Non-renewable Natural Resources
The non-renewable natural resources of the planet can be broken down into two groups. The natural resources of organic origin include things such as coal, oil and gas, and peat. Coal, oil and gas are the end products of the decay of living things, produced thousands of years after their death by pressure and chemistry. These resources are known collectively as “fossil fuels". While the (fallen) trees that eventually became coal and the organisms whose dead bodies produced crude oil are still present on Earth, the time taken for these natural resources to regenerate themselves is so long (millennia) that they must be considered as an exhaustible resource.
In the 1970s, it was predicted that all of the world’s crude oil reserves would have been consumed by the year 2000. Fortunately, this prediction proved to be overly pessimistic because crude oil not only provides us with fuel and lubricants for vehicles, but almost all of the plastics we rely on , as well as paints, resins, fabrics, chemicals, dyes, films and many other things.
Despite man’s seemingly insatiable demand for crude oil, productivity has been able to keep up. New oilfields have been discovered and brought into production and developments in exploitation technology have meant that previously inaccessible reserves can be tapped and existing reserves have been more efficiently exploited. However, there is a limited quantity of crude oil on the planet and it is a non-renewable natural resource that will eventually run out.
The second group of non-renewable natural resources are the minerals and ores. The minerals and ores were laid down when the planet formed and many exist in great abundance, however, their supply is fixed. Examples of these natural resources include iron ore, bauxite (the source of aluminum), quartz sand (silicon dioxide), gold, diamonds, slate, granite, etc. Some of these have ores been exploited since man’s earliest history (e.g. the Iron Age). Equally the use of gold and precious stones can be dated back to antiquity. Modern man uses ores and minerals across a vast range of activities, from construction to space exploration. In contrast to the fossil fuels, these resources do not get consumed as such; with the exception of a tiny amount used in space exploration, all of the ores and minerals are still on Earth although they will have undergone extensive alterations (chemical and physical) from their native (i.e. as dug out of the ground) state to the artifacts that they are used in. The steel that is used to make a car, for instance, starts its life as iron ore. The ore is crushed and fired, win iron metal resulting from it. The iron is then smelted with coke at high temperatures and alloyed with selected other metals to give it its desired properties (luster, resistance to corrosion, malleability, etc.) and made into steel from which car parts are made.