What Is Resource Depletion?

Daniel Liden

Resource depletion occurs when the raw materials available in a given geographic region are used up. Any resource of which there is a limited supply or that regenerates its supply over time at a limited rate can become depleted. Deforestation, mining, and oil consumption all consume resources that are commonly used in manufacturing and for other industrial concerns. Other activities, such as overfishing and over-farming, can also lead to the depletion of available resources. In some cases, resource depletion is not intentional and contributes nothing to any industrial or commercial concern — it is instead caused by unintentional contamination of a resource, such as through pollution.

Overfishing can deplete a fish population.
Overfishing can deplete a fish population.

There are many different underlying human causes of resource depletion, most of them linked to excessive consumption of commercial products and food in many parts of the world. Fossil fuels, for instance, are burned to produce energy for a vast number of different personal, commercial, and industrial concerns and are, accordingly, being rapidly depleted. The production of farmland also consumes many resources. Most farmland exists to support the meat industry, particularly in the United States. Space for farmland is often produced by clear cutting forests, which are important natural resources.

Fuel consumption is causing resource depletion of many minerals extracted from the Earth.
Fuel consumption is causing resource depletion of many minerals extracted from the Earth.

Natural resources are grouped into two primary categories: renewable resources and nonrenewable resources. Renewable resources are those that, over time, are naturally regenerated, such as animals used for food, forests, wind energy, and solar energy. Despite the fact that these are renewable, special care must still be taken to avoid depleting resources. If overfishing significantly reduces a fish population, for instance, it may not be able to reproduce sufficiently to repopulate and may, therefore, become extinct. Nonrenewable resources, on the other hand, are those which simply cannot be regenerated — metal ores, for instance, once taken from the Earth, do not regenerate.

Over-farming can lead to depletion of available resources.
Over-farming can lead to depletion of available resources.

Resource depletion is commonly studied in the field of economics because the availability of raw materials can have a significant impact on the global economy. The production of many different commonly-used items, particularly some electronics that depend on relatively rare materials, depends on a constant supply of materials that exist only in limited quantities. Resource depletion can have dire implications on the price and availability of such products.

Environmentalists are also very concerned with resource depletion, though generally for different reasons. Resource depletion can severely damage ecosystems, the environment, the atmosphere, and many other important aspects of the Earth. Individuals with environmental concerns, therefore, are generally more concerned with maintaining the overall health of the environment than with finding new sources of resources.

Overharvesting of natural resources can cause a scarcity of resources.
Overharvesting of natural resources can cause a scarcity of resources.

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Discussion Comments


How does resource depletion affect culture?


I've heard that many sources of oil in the world are still not discovered. So is oil depletion really relevant?


We just studied in my economy class this week about something called green GDP. This is a GDP calculation that takes account of environmental damage, particularly resource depletion.

I think it's a very cool concept. Regular GDP calculations don't consider the resources used by various industries in the economy. But it should because the growth in economy doesn't come free of cost. The cost is resource depletion and other kinds of environmental and habitat damage.

Green GDP uses an approximate calculation of these costs and subtracts from GDP to get a more realistic idea of how the economy is doing.

The effects of resource depletion are really more serious than we realize. But at least with green GDP and similar calculations are bringing more attention to it from the economy side.


The way I see it, all resources are at risk of depletion. Renewable resources can be depleted too, like the article said, if we use them faster than they can regenerate. And this is the case with many renewable resources.

Some industries take the liberty to use renewable resources in excess, thinking that it will never run out and that's wrong.

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