For someone born in 2010, perhaps with a life expectancy of one hundred years, how long until some of the world’s most important natural resources remain?
Notwithstanding some reports that shocked the world into the realization that the world’s natural resources are finite, such as petroleum and coal, it does one good to ask. For example, with the focus on reducing fossil fuel consumption and, perhaps, increasing the adoption of renewable energy sources, how long will current technologies last? Taking a look at a recently released infographic gives us some insights in where we need to make changes in our consumption of Earth’s limited natural resources.
The internal combustion engine (ICE), for example, is the worldwide mainstay for transportation, including motorcycles, automobiles, tractor-trailers, locomotives, aircraft, and container ships. Petroleum is still the predominant natural resource used to satisfy the need for refueling, whether refined into bunker fuel or high-grade aviation fuel. True, almost none of the petroleum goes to waste, from heavy asphalts, used for road construction and industrial chemistry, to light gases, used for natural-gas fired engines. On the other hand, there’s only so much petroleum left in the ground. According to some estimates, our continued use of petroleum could exhaust the supply by as soon as 2045.
Well, what if we switch to electric vehicles instead of conventional ICE vehicles? Electric vehicles require some limited natural resources, as well, such as copper and rare earth metals, for electric motors, and lead and lithium, for batteries. While the rare-earth metals might last until nearly 2090, the copper might last just shy of 2040. Lead, on the other hand, might not even last until 2025, a mere ten years from today. Unless we institute some pretty radical recycling programs, electric vehicles might be a pipe-dream after 2040.
Really, this shouldn’t be depressing or surprising. We always knew Earth had limited natural resources. Now is the necessity to learn how to manage what we have left, for a more efficient future. It’ll happen, but the innovation needs to start right now.