The debate surrounding non-renewable resources and ecological wellbeing is akin to having pessimists on one side and optimists on the other. However, it is important to consider how non-renewable resource-extraction will affect the quest for alternative energy. There are several externalities that apply to the depletion of non-renewable resources and the need for sustainable development. Extracting resources such as oil and coal, and humanity’s high dependence on these non-renewable resources has been a growing cause of concern in the last few decades. Some of the negative externalities that apply to this growing concern include political conflicts, pollution, and contribution towards climate change. While some stakeholders are concerned with finding alternatives before the current resources are depleted, others are working against the clock to stop the quest’s negative externalities. This paper explores the significance of the concerns of running out of resources, in relation to concerns about negative externalities from non-renewable resource extraction. The essay uses the negative externality of climate change during the exploration of this quagmire.
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First, it is important to consider the fact that a balance between the rate of resource extraction and the available resources can only be achieved if the non-renewable resources are homogeneous. Consequently, a homogenous resource eliminates the scenario where an alternative non-renewable resource is viable1. However, non-renewable resources are often diverse by nature, and they comprise of resources that have various chemical and physical characteristics. This heterogeneous nature applies to some of the commonly used non-renewable resources such coal, oil, uranium, and gas. Consequently, the extraction of these resources is set to have varied impacts on the rate of climate change depending on where they are located, their levels of accessibility, and their overall quality among other factors. On the other hand, these resources become more costly to extract as their rate of depletion approaches. Therefore, the heterogeneous nature of resources is more urgent in the case of depletion than it is in regards to climatic influence.
On the other hand, depletion of resources puts undue pressure on yet other resources that could be deleted. This quagmire can be explained in a scenario involving the alternatives of coal, gas, and electricity. When a country is concentrating on the extraction of coal, production can intensify leading to more emissions and higher rates of ecological damage. On the other hand, this country could discover better gas extraction and distribution techniques, leading to less carbon emissions and rates of environmental degradation. Eventually, producers of electricity can find it viable to use gas instead of coal. This example illustrates the relevance of concerns about negative externalities of non-renewable resource extraction. This scenario could also lead to faster depletion of gas even though it is the option that is friendlier to climate change. Consequently, it becomes clear that the concern of running out of resources does not align with the need to eliminate the negative externalities of extraction. In this scenario, when the gas resources run out, consumers will go back to coal, which leads to more climate change.
The main concern in regards to non-renewable resources touches on the question of “at what rate should the non-renewable resources of a society be depleted”2. The external factor of climate change weighs heavily on this matter because most scholars have only examined this issue in terms of its economic relevance. The optimal rate of non-renewable resource extraction in regards to climate change depends on the question of how fast non-renewable resources can be replaced with renewable resources or environmental-friendly ones. The answer to this question lies in the elimination of negative impacts on climate change in the course of resource extraction. The factor of future production is also relevant to this topic because the current effects of climate change are the results of activities that happened in the past.
On the other hand, future consumption is also relevant to the issue of climate change because it applies to the optimization of resource extraction. Some of the parameters that apply to the negative impacts on climate change include factors of production and the rate of technological growth. It is clear that “the extent to which the non-renewable resource may be substituted by a renewable resource in the process of production is a critical element in determining the optimal rate of depletion”3. The concern of running out of resources is not dependent on the fact that production of final goods does or does not take place. Therefore, the possibility of running out of resources has often been greater than that of climate change. This scenario is occasioned by the fact that the result of climate change is ambiguous. However, the concern of running out of resources is easily connected to a shortage or lack of final goods.
In the debate on the concerns of resource-depletion versus the negative externalities of resource-extraction, the issue of the cost comes up. In the case of depletion of resources, the quest for substitutes often involves accompanying costs. These costs cover aspects such as investments in new technology, promotion of energy-saving technologies, and pursuit of efficient extraction methods. Some of these costs are immediate and they are often incurred on the spot. However, the externalities that apply to climate change involve costs that will have to be met by future generations. For instance, the “costs that emerge from previous depletion of non-renewable resources often affect future generations without involving the causing actors”4. Climate change is an example of a cost that future generations can pay without having been the main actors in the extraction of resources.
For example, some of the current manifestations of climate change are as a result of activities that took place as far back as 1950, during the peak of industrialization. Nevertheless, not all extractions lead to diminished resources. In some instances, externalities such as climate change can be contributed by the quest for alternative resources. This was the case during the initial quest for solar-energy as a replacement for oil, when it became clear that some of the by-products of this technology were causing more harm to the environment than good. The externality of any resource is only relevant before it is depleted. Therefore, the final tally of the damage that oil will contribute towards climate change cannot be known. However, there are viable estimates of how long the discovered and undiscovered oil resources will last. Overall, the cost factor in respect to climate change is more urgent when it affects future generation than when it is immediate.
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Climate change is a relevant externality in respect to resource extraction. When it is investigated in the same light as the urgency to find alternatives before the current resources are depleted, it becomes clear that the impact on the future is more urgent to externalities. The rate of depletion is subject to interpretation and it signifies an end to an era. However, externalities signify the start of a new era as indicated by the advent of climate change.
Pasqual, Joan, and Guadalupe Souto. “Sustainability in Natural Resource Management.” Ecological Economics 46(2013): 47-59.
Saldarriaga-Isaza, Adrián, Clara Villegas-Palacio, and Santiago Arango. “The public Goo Dilemma of a Non-Renewable Common Resource: A look at the Facts of Artisanal Gold Mining.” Resources Policy 38(2013): 224-232.
Sigelman, Carol, and Elizabeth A. Rider. Life-span Human Development. New York: Cengage Learning, 2014.
- Carol Sigelman, and Elizabeth A. Rider, Life-span Human Development (New York: Cengage Learning, 2014), 88.
- Joan Pasqual and Guadalupe Souto, “Sustainability in Natural Resource Management,” Ecological Economics 46(2013): 49.
- Adrián Saldarriaga-Isaza, Clara Villegas-Palacio, and Santiago Arango, “The public Good Dilemma of a Non-Renewable Common Resource: A look at the Facts of Artisanal Gold Mining,” Resources Policy 38(2013): 227.
- Carol Sigelman, and Elizabeth A. Rider, Life-span Human Development (New York: Cengage Learning, 2014), 48.