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What Are Non-Renewable Resources?

A car's gas cap.
Gasoline is made from crude oil, which is a nonrenewable natural resource.
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Non-renewable resources are those that cannot be regenerated, and thus are finite in quantity. They are closely linked to non-sustainable resources, which may be regenerated, but not at a rate that keeps up with consumption. There are many different types of non-renewable resources, including fossil fuels, ore, plant and animal species,

Fossil fuels are often cited as a non-renewable resource, partially because humans are so reliant on their use. Fossil fuels are organic materials such as coal, oil, and natural gas, which are created through the application of intense heat and pressure on organic materials over thousands of years. Though the Earth does continue to naturally generate fossil fuels, the rate at which humans remove these resources for use far exceeds the rate of natural development. Since humans cannot synthesize the slow-moving processes that create fossil fuels, they are considered non-renewable resources.

Though nuclear power is often described as a sustainable or renewable power source, it is actually based on non-renewable elements known as uranium and plutonium. Both of these elements are natural resources that cannot be synthesized through lab creation, like gemstones, or re-planted, like trees. Since the creation of nuclear power is impossible without the use of uranium and plutonium, it is not a renewable energy resource.

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Non-renewable resources are not necessarily related only to energy production. Anything that can be used up and cannot be replaced is a type of non-renewable resource. Animal species driven to extinction by human usage, for instance, can be considered a non-renewable resource. One North American bird called the Carolina parakeet was hunted out of existence during the early 20th century, coveted for its beautiful plumage. The use of certain trees and plants for medicines has driven many species throughout the world to the brink of extinction. Though both animal and plant species can be renewed through breeding and forestry programs, where these programs are absent, whole species can disappear within a few short decades.

The use of non-renewable resources is a controversial and complicated issue. In the early 21st century, human society remains largely dependent on fossil fuel resources for transportation, electricity, and a myriad of other basic requirements. Greater education about dwindling resources has led to a cry for the development of new practices that capitalize on renewable energy resources and proper management programs for sustainable resources. Despite these efforts, some experts fear that changes may not come soon enough, leading to a global crisis when non-renewable resources disappear.

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Discuss this Article

NathanG
Post 11

@SkyWhisperer - Uranium is one of the most interesting examples of non renewable resources. I read an interesting fact about reliance on uranium recently.

Apparently some years ago, after the cold war was over, we struck a deal with the Russians to have them supply us with uranium. We did this so that we would have enough to power our nuclear reactors.

The problem is that this deal is not going to last forever. At some point the treaty will expire and the Russians will be asked to renew it. If they don’t, guess what? We will face a sudden shortage of uranium and prices will go through the roof. That’s the energy crisis that no one ever talks about because we think nuclear power will last forever, but not so.

SkyWhisperer
Post 10

@nony - So much of these back and forth debates are academic in my opinion. The thing that will really force our hand either way is some kind of global crisis.

If gas were to suddenly hit $5 per gallon, then even the most stringent opponents to fossil fuels might be willing to compromise, I would think. Such compromise might include opening up new locations for drilling or even tapping our emergency reserves.

Conversely, if prices stay high too long, then even the most ardent supporters of fossil fuels might suddenly go “green” and start pushing renewable energy. The reality is that world conditions control what goes on in the energy markets, and unfortunately a lot of that stuff is out of our hands.

nony
Post 9

@Charred - I agree. One of the best examples of non renewable resources is shale oil. Right now there are certain select locations throughout the United States where we can tap into these huge reserves.

North Dakota is one such place. There is a huge boom there in fracking for shale oil, and there are jobs aplenty in the oil and natural gas industry over there. North Dakota has the lowest unemployment rate in the nation because of the boom taking place in this industry.

Yet many people are still opposed to fracking because they think that it will hurt the environment. While there is always that possibility, it should be remembered that this technique has already been used in oil exploration for decades. So it’s nothing new in my opinion.

Charred
Post 8

The battle over non renewable resources and renewable resources is a manufactured crisis in my opinion. The fact is that there is a lot more oil and coal available than people realize; it’s not lack of quantity that is the issue, it’s government regulation that is the problem.

There are vast reserves of oil available in Canada for example. But some of our politicians are throttling energy projects which would allow that oil to be piped into the United States. Is this an issue of supply or political will?

I think the answer is obvious. In my opinion there are hyped up concerns about the environment and such that are making it difficult for politicians to make the hard decisions they need to make to get the job done.

kentuckycat
Post 7

One of the renewable resources I have been hearing a lot about lately that could possibly replace fossil fuels is bioenergy. It is basically using dried plants to produce energy.

I think the main problem with bioenergy resources at this point is that we don't know where to get the material. If it ever goes into full effect, they would probably have to take some agricultural land out of production to grow various grasses and forests that could be harvested for pulp.

That all leads to the problem of everyone saying that food prices will go up because less corn and other crops are being produced. I always hate that argument, though. In the US, farmers grow way too much corn than they can sell, because the government subsides the price.

A lot of people go on about ethanol, too, but it is a really bad idea when you break it down. It DOES cause food prices to rise, and several studies have shown where ethanol production is much more harmful to the environment in the long run than fossil fuels.

matthewc23
Post 6

@tigers88 - I was trying to think of some things in my head. 35 non renewable resources examples is pretty good. I think one of the interesting things with non-renewable resources is that they changes as society progresses. A hundred years ago, uranium and plutonium wouldn't have been considered a non-renewable resource, because no one needed them. I figure the same can be said about a lot of the elements in nature. Once they start to become important to us, then we start to care about what happens to them.

The thing I had never really thought about as a non-renewable resource was plants and animals. They say that there are a lot of species that still haven't been discovered, and who knows what types of benefits those plants and animals might have. I think it is nice that we have things like the Endangered Species Act to try to protect rare creatures.

jcraig
Post 5

@Izzy78 - I don't think it is fair to completely dismiss renewable resources and act like they are never going to replace non-renewable resources. In reality, Earth does have a lot more coal and oil than most people realize, but there will come a time when it is gone. Right now, we are really in the research and development phase of renewable resources. We are also trying to find new ways to better conserve what non-renewable supplies we do have.

You mentioned solar panels, and yes, they are a lot more expensive than other sources of energy, but that is only because there isn't as much demand right now. Technology for solar panels is increasing exponentially, and they are much more efficient now than they were just 5 years ago. Believe it or not, China is actually at the forefront of solar design, because they are going to have a higher demand.

Although there are definitely challenges to face regarding using fewer non-renewable resources, I don't think it's right to completely give up on them.

Izzy78
Post 4

@ZsaZsa56 - The problem with utilizing more wind, solar, and geothermal resources is that we don't have the technology, want, or resources to do it.

Solar panels are a good example of this. Sure, they exist, but they are so inefficient that they are very impractical to use. If you look at the cost of a kilowatt hour for coal or nuclear energy compared to what it cost for the same amount of energy from a solar panel, the scaling difference is astronomical. I don't know the figures off the top of my head, but solar energy is at least 300 times more expensive.

That leads to the second point. The reason we don't rely on the renewables like solar and wind power is because there is no need to. For all most people care, as long as their lights stay on, they don't have a problem with where the energy comes from. Sure, they might *say* they care about the environment, but that's only if it doesn't cost them more in terms of money or time (which renewables often do).

It is a sad state of affairs, but that's basically the story why we don't use more of those things.

tigers88
Post 3

I am aware of all the most common non renewable resources. But there are lots of other rare earth metals that are used in high technology that are crucial for the continued advancement of computing and other digital technologies. It might not seem like a tragedy if we lost the ability to build I-Pods, but the consequences are larger and more widespread than you might expect.

I am trying to put together a list of non renewable resources just so I can better make my point. So far my list has over 35 entries and all of the resources are used for something that some one considers vital. Humans have never been good at conservation and restraint, particularly when there is money to be made. We have systematically depleted some of the most unique and vital resources on the face of the earth.

jonrss
Post 2

I'm glad that the article mentions that nuclear is a non renewable resource. In the conversation over renewable and non renewable resources nuclear often gets labeled a clean and sustainable technology. But as we saw last year in Japan it is far from clean. And as this article points out, it is far from sustainable.

ZsaZsa56
Post 1

Unfortunately, many of the most important resources on the face of the earth are also non renewable. These include coal, oil and natural gas. For this reason it is vital that we make efforts at managing non-renewable energy resources moving into the future.

We can do this in two simple ways. First, we minimize the amount of the non renewable sources that we use. Widespread conservation efforts can significantly increase the expected remaining lifespan of some of or most important non renewable resources. Second, we have to make a serious effort to develop alternatives which are based on renewable resources like wind, solar and geo thermal. This will not be an easy task but it is a vital one. Standards of living is tied very closely to energy resources so we must protect them moving into the future.

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