is common with non-renewable. Natural resources that are in limited supply or require millions of years for formation.

Depletion of natural resources such as crude oil results in the drying up of a once functional oil well. When this happens, the well will be refilled with water or used for disposal of produced water. Depletion of air resources will result in the replacement of air with other gases (usually toxic ones). It could also mean a decline in the quantity of one or more constituent gasses.

Examples of Depletion of Natural Resources

  • Reduction in volume of crude oil in a natural reserve
  • The decline in Amazon forest resources
  • Depletion of elements
  • Freshwater depletion
  • A decline in natural gas supply
  • A decline in aquatic species

When the demand for a natural resource exceeds its supply, depletion is inevitable. Examples of depletion of natural resources are not farfetched from us. Take for instance crude oil as a natural resource, we stated earlier that the volume of crude oil reserves has dropped over the years. Countries like Nigeria that used to generate all their internal revenue solely from crude oil are considering diversification to other resources.

Another example of depletion of natural resources is the decline in forest and forest resources such as the Amazon forest. The Amazon is the world’s biggest rainforest, it is made up of a mosaic of ecosystems and vegetation types including rainforests, seasonal forests, deciduous forests, flooded forests, and savannas. The Amazon Basin covers parts of eight South American countries: Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, and Suriname, as well as French Guiana, a department of France. 17 percent of the Amazon forest has been lost already and by 2030, at the current rate of deforestation, 27 percent of the Amazon will be without trees.

Phosphorus is an element being depleted. Reports from the Global Phosphorus Research Initiative predict we could run out of phosphorus in 50 to 100 years unless new reserves of the element are found. Phosphorus is an element is an essential nutrient, necessary for plant growth. It is a natural fertilizer. Imagine a world without phosphorus.

Elements such as Scandium and Terbium are used globally yet in limited supply. They are raw materials used in making magnets, wind turbines, and electronic circuits for smartphones and. As much as 97% of these elements are deposited in China.

Freshwater is another resource experiencing depletion. It makes up only 2.5% of the earth’s water. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations predicts that by 2025, 1.8 billion people will have no water to drink.

Natural gas is a gas that is found at the cap of oil reservoirs. It is a source of energy. In 2010, it was estimated that with the current global rate of production, our reserve can serve us for about 58.6 years.

Aquatic resources such as fish have declined. Even fishermen will agree to this. Other marine species such as the tuna are close to extinction due to overfishing. How about our coral reefs that are of so many ecosystem benefits? Coral reefs have about 46% of coral reefs left, according to statistics given by World Counts.

Causes of Depletion of Natural Resources.

  • Overpopulation
  • Poor farming practices
  • Wasteful Habits
  • Mining and mineral exploration
  • Pollution and contamination of natural resources
  • Industrial and technological development
  • Overconsumption and waste

The causes of the depletion of natural resources can be natural or man-made. These are activities that increase the rate at which natural resources are used up. Some of these causes are overpopulation, poor farming practices, tree logging, mining and mineral exploration, pollution and contamination of natural resources, industrial and technological development, overconsumption, and waste.

1. Overpopulation

This is a major cause of the depletion of natural resources. The world’s population has grown from 1 billion people to 8 billion people.

The problem with overpopulation is that overpopulation increases the demand for natural resources. More people will use more resources and these resources will continue to decrease.

2. Agriculture

Agriculture causes the depletion of forest resources. It is the major cause of deforestation because large parcels of forests are cleared to grow crops. As our population keeps growing every day, so does the need for enough food to feed this growing population. Heavy machines used in mechanized farming also destroy soil surfaces.

3. Wasteful Habits

Our habits determine the way we use natural resources. Lifestyles that encourage the exploitative harnessing of resources lead to depletion of natural resources.

4. Mining

Coal, crude oil, gold, and other mineral ores are all-natural resources we lose to mining activities. Coal as a natural resource is still used as fuel in locomotives and factories. Crude oil is the raw material from which petroleum products are derived. Ores such as iron, and tin serve as raw materials for the production of roofing sheets and metal parts of tools, machines, utensils, building materials, etc.

Mining involves the extraction of these minerals from the earth’s crust. Continuous removal of mineral resources in large quantities dry up their reserve and also harm the local environmental system.

5. Pollution

Pollution is the release of foreign solid, liquid, and gaseous substances into the air-water and land environments. Pollution alters the condition of these environments. If wastes generated are properly disposed of, they will not find their way into the environment to contaminate it.

6. Industrialization

Need for goods and services to satisfy human wants has led to the emergence of various forms of industries. Industries that focus on power generation, textile production, hospitality, agriculture, beverage production, furniture making, shoemaking, jewelry production, all make use of natural resources. As these industries expand, more natural resources will be used up.

Also, industrial processes release gasses, effluent, and solid waste products that pollute the atmosphere, water bodies, and land surfaces. This is a form of depletion of natural resources.

Effects of Depletion of Natural Resources

  • Health effects
  • Economic effects
  • Air pollution
  • Global warming
  • The decline in fish population
  • Biodiversity loss and eventual extinction of species
  • Water shortage
  • Reduction in mineral reservoirs
  • Loss of forest cover

Scientists say that actions and reactions are equal and opposite. In this wise, depletion of natural resources come with effects on man and the component of the environment where these resources exist in.

The effects of depletion of natural resources are air pollution, biodiversity loss and eventual extinction of species, water shortage, reduction in mineral reservoirs, loss of forest cover, global warming, health problems, and economic setbacks.

The effects of depletion of natural resources include the following:

1. Health Effects

Deforestation brings humans in close contact with forest animals. These animals transmit a lot of diseases that are novel to humans. Examples of these diseases are Lassa fever and Ebola.

Depletion of water resources will lead to a shortage in the supply of potable water. When this happens, people will resolve to drink contaminated water, infecting them with waterborne diseases such as cholera.

2. Economic Effects

Countries whose economy depends mainly on natural resources suffer economic…when these resources are depleted. Nigeria for instance is a country that from 1981-2018, one-fourth of its GDP is generated from crude oil. During the oil boom of the 1970s, she experienced positive shocks in her economy. But in recent years, Nigeria’s economy has suffered from recession and inflation as a result of the drop in the price of oil in the foreign exchange market.

Angola has been experiencing financial and economic crises since 2014 and has been in recession for some years. This is a result of a fall in oil prices and a fall in demand for oil from other countries especially, China.

3. Global Warming

Introduction of new gasses into the atmosphere or gasses in larger quantities than should be, cause atmospheric problems such as ozone layer depletion, enhanced Green House Gas effect, and global warming.

Deforestation increases the quantity of Carbon IV oxide in the atmosphere. Combustion of fossil fuels releases methane, oxides of Sulphur, nitrogen, and other greenhouse gases.

4. Depletion of Elements and Minerals

Constant extraction of minerals for industrial use will result in the exhaustion of mineral reserves. If we continuously depend on these limited resources, a time will come when they will no longer be available to us; we will have a problem since we will no longer be able to extract enough materials to meet the supply.

5. A Decline in Fish Population

About one-third of the world’s fish populations have been lost to are overexploitation or severe depletion. This is alarming because aside provision of food, fishes provide other ecosystem services to the aquatic environment.

Solutions to Depletion of Natural Resources

  • Lifestyles that Support Sustainability
  • Afforestation and reforestation
  • Use of alternative sources of energy (especially renewable energy)
  • Legal protection of aquatic resources
  • Sustainable agricultural practices 
  • Education
  • Reduction in consumption
  • Use of electric cars
  • Reuse and recycling of waste materials
  • Organic gardening

Afforestation and reforestation, use of alternative sources of energy (especially renewable energy), legislative control of resources, sensitization and awareness creation, reduction in consumption, use of power-efficient devices, use of electric cars, reuse and recycling of waste materials, organic gardening, sustainable agricultural practices are all solutions to depletion of natural resources.

How do we solve the problem of depletion of natural resources?

There are a lot of steps we can take as humans to address the issue of depletion of natural resources. Some of them start with our lifestyles, others industrial, political measures and others efforts from the general public.

1. Lifestyles that Support Sustainability

Lifestyles such as reuse of waste materials, recycling of wastes, turning off borehole water tanks when filled up, will reduce dependence on our natural resources. We have to change our consumption behavior in a significant way. We need to stop discarding old useful materials for the newest and the trendiest stuff.

Cycling and walking short distances, use of public busses instead of private cars is another sustainable lifestyle one should inculcate as a measure to reduce depletion of crude oil resources.

If we change our lifestyles, we will depend less on fresh natural resources.

2. Use of Renewable Sources of Energy

Another way to solve the problem of resource depletion is the use of renewable sources of energy as alternatives to non-renewable sources. Instead of petrol, diesel, kerosene, coal, to generate energy, solar, wind, geothermal heat,

Electric cars can also be used in replacement for fossil fuel-powered cars.

3. Legal Protection of Aquatic Resources

To stop the depletion of aquatic fish, legislative measures such as the fishing quota need to be in place.

Management practices such as Freshwater Protected Areas (FPAs) can be put in place to protect freshwater. FPAs are portions of the freshwater environment partitioned to minimize disturbances and allow natural processes to govern populations and ecosystems.

Other laws such as Magnuson–Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA)Magnuson–Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA) should be enacted in various countries to prevent depletion of aquatic resources.

4. Afforestation, Reforestation, and Forest Conservation

Rather than cut down forests for whatever reason, need to conserve our forests and forest resources. Afforestation is the planting of forests where they never existed. Afforestation enables the formation of new man-made forests. Doing this will be a plus for humans as our positive contribution to nature.

Reforestation means planting forest trees to replace those that have been cut down. Reforestation is a way we humans can mitigate the impact of our activities on natural resources.

Forest policies can also be created and enforced by the government to protect forest resources. With these policies in place, indiscriminate hunting and tree logging will be addressed.

5. Sustainable Agricultural Practices

Although agriculture is a major cause of the depletion of natural resources, it can never be avoided. This is because agriculture provides one of the basic needs of all humans – food.

Having understood this, there is a need to adopt sustainable systems of agriculture. These are methods that will reduce the burden agriculture places on natural resources. Some of these sustainable agricultural practices include hydroponics, aquaponics, permaculture, multiple cropping, crop rotation, mixed farming, soil steaming, bio-intensive Integrated Pest Management system, etc.

6. Education

When people are not aware of the impact of their activities on our natural resources, they tend to use them nonchalantly. Everyone needs to be aware of the current state of our natural resources. Government and Non-governmental Organizations should enlighten the masses on how much our consumption affects our resources. NGOs like Friday For Future should be encouraged.

Routine updates on the status quo of our natural resources should be aired to the hearing and understanding of the general public. Also, ways in which resource depletion can be addressed individually and collectively should be proffered for all to be aware of. This will go a long way in solving the problem of resource depletion. This is because enlightening the general public gives them a sense of responsibility towards conserving their natural resources.

FAQs on Depletion of Natural Resources

Who is responsible for the depletion of natural resources?

Humans are responsible for the depletion of natural resources.

How does the depletion of natural resources affect the economy?

Depletion of natural resources causes declines in economic growth and discount rate.

What are the top 3 natural resources being depleted?

Air, water, and forests are the top three natural resources being depleted

What is the impact of the depletion of resources such as land?

The impact of the depletion of resources such as land is such that arable lands become limited, famine and desert encroachment also set in.

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