written by Sophia Stille // 27.09.2022
Our resources are getting scarce and more and more researchers, activists and organisations are calling for action. What is meant by resource scarcity and how can we help to counteract it?
Explaining the phenomenon
Resource scarcity describes the phenomenon of using more of the earth’s resources than are available and recoverable. This is currently happening and leads to an excessive demand in the long run, even though supply continues to decline. Our economic growth is therefore becoming less and less sustainable, while at the same time social inequality is growing as resources, and thereby products, become more expensive.
Resources are divided into renewable and non-renewable resources. Non-renewable resources include all those that cannot be reproduced within a lifetime, such as coal, oil or rare earths. It often takes millions of years to produce these resources, so we use them up much faster than they can be restored. Renewable resources can be restored more quickly, or are created through natural processes, such as wind power, solar energy, plant biomass, geothermal heat, or ocean tides.
Which resources are most at risk?
Although it may sound surprising, the most scarce resource right now is fresh water. The climate crisis is exacerbating droughts and more and more people are living on the planet. The UN projects that by 2025, 1.8 billion people will live in areas of extreme fresh water scarcity. So even if it does not seem like an urgent problem to many people yet, it is important to view water as a valuable and precious resource.
A rather unknown, but also increasingly rare resource is phosphorus, which is an important component of plant fertilisers and therefore very important for food production. The element is mined only in a few countries, such as the US, China and Morocco. The “Global Phospohorus Research Initiative” estimates that in the next 50 to 100 years phosphorus reserves could be depleted if we do not find new ones.
Better known resources that are becoming scarce are oil, gas and coal, which are often discussed in the discourse of the climate crisis. In the long run, we will have to rely on sustainable and renewable alternatives.
Earth Overshoot Day
If we continue to deplete the Earth’s resources instead of turning towards renewable ones, it simply means that we will soon run out of many. This is also demonstrated by the annual Earth Overshoot Day, which happened on July 28 this year. This day marks the moment when all resources that are actually available during an entire year are being used up. In other words, our consumption exceeds the amount of resources we have available each year.
According to Germanwatch, 1970 was the first year in which annual resources were used up before the end of the year. Today, each country’s earth overshoot day falls on a different date, depending on the country’s resource consumption. While some countries do not even have an overshoot day, other countries use up their allotted resources much earlier like for example Belgium on March 26 or Denmark on March 28.
How can we counteract the scarcity of resources?
Actually, the answer to this question is very obvious: we need to use fewer resources. But of course that is easier said than done, especially because individuals often have little influence on the processes deciding how resources are consumed. However, there are crucial things we can pay attention to in order to live more consciously and conserve resources.
- Save water – turn off the tap, take shorter showers
- Save energy – make sure to turn off the lights, use household appliances consciously
- Follow a plant-based diet; eat less meat
- Buy used electronics; use it longer and recycle broken equipment
- Buy less new clothes and second-hand instead; repair clothes
- Switch to low- or zero-emission transportation; carpool; take the train instead of flying
- Engage in awareness raising and activism; inform yourself and join movements like for example #movethedate
These are all ways to save resources while also addressing the climate crisis. Even though many of these alternatives are well-known, it is important to be reminded that this is how we can contribute against our negative footprint on the Earth, because we only have one!
- Ressourcen schützen und respektvoll nutzen! (bund.net)
- Earth Overshoot Day 2022 home – #MoveTheDate
- Earth Overshoot Day: Ab heute leben wir auf Pump – BUND e.V.
- Take steps to #MoveTheDate – Earth Overshoot Day
- The six natural resources most drained by our 7 billion people | Energy | The Guardian
- Erdüberlastungstag 2022: Ressourcen der Erde sind bereits verbraucht – Politik – SZ.de (sueddeutsche.de)
- Erdüberlastungstag am 28. Juli: Menschheit verbraucht 1,75 Erden | Germanwatch e.V.
- How long will world’s oil reserves last? 53 years, says BP – CSMonitor.com