Is Non Renewable Natural?

Defining Non-Renewable Resources

Non-renewable resources are natural resources that cannot be readily replaced by natural means at a quick enough pace to keep up with consumption. Non-renewable resources come from non-living sources and take a long time to form naturally. The three main types of non-renewable resources are:

Fossil fuels – Fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas are formed from the remains of ancient plants and animals. It takes millions of years for fossil fuels to form under intense heat and pressure. Once depleted, fossil fuels cannot be replenished on a human timescale.

Minerals – Minerals and metals like gold, silver, copper and iron are mined from the earth. Mineral deposits form very slowly over thousands to millions of years. High demand and limited supply make many minerals non-renewable.

Metals – Metals like aluminum and steel are non-renewable since their extraction causes depletion beyond renewal rates. New technologies may allow metals to be recycled, but mining is still needed due to growing demand.

Formation of Non-Renewable Resources

Non-renewable resources such as oil, natural gas, and coal are formed over millions of years from the remains of plants and animals. These fossil fuels are the product of decayed organic material that has been exposed to heat and pressure under the Earth’s crust over long periods of geological time. This means that fossil fuel deposits are finite and can take anywhere from 10 million years to 350 million years to form.

Oil and natural gas deposits can form from the remains of tiny marine organisms like plankton that sank to the sea floor and were buried under layers of sediment. Over time, they were transformed into fossil fuels that are non-renewable because their formation depends on specific geological conditions over geological timescales that cannot be recreated in short timespans. Source.

Coal deposits were formed when trees and plant matter decayed in swamp environments and were buried by sediments, often from river deltas. The decayed plant matter eventually turned into peat and was transformed by heat and pressure into coal seams. Like oil and natural gas, coal formation took place over millions of years as more vegetation was buried and added pressure, so coal reserves cannot be renewed over short timescales.

Types of Non-Renewable Resources

The main types of non-renewable resources include:

Fossil Fuels

Fossil fuels like oil, natural gas, and coal are formed from the remains of ancient plants and animals. Over millions of years, the organic matter was buried under layers of sediment and subjected to intense heat and pressure, transforming into fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are the most widely used non-renewable energy source today.

Oil – Petroleum, or crude oil, is a naturally occurring liquid found under the Earth’s surface. It is refined into gasoline, diesel, and other products. Oil supplies about one third of the world’s energy demand.

Natural Gas – Primarily composed of methane, natural gas forms alongside oil deposits. It can be burned for heating, electricity generation, and other uses.

Coal – Formed from buried plant matter, coal is a combustible black or brownish rock used as a fuel, especially for electricity generation and steelmaking.

Uranium – The ore of this radioactive metal is used as fuel in nuclear power plants which generate a significant amount of electricity.

Metals and Minerals

Metals like iron, copper, aluminum and minerals like phosphates and rare earth elements are mined and used widely in various industries and products. Their fixed amounts and non-renewable nature require careful use.


Importance of Non-Renewable Resources

Non-renewable resources like coal, oil, and natural gas play a crucial role in modern society as a major source of energy (Schilling, 2011). These fossil fuels currently make up over 80% of the total energy consumption worldwide, providing the power needed for transportation, electricity, and industrial processes. Without non-renewable resources, it would be very difficult to maintain our current way of life.

Fossil fuels are energy dense and relatively inexpensive, which has driven their widespread adoption over the past century. The importance of non-renewable resources stems from their role in enabling economic growth and development ( Modern industries, agriculture, and infrastructure rely heavily on abundant access to fossil fuel energy. While alternatives like renewables are growing, non-renewable resources remain essential to meet global energy demands.

However, the finite nature of these resources presents challenges for long-term sustainability and energy security. Reliance on non-renewable resources raises concerns about depletion, environmental damage, and geopolitical conflicts. Transitioning to more renewable energy sources will be necessary but difficult given the current central role fossil fuels play in the world economy and energy infrastructure.

Environmental Impacts

Extracting and utilizing non-renewable resources like fossil fuels can have major negative environmental consequences. One major issue is pollution. Fossil fuel extraction processes like fracking can contaminate groundwater and release harmful chemicals into the environment (1). Burning fossil fuels also emits carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter, contributing to air pollution and health issues (2).

extracting and burning non-renewable fuels like coal and oil causes extensive environmental damage.

Resource extraction such as mining and drilling can destroy habitats and disrupt ecosystems. Expansive mining operations have resulted in deforestation and erosion, harming plant and animal species (3). Oil spills from offshore drilling contaminate ocean environments as well.

The use of fossil fuels is a huge contributor to climate change. Burning oil, coal, and natural gas releases greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide that trap heat in the atmosphere. Since the Industrial Revolution, emissions from human activities have caused global temperatures to rise substantially, altering climate patterns around the world (4). This leads to sea level rise, more extreme weather events, and disruption of natural cycles.

Transitioning away from nonrenewable resources toward sustainable energy can help mitigate these environmental threats. Conservation, efficiency improvements, and policies to curb pollution are important as well.





Economic Considerations

The economics of non-renewable resources are heavily influenced by issues of supply and demand. With a finite supply and rising global demand, there is concern over peak production – the point at which the maximum extraction rate is reached before output begins to decline (Khanna, 2011). Limited supply and growing demand puts upward pressure on prices, as seen with oil price spikes over the decades.

Pricing of non-renewables is complex due to volatility and external factors. Economists argue that pricing should account for scarcity and exhaustion rates to promote conservation and sustainability (Hanley, 1997). Some propose imposing Pigovian taxes to internalize environmental externalities. Overall, the economic implications of non-renewables revolve around balancing today’s consumption with conservation for the future.


Hanley, N. (1997). An Economic Analysis of Non-renewable Natural Resources. In Economics of the Environment (pp. 155-181). Palgrave Macmillan, London. doi:10.1007/978-1-349-24851-3_9

Khanna, N. (2011). On the Economics of Non-Renewable Resources. In EOLSS eBooks. Eolss Publishers, Paris. Retrieved from

Sustainability Concerns

Non-renewable resources like oil, natural gas, and coal are finite in supply and will eventually be depleted. According to one study, at current rates of consumption, known global oil reserves are predicted to run out in 53 years (Carretero-Gómez, 2021). Other estimates suggest coal reserves may be depleted within the next century or two.

As non-renewable resources are extracted, they become increasingly scarce and more difficult to access. Extraction costs rise over time as companies have to drill deeper wells, build more complex mines, or extract lower grade deposits. Supply shocks can cause energy prices to spike. Once depleted, these resources are essentially gone forever on a human timescale.

This raises concerns about the long-term sustainability of economies, industries, and energy systems reliant on non-renewable resources. There are also environmental impacts from non-renewable resource extraction and combustion to consider. The finite nature of these resources necessitates eventually transitioning to renewable energy sources.

Alternatives and Conservation

As non-renewable resources become more scarce, many are looking to alternatives and conservation methods. Some key ways to reduce our dependence on non-renewables include:

Renewable Energy Sources

Transitioning to renewable energy sources like solar, wind, geothermal, and hydropower can reduce the need for fossil fuels. Solar and wind power have become cost competitive with coal and natural gas in many regions (Alternative Energy for a Sustainable World). Government incentives can help accelerate this transition.

Reduced Consumption

Using energy and materials more efficiently through improved technology, conservation practices, and changed behaviors/lifestyles can stretch non-renewable resources further. For example, improving fuel economy in vehicles directly reduces oil consumption.


Recycling materials such as metals, plastics, paper, and glass reduces the need to extract and process new raw materials. Recycling programs, improved product design, and consumer awareness can boost recycling rates.

Finding alternatives to non-renewables is crucial for building a more sustainable future. With the right policies, technology investments, and public engagement, we can reduce dependence on finite resources.

Public Policy Issues

Governments play a major role in shaping the use and production of non-renewable resources through various policy interventions. Some key public policy considerations around non-renewables include:

Subsidies – Many non-renewable industries receive substantial subsidies from governments. These are intended to support domestic energy production and keep consumer prices affordable. However, subsidies can distort market signals and reduce incentives for efficiency and transitioning to renewable alternatives. Striking the right balance is an ongoing policy challenge.

For example, the International Energy Agency estimated global fossil fuel consumption subsidies at over $300 billion in 2017 [1].

Royalties – Governments earn revenues from royalties charged on the extraction of non-renewable resources. Determining optimal royalty rates involves weighing revenue goals against impacts on production. Most economists argue that some royalty collection is justified, but excessive royalties can limit supply.

Regulation – Regulations address environmental and health externalities related to non-renewable production and use. But stricter regulations raise costs for producers and consumers. Finding the right regulatory balance continues to spur debate among policymakers.

In summary, governments employ various policy tools to maximize the benefits of non-renewables while mitigating downsides. But conflicting goals make policy optimization complex, requiring ongoing analysis and recalibration.

Future Outlook

Many experts predict that non-renewable resources like oil, natural gas, and coal will become increasingly scarce in the future as global reserves decline. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, world crude oil reserves are projected to last around 50 years at current production rates. Natural gas reserves may last over 50 years, while coal reserves could last more than 150 years.

However, extracting these non-renewable resources is becoming more challenging and expensive over time, as easier-to-access reserves are depleted first. Oil companies are increasingly relying on unconventional sources like tar sands, shale oil, and deepwater drilling that have greater environmental impacts and costs.

As non-renewable resources decline, many countries are transitioning to renewable energy sources like solar, wind, hydropower, and biofuels that can be replenished naturally. Renewables are expected to become more cost-competitive with fossil fuels in the coming decades. According to the International Energy Agency, renewables are projected to account for over 50% of global electricity generation by 2040, replacing a significant portion of fossil fuel generation.

While non-renewable resources will remain important globally in the near future, improved efficiency, new technologies, and a shift to renewable energy can help stretch reserves further as the world transitions to a more sustainable energy system.

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