Have you ever taken an environmental science class? Have you listened in on energy policy discussion? Are you alive and pay attention in the modern world? If so, then you should know the difference between renewable and non-renewable resources. But just in case you’ve never been to school, are from another planet, or are a time traveller we will refresh.
We use resources to make stuff, and to power stuff. Renewable resources provide material and energy, and we cannot foreseeably run out of them. Water will always flow downhill. So if you have water and different elevations, then you have unlimited energy. As long as wind is blowing a turbine can spin, and it doesn’t take away wind from the other turbines. No matter how much energy a solar panel absorbs, the sun will still pump out more energy.
Non-renewable resources are things we can actually run out of. The big players in this category are fossil fuels. They are great for cheap, quick energy, but once all the coal and oil is gone there won’t be anymore. At least not for several million more years.
Fossil fuels are not the only non-renewable resources. Water can provide indefinite energy, as long as we don’t use it all for pesky things like irrigation and personal hydration. Trees will grow back if we give them the chance, but there is the possibility that they could go extinct. Even the sun, which seems inexhaustible to us down here, has only a finite supply of hydrogen to burn. Once it’s gone, it’s gone for good.
Many of the best things seem to be non-renewable: gasoline, hair, ice-cream etc. Can things besides resources and commodities be non-renewable? Could it be that there is a finite amount of patience, courage, or even happiness to be had? If you have lots of happiness, does that mean someone on the other side of the world has less?
If you spend your life doing good deeds, accumulating good karma for decades, and then never cash it in for favors or advancement, what happens to that karma? Does it sit in a bank somewhere where no one can use it, like a happiness trust with no heir? If you mine all the goodwill, will there be any left for the next miner?
The truth is, happiness, karma and goodwill are all inexhaustible. They are renewable, like the wind. Self-perpetuating.
Non-renewable resources rarely make our lives intrinsically better. A person with an oil field is not, by default, happier than a person without.
Non-renewable resources merely make our lives more convenient. They make things faster, stronger, or easier to use. Sometimes this is at someone else’s expense. Convenience, by its nature, is a non-renewable resource.
Everyone wants things to be convenient. But in order for things to be convenient for you, they have to be inconvenient for someone else. If you snag the parking spot right in front, that is convenient for you. But someone else is going to have a longer walk. It may be polite to ask someone to pass the salt, but that makes the other person have to do something. It would be more convenient for them if you had never asked. But then you don’t get any salt, which is inconvenient.
Of course, you could just lunge across the table and grab the salt for yourself, but that is more work than you wanted to do. And it will bother the others at the table. Inconvenient for everyone.
The non-renewable nature of convenience applies to more than just parking and table manners. It is convenient for a company to place a mine in a neighborhood to collect material, but inconvenient for the neighbors. It is convenient for one town to dump their trash in the river, but very inconvenient for the people downstream.
As with all limited things, the competition for convenience quickly becomes cutthroat and brutal. People want things to be easy for themselves. It’s not that they want to make things harder for others, just that they can’t be bothered to care. That would be inconvenient.
This is not to say that you should not use non-renewable resources. If there is gas in your car, go for a drive. If something is convenient, take advantage. Just be aware of the limited nature of your resources. And try not to be a complete jerk about using them.