Planet Earth and its Limits on Use of Natural Resources

Planet Earth and its Limits on Use of Natural Resources

Opinion Piece by Fernando Alcoforado

All available data point in the sense that the Earth is now reaching its limits in the use of its natural resources. One of these data concerns the ecological footprint that is a good way to measure the impact of human beings on planet Earth. The ecological footprint is a methodology used to measure the amounts of land and water (in terms of global hectares – gha) that would be needed to support domestic consumption. The ecological footprint is a calculation of what each person, every country and ultimately the world’s population consumes natural resources. The measurement is made in hectares, and six categories are evaluated: farmland, pastures, forests, fishing areas, carbon demands and land for the construction of buildings.

Whereas five types of surface (cultivated areas, pastures, forests, fisheries and built environment), planet Earth has approximately 13.4 billion global hectares (gha) of biologically productive land and water according to 2010 data from the Global Footprint Network and humanity’s ecological footprint reached the milestone of 2.7 global hectares (gha) per person in 2007 for a world population of 6.7 billion people on the same date (according to the UN), see Article A terra no limite (Earth in the limit) by José Eustáquio Diniz Alves .

With humanity’s ecological footprint of 2.7 global hectares (gha) per person means to say that to sustain the current population on Earth of 7 billion people would take 18.9 billion gha (2.7 gha x 7 billion people) which is higher than the 13.4 billion global hectares (gha) of biologically productive land and water on Earth, a fact that indicates that already exceeded the regenerative capacity of the planet in the average level of current world consumption. Today, due to the current rate of consumption, the demand for natural resources exceeds 41% spare capacity of the Earth. If the escalation of this demand continues at this rate, by 2030, with an estimated global population of 10 billion people, two Earths will be needed to satisfy it. It should be noted that from 2050, when the world population will exceed 10 billion people, planet Earth cannot resist such demands on natural resources.

Currently, over 80% of the world population lives in countries that use more resources than their own ecosystems can renew. The core capitalist countries (EU, USA and Japan), ecological debtors, have exhausted their own resources and must import them. In the survey of the Global Footprint Network, the Japanese consume 7.1 times more than they have and would need four Italys to supply the Italians. The consumption pattern of developed countries disrupts this balance. An indisputable fact is that humanity has ever consumes more natural resources than the planet can replenish.

The available data on reserves of mineral resources also point to the effect that the Earth is now reaching its limits. Exhaust estimate of mineral resources of the planet Earth is presented in the article Quando os recursos minerais se esgotarão? (When the mineral resources will be exhausted?), based on information from the US Geological Survey, the US government agency responsible for geological research that crossed information on the annual consumption, mineral reserves available on the planet and its predictable extinction:

1) Platinum (use in surgical materials) – Extinction by 2049; 2) Silver (use in the manufacture of mirrors and cutlery) – Extinction in 2016; 3) Copper (use in wire and cable and air conditioning ducts) – Extinction in 2027; 4) Antimony (use in remote controls and other materials to increase strength) – Extinction 2020; 5) Lithium (use in cell phone batteries, laptops and video games) – Extinction in 2053; 6) Phosphorus (use in agricultural fertilizers) – Extinction in 2149; 7) Uranium (use for electric power generation) – Extinction in 2026; 8) Indian (use in smartphones and tablets touch screen screens) – Extinction in 2020; 9) Tantalum (use in cameras lenses) – Extinction in 2027; 10) Nickel (use in metal alloy coating, electronics such as cell phones) – Extinction in 2064; 11) Tin (use in coating metal alloys, such as those used in the soft drink cans) – Extinction 2024; 12) Lead (use in car batteries and trucks and welds and bearings) – Extinction in 2015; 13) Gold (use as jewelry and computer microchips) – Extinction in 2043; 14) Zinc (use to cover alloys, preventing rust that destroy objects like coins) – Extinction in 2041.

For these reasons many of planet Earth minerals are coming to an end, which may stop the use of various technologies currently used. As for oil, it will last 40 years. Natural gas has reserves that can ensure your production up to 60 years.Coal, in turn, has enough reserves to last 250 years. The shale gas in recent exploration in the United States, that could meet the domestic demand of the country for natural gas at current levels of consumption for over 100 years, is extremely negative for the environment because it generates half the carbon emissions from coal, and pollutes the sheets underground aquifers.

All that has just been described on the duration of fossil fuel reserves indicates that, given the longevity of coal, it would be the source of energy to be used in the future when other fossil fuels are depleted, a fact that would aggravate the greenhouse effect in the atmosphere. Humanity must become aware of the urgent need to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy sources to avoid the catastrophic scenario of using coal as an energy source as well as to replace the current model of development for sustainable development, which, by reverse logistics, with the reuse, recovery and recycling of materials, thus reaching the so-called closed production cycle, could delay the exhaustion of natural resources of the planet Earth.

About author:Foto Fernando Alcoforado

Fernando Alcoforado is an engineer (University of Bahia, Brazil) and holds a PhD in Territorial Planning and Regional Development  from the University of Barcelona. He is also a professor of University and acts as a consultant in strategic planning and energy systems.

Note from Editor:

World Resources Forum fosters international discussions amongst stakeholders and experts on the topic of resources. Opinion Pieces represent solely the opinions of authors and may not necessarily represent the views or opinions of World Resources Forum Secretariat. Write to for more information.