Non-renewable resources have their place in our world. We might focus on providing solar, wind, or geothermal energy to homes and businesses, but fossil fuels help us to maintain our overall infrastructure. Phasing out their use might happen in the future, although the reliability of the electricity and transportation benefits that we gain from them are challenging to ignore.
There is one primary difference between non-renewable resources and renewable energy products. If we burn petroleum, oil, or refined products made from these items, then they are gone for good. Natural gas, uranium, and coal are additional examples that fit into this category. They are finite products. These options represent two-thirds of our world’s electrical generation capacity and 95% of our total energy requirements.
Renewables like solar or wind energy have an infinite supply. Because these resources come from natural sources that don’t require an external fuel source, we can convert what they provide into something usable.
As new technologies make renewables a viable possibility, reviewing the pros and cons of non-renewable resources is an essential component of meeting our energy needs.
List of the Pros of Non-Renewable Resources
1. We can process non-renewable resources at almost any location.
If we want to manage energy from renewables, then we must recognize areas around the world that support that possibility. This issue applies to solar, wind, and even geothermal for some geographic locations.
It is not a problem for non-renewable resources because we can build processing departments anywhere to support their processing and distillation. Although there is an issue with transport loss when using non-renewables, a well-developed infrastructure can decrease this problem rather effectively.
2. Non-renewables provide more energy after the refinement process.
When we process non-renewable resources to capture their energy potential, we can produce more power from oil, coal, and other examples than what they offer in their raw form.
If we were to take a single barrel of crude oil, then we would have 42 gallons of product at our disposal to use. When we finish processing this non-renewable resource, then the yield creates an equivalency of more than 44 gallons of product. This industry currently produces 6% more energy potential with all fossil fuels. That’s a figure solar and wind energy can’t touch.
3. Non-renewables help us to create thousands of different products.
Non-renewable resources are the principal method of hydrocarbon acquisition when manufacturing plastic commodities. These things protect us in various ways each day to keep us safe. Did you know that the average vehicle today is comprised of about 50% plastic? That structure allows it to absorb more force during a crash than if it were made from metal.
Smoke alarms, carbon monoxide detectors, and many more safety products come from plastic product manufacturing. You could even add child safety locks, GFCI outlets, or even cord sheathing to that list. We can also make these items from plant-based hydrocarbons, but the cost is more prohibitive.
4. Our global GDP requires the presence of non-renewables to stay afloat.
Non-renewable resources are so critical to our economic development that global governments subsidized $5.2 trillion in costs to make fossil fuels available around the world. That amount is equal to 6.5% of the worldwide GDP. It’s a figure that is $500 billion higher than 2015 figures. That means gas, coal, and oil companies are bringing in a significant portion of their income through government-sponsored funds. Eliminating them would create a devastating recession that some countries might not recover from for more than a decade.
The levels of non-renewables that get used around the world are so large that the subsidies alone account for 28% of our carbon emissions. We could eliminate almost half of humanity’s premature deaths from toxic air pollution at the same time.
5. Energy outputs are high when consuming fossil fuels.
The reason why we prefer to use non-renewables over other environmentally-friend energy options right now is because of the high levels of energy output we generate from their consumption. We can develop 8 times more heat energy for what coal offers when it is compared to other resources.
Crude oil provides 12 times more power when refined correctly in comparison. These output levels are also scalable, which is why they are beneficial. If market levels rise quickly in a community, then the extra demand can be met relatively rapidly.
6. Non-renewable resources are cheaper to obtain.
We can save about one quarter per gallon of energy products when using biofuels or other forms of renewable resourced. Since many of these items produce a minimal impact on environmental emissions, the processing of non-renewables is still the cheaper way to gain the energy access that we require. It would cost 30 times more to create energy efficiency improvements in the renewables sector to match what we currently have from fossil fuels. If we were to invest the same amount into the current infrastructure, gas-capture tech could help us to create similar outcomes for our existing needs.
7. We use non-renewable resources for most of the items we use right now.
Imagine that you could divide a barrel of crude oil into what the average American uses every day. You’d have about half of that product go into the fuel used to operate cars, trucks, and SUVs. Around 30% of that non-renewable product would be refined into heating oil or diesel fuel. The remainder would go into the manufacturing industry so that we can have soap, plastic, clothing, shoes, and various hygiene products.
We currently manufacture over 6,000 items through non-renewables refinement. We can follow this same process using environmentally-friendly organic compounds, but then we’d pay at least double for the essentials that we use every day.
8. Non-renewable resources help us to heat our homes.
America’s energy options receive comparisons based on the item’s capacity to generate 1 million BTUs. When using non-renewables, the median cost to generate electricity is approximately $2.50, with the cost being just ten cents. Even when the price of crude oil rose to well over $100 per barrel, with generation rates priced at $12.50, the overall expense to the purchaser was still comparatively low.
Because of the worldwide ability to maintain an adequate supply of natural gas, oil, and similar products, our heating and cooling prices have remained relatively stable over the past 20 years. This benefit is possible even though inflation has caused other commodities, including renewables, to become more costly.
9. We have access to non-renewable resources almost everywhere today.
Non-renewable resources have availability in practically every nation on our planet right now. Only the countries of Central African have minimal access to this energy option domestically. Even then, this issue is often because of the politics in the region instead of a lack of accessibility.
Except for Antarctica, every continent gives us access to natural gas, coal, and crude oil reserves. Then we can transform those non-renewables into multiple products or fuels, maximizing our use of this natural resource.
10. Non-renewables work with our current systems of distribution.
Non-renewable resources are the fuel that allows our society to keep moving forward each day. Despite the fact that there is an increasing awareness of alternative energy choices like solar or wind, we must use fossil fuels to develop anything we might want to use in the future. Our current infrastructure is almost entirely reliant on the goods and fuels that we produce from the hydrocarbons we harvest from the ground, through fracking, or tar sands.
The goal of combining non-renewables with more environmentally-friendly options is to create emissions savings over time that creates a carbon neutral result. About four-fifths of the fuels that we use come from fossil fuels, so it is not an option that we can drop immediately.
11. It allows us to produce nuclear energy.
Uranium is a non-renewable resource that we use to fuel our nuclear reactors around the world. It currently provides around 6% of the total energy globally, along with about 15% of worldwide electricity. The amount of power generated by a single reaction easily exceeds what is available for energy creation from any other source. We can’t turn nuclear into deodorant, but the power created from the reaction is useful to the manufacturers that transform hydrocarbons into usable goods.
Although the waste products from nuclear plants have a high level of toxicity that requires management, the emissions that come from a reaction are minimal. That’s why you sometimes see it included in the renewables section even though we need consumable raw materials to create the initial reaction.
List of the Cons of Non-Renewable Resources
1. Non-renewable resources could run out one day.
The primary concern that we have with non-renewable resources is that they could one day disappear from our planet. That’s why there is such an emphasis on finding renewable energy options to use for future generations. Although the estimates continue to keep getting pushed back to later dates, we have about 50 years of available oil, gas, and coal. Stockpiles of these resources could help to extend them even further, but without new availability, we’ll need to change our infrastructure eventually.
2. Pollution comes from the consumption of non-renewable resources.
The amount of pollution that comes from the combustion of non-renewable resources creates emissions that a majority of scientists believe is harmful to our atmosphere and environment. How we obtain these critical energy needs can also cause problems for our society. Mining, refining, and the transportation of these fuels and products create harmful levels of exposure that can end life prematurely with consistent exposure.
The raw materials for these fuels also provide the potential for accidents, which can also be devastating to the environment and human life. When these incidents occur, even if they are rare, the impacts are devastating. The incident on Deepwater Horizon released 134 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, fouling over 1,300 miles of shoreline in five states.
3. Non-renewable resources have a direct impact on government structures.
Nations have gone to war over access to non-renewable resources numerous times since it became a viable product in the early 20th century. Some in the United States suggest that the military should take control of available oil wells when Americans are involved in any conflict.
We trade crude oil, coal, and natural gas as commodities, which means others set the price for these non-renewable resources based on various market factors. OPEC influences this amount by purposely changing production levels to meet value quotas. Unless we move these items to an entirely different market system, then artificial scarcity and other behaviors will always alter the pricing structure for consumers.
4. The consumption of non-renewables is dangerous to human health.
Particulates linked to coal consumption are known to increase the risk of stroke, heart attacks, and cancer with exposure. When we breathe in the pollution that comes from the smoke of ignited non-renewable resources, then there is a higher prevalence of COPD, lung cancer, and asthma in the population groups that receive direct exposure. The fine particles that float in the air can lodge in the lungs permanently, even when people are wearing appropriate safety gear, and that prematurely reduces the average life span for those involved.
Non-life-threatening health concerns develop from the use of non-renewables over time, such as neurological deficits or fluid build-up in the lungs. Reducing the impact of pollution will help with this disadvantage, but its presence in our lives will always bring specific risks and adverse impacts.
5. Using non-renewables creates harm to plant and animal life.
The Deepwater Horizon incident lasted a total of 87 days. When the millions of gallons of oil were going into gulf waters, the spill killed thousands of marine mammals, sea turtles, and other forms of life in the sea. The incident also fouled many of the habitats that plants and animals used for survival. Thousands of protected species were exposed to the substance, creating problems like organ damage and reproductive failure.
This one incident contributed to the longest and most significant marine mammal unusual mortality event ever recorded in the Gulf of Mexico.
6. Our fuel transportation networks for non-renewables damages the environment.
We must have the infrastructure in place to process, refine, and use non-renewable resources as we bring them up out of the ground. This condition means that we must establish manufacturing hubs, transportation systems, and factories to help us create usable commodities. All of these activities produce harmful emissions.
Each time we improve our support networks for non-renewables, we increase the risk of creating an adverse effect in our environment. Unless we use oil, natural gas, or coal in a way that can help us to one day stop using this option altogether, we’ll always be at a deficiency when dealing with this problem.
7. Non-renewable resources have limited availability.
Some non-renewables have been losing market shares in recent years to others, such as coal finding it difficult to compete with natural gas. The transition allows us to produce fewer emissions and particulates, but the reality of these resources is that a handful of countries use a vast majority of what is available. Only five countries account for 75% of the global consumption of coal: China, the United States, Japan, India, and Russia.
The issue with bituminous coal is that it is comprised of 85% carbon, along with sulfur, hydrogen, and water. Combusting this non-renewable resource creates an immediate negative impact on the environment.
8. Humans are addicted to using non-renewables.
Some might argue that the primary disadvantage of using non-renewable resources is that it increases our addiction to them. Trying to sway consumers to make a change to something cleaner is a challenge, even when people recognize the need to reduce pollution or stop emissions. Most households don’t want to pay for cleaner energy, so it is imperative to make the product price-comparable to coal, natural gas, or oil.
When the items we use are cheap and easily available, then we don’t need to worry about our consumption habits. That’s why the transition to renewables is currently a challenge. The idea of making minor sacrifices for the good of everyone is not a popular choice in some circles.
Despite the potential dangers of using non-renewable resources, we continue to use these products to serve our modern lifestyle. Why do we take these risks if we know that exposure to oil, natural gas, and coal byproducts is harmful to humans, plants, and animals?
The economic reality of our situation is that most households are unable to afford the alternative. Solar, wind, and other renewables are cheaper than they were in previous generations, but we can’t replicate the power of the sun into a viable gasoline alternative. Electric cars are a step forward, but the batteries and electricity they require still come from fossil fuels.
The pros and cons of non-renewable resources direct us toward finding new ways to power our society in the future. Time is ticking away. We only have so long before the availability of products disappears, the environment becomes unsustainable, or the pollution ends life prematurely more often. Now is the time to act.
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Master's Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.