2012-07-05

Visualizing All The Non-Renewable Resources We Have Left

We use a lot of materials that we can’t get back once they’re gone. This graphic shows you how long we have to reach peak everything--from oil to phosphorus.

Much ado has been made about the world’s oil reserves, and for good reason--society would quickly spiral out of control if oil supplies began to rapidly decline. But oil is far from the only non-renewable resource that we rely on. This infographic from the BBC shows some of the other non-renewable resources that we use--and how much of them we have left.

As you can see, we’re quickly running out of mineral resources like antimony (used in everything from drugs to flame retardants), indium (used in touch screens and solar panels), silver, copper, and phosphorous (a fertilizer and important plant nutrient). In 12 years, antimony and indium supplies will be threatened. In 76 years, we’ll have to start seriously thinking about how phosphorous shortages will affect the food supply.

Fossil fuels are, as you might expect, also in relatively short supply. Even coal supplies are dwindling--we have enough to take us about 42 years into the future. Ecosystems have a slightly longer timeline, but a cushion of 78 years before the entire Indonesian rainforest is gone isn’t exactly comforting.

Check out the BBC’s references here (PDF).

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13 Comments

  • Rob

    We've got 88years of agricultural land left?  We'd better embrace new farming techniques to make greater use of what we've got.  Secondly I can't see Uranium on the list above?  When does this carbon free power sauce run out....oh hang on of course it's renewable I forgot.

  • Chris Stahl

    Perhaps I missed a point somewhere such that you've interpreted the infographic correctly when you claim, "In 12 years, antimony and indium supplies will be threatened. In 76
    years, we’ll have to start seriously thinking about how phosphorous
    shortages will affect the food supply."  However, it looks to me like the graphic says those are the years remaining, so I'd claim antimony and indium are already on the verge of being "threatened" and we'd better start "seriously thinking" about phosphorus before 70 years or sooner. Regardless of interpretations of this single graphic (not to mention countless differing figures), sMiles makes a great point about the economics of scarcity and innovation - whether that it be efficiency, substitutes, etc.

  • yianna polk

    I'd be more concerned with the loss of minerals & AGRICULTURAL LAND than Indonesian Rain Forests! People have to eat. No disrespect to rain forest, because it's all related. There's a ripple effect. We have to take care of our land, or it cant take care of us.

  • Abesbabe56

    Without the clean air produced by forests, we can't breathe.  How can we eat if we can't breathe?

  • sMiles

    More economically illiterate scare-mongering. Firstly oil discoveries are now at somewhere from 250 years to 500 supply so peak oil at 2050 is nonsense. Secondly it is probable that fossil fuel is not fossil fuel but renewable baceria oil derived from dead bacteria feeding on deep gas. Thirdly if and when scarcity of any product goes up, so do prices which apportion usage and encourage substitutes.  Fourtly technology / science has already come up with one key to solving future energy problems -free energy. Yes, derived from light falling on any surface, which si then stored with new technology within a building and can be re-transmitted to other buildings with geater usage. Doomsayers need to take cognisance of reality or technology and economics. They are sooooo boring.

  • Byron Smith

    Citations needed.
    1. Oil discoveries are different to proven reserves. There are huge amounts of fossil hydrocarbons in the earth's crust, but only a fraction have ERoEI greater than 1:1. Thus, a large slab of them are going to stay in the ground. Hopefully, the vast majority stay there if we want to have a habitable planet long term.
    2. Your alternative oil formation theory is not supported by any reputable current publications of which I am aware (maybe I've missed some, of course, so feel free to point them out). Indeed, the idea that "dead bacteria" would be feeding on anything is an interesting one.
    3. Prices going up for a keystone resource like fossil energy can have all kinds of interesting effects on the global economy. Witness 2008 and following.
    4. "Free energy" betrays an ignorance of the second law of thermodynamics.

    Techno-optimists are so boring.

  • tylerv

    Somewhere between doomsayers and blind optimism, there are real problems ahead. How long can we sustain 7 billion+ people? At some point for many problems we will not have a technological solution.

  • Don't worry about those 7 billion people, natural or man made disasters are always around the corner: earthquakes, wars and diseases. It's more important that we strive to live a healthy, responsible and peaceful lives. Contribute to the cause as best as we cld.

  • Barry Benjamin

     First, you might want to use spell check before you send out your posts. Even when I type quickly because I am passionate about a certain subject I still use my spell check to make sure people can read and understand my post.
    Secondly, you might be correct with your analysis of the facts but you give us no reference to see how you have interpreted the information you are  using to make your statements with. I like to check things out before I put any credence in them. I certainly hope you are correct as life for my daughters and their children will be difficult at best if any part of this scenario does happen. Humans ARE a resourceful lot but we tend to put to much reliance on others to do the work each of us needs to do to have a healthy and peaceful planet.

  • DavidSavage

    My daughter turned seven yesterday, and so according to this, by the time she is 45 (2050) - one third of plant and animal species will be extinct ... 

  • Byron Smith

    There are some very serious issues here. However, I do think that the BBC have misinterpreted the projections of biodiversity decline. Perhaps I've missed the paper(s) they are relying on, but the ones I've read are more likely to talk about 1/3rd of all species *committed to extinction* by a date something like that in the graphic, rather than actually extinct. For many species, there is a "point of no return" where their gene pool and/or habitat gets too small for a viable population to continue beyond another few generations (or think of Lonesome George, who spent something like 40 years as the last surviving member of his (sub)species. During those 40 years (and probably for some time beforehand) his subspecies was committed to extinction, but it was not until a couple of weeks ago when he died that it actually went extinct.

  • Leyendo Lista

    I would seriously have to consider whether or not to have in children now or in the future...