can be renewed; that is, they do not run out. On the other hand, nonrenewable resources are not able to be used again within a short period¹. Consequently, they run out before they can naturally regenerate.
Since the industrial revolution, humanity has overwhelmingly used nonrenewable resources to satisfy its ever-increasing demands for power. Examples of resources that have been used, and still are used, include earth minerals and metal ores, nuclear energy and fossil fuels. It is the latter that makes up the vast majority of the nonrenewable resources we mine and use today.
What are fossil fuels?
Fossil fuels are made of carbon, and are formed from the remains of flora and fauna that lived millions of years ago². These dead animals and plants drifted to the bottom of the ocean and were covered in rocks and sand. Millions of years passed, and the heat and pressure turned these remains into the fossil fuels we mine today.
The environmental impacts of mining fossil fuels
The mining of fossil fuels by humans has proved detrimental to the environment. The extraction of fossil fuels has devastated habitats and ecosystems all around the world³.
For example, the mining of fossil fuels has had a deleterious effect on the water supplies. When fossil fuels are extracted, water is released from far underground. This water is tainted with elements that make it unsuitable for human consumption⁴.
Additionally, the mining of fossil fuels is not an environmentally-friendly way to use land. Wild animal populations are often impacted by the noise, land disturbance and habitat destruction associated with the extraction. Strip mining is a particularly popular and destructive way to extract coal. In Australia, strip mining makes up 80% of mines⁵. The reason strip mining is so damaging is that it results in the clearing of trees, the destruction of topsoil and the blasting apart of mountains.
Renewable resources are those that regenerate quickly, and so can be used over and over. Most renewable energy resources come either directly or indirectly from the sun⁶.
The obvious example is solar energy, which is infinitely renewable and a completely green way to produce power. There are two main types of solar energy technologies – solar thermal and solar photovoltaic⁷. Solar thermal converts sunlight into heat (thermal energy). Solar photovoltaic converts sunlight directly into electricity.
Wind energy indirectly comes from the sun. The sun’s heat is what drives the wind, which is captured and converted into energy using wind turbines. Though a completely green way to create power, there are some negative environmental consequences to using wind turbines. For example, bird migrations and populations can be disturbed by the rotating turbine blades, which have been known to kill birds who fly into them. However, this seems a small price to pay for a green form of energy that otherwise does not harm animals or the environment.
The future of energy and resources
As we progress further into the 21st Century, renewable energy is the only solution. We have already done irreparable damage to the climate throughout the last 200 years of burning fossil fuels. We have also destroyed huge amounts of the Earth’s forests and made countless species extinct. If humanity has any hope of surviving to see 2100, we must immediately and comprehensively adopt renewable resources as our sole means of generating power.