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21.11: Availability of Natural Resources

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    Which house owner uses more resources?

    It's not hard to tell that the people on the right use more resources than those in the home on the left. Many natural resources were needed to create a home like this. Imagine a world in which everybody had equal access to resources. Some people would have fewer resources than they do now. But many people would have more.

    Resource Availability

    Whether a resource is available for use depends on several factors.

    • Supply: Some resources are very abundant. Some are rare. When a resource is close to running out, a replacement needs to be found. Some resources are very valuable because they are very rare.
    • Price: The price of a resource depends on how much of it is available. It also depends on how easy it is to find and extract. A resource may not be used until its price goes up enough to cover the costs of finding and extracting it.
    • Politics: Resources are not found equally around the world. Some nations may have a lot of certain vital resources. Some nations may have none. It is possible for a nation rich in a resource to control who gets it. They can also control the price.

    Who Uses Natural Resources?

    Rich nations use more natural resources than poor nations. In fact, the richest 20 percent of people use 85 percent of the world’s resources. What about the poorest 20 percent of people? They use only 1 percent of the world's resources (Figure below).

    Graph of oil consumption per capita

    The U.S. uses more than its share of oil. What if everyone used resources this way? We would need five times more space to produce what was used! (Note: Per capita means “per person.”)

    More People, More Resources

    Every 20 minutes, the human population increases by 3,500 more people. More people need more resources. For example, we now use five times more fossil fuels than we did in 1970. The human population is expected to increase for at least 40 years. What will happen to resource use?


    • The availability of a resource depends on how much of it there is, how much it costs to get, and where it is located.
    • Politics plays an important role in resource availability.
    • The world's wealthiest people use most of the resources. The world's poorest people use very few resources.


    1. What factors affect resource availability?
    2. Why is politics important in the availability of resources?
    3. Why do some nations consume more goods than others?

    Explore More

    Use this resource to answer the questions that follow.

    1. What is e-waste?
    2. What is happening to the amount of e-waste being produced?
    3. Why is there so much e-waste now?
    4. Where does the e-waste come from?
    5. What needs to be done to improve the problem with e-waste?
    6. What should you do if you want to recycle a piece of electronics?
    7. How can you reduce your e-waste?
    8. What is the positive trend? What is the negative trend from that?

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