- This is the "wiki" entry I have done for design studies following on from mindmap in previous post-
Resources such as oil and metals are finite which means they will not last forever; especially at the rate we use them. Resource depletion is the exhaustion of these natural reserves. Depletion can affect minerals, energy and food sources, such as farming and fishing. Mineral and oil resources have been made gradually over billions of years and in such a small space of time of the Earth’s history, we are practically using them up (Kesler, 1976). Many factors such as: population increase, consumption and demand, deforestation, soil fertility decline and pollution can cause depletion. All of these problems are because of human actions:
“The finger of blame points clearly to man’s activities.” (Brookins, 1990)
Then and Now
Worries over energy resource depletion have come and gone throughout the years. People were concerned following the Second World War and it is now a constant apprehension (Robinson, 1975). Not everyone has this fear, since the problem does not seem extremely serious at this point in time, but many people are not considering the lifestyles of future generations. They may presume that everything will work out, but we can already tell that the Earth will not end up the way it is represented in science-fiction stories.
Until the USA took over, Britain was, for a time, the main supplier and consumer of metal. The USA now acts more as an importer as most sources are found in undeveloped countries (Blunden, 1985). Developed countries can then receive more profit from selling the final products that were sold to them by undeveloped countries that mined the original resource.
The population of the world in 1950 was approximately 2500 million (Young, 1998) whereas the figure now is around 6870 million (U.S. & World Population Clocks, n.d.). As population rises the more resources are consumed.
Overpopulation - Not enough resources to go around...
The industrial revolution of the 19th century made a huge change to how people lived and worked. They were not making products or getting products by hand anymore:
“…products were no longer manufactured by handicraft workers in the neighbourhood and exchanged against farmers’ goods” (Spangenberg, et al., 2010).
This led to the diminishment of the trusted link between producers and consumers. Machinery allows a great volume of products to be made; this also uses up resources, energy and metals at a high rate and causes pollution and waste.
In the mining industry, a big difference has been noted in levels of gold production in that 29 million ounces of gold were produced in 1957 (Anon., 1960) and fifty years later 82.5 million ounces of gold were mined (Anon., 2009). The increased levels in 2007 can be attributed to the use of more efficient machines. These figures show that there may be a high level of gold produced, but it is also consumed very quickly. In the future there will be less and less to consume; this is the same with other resources, they are not infinite.
The Earth’s oil supply is depleting at an undesirable rate and, because it is completely used up in the energy burning process, it cannot be recycled. Alternative energy sources have been considered and most are in practice now. In Mineral and Energy Resources (Brookins, 1990), every alternative energy source is described up until the 1990s. These include: solar energy, wind power, geothermal energy, tar sands (synthetic crude oil), ocean thermal energy, biomass (living matter such as plants), municipal wastes, tidal power and oil shale. Wind power was the first alternative energy source put into practice. This was before the 20th century and it is still used widely today. Nuclear fusion is another source that is mentioned but it is not in operation now and probably will not be for another century. These methods use other sources in order to store the energy that they create, which is impractical, but means the expiration of energy becomes more distant. All alternative methods are very expensive and are likely to use up a lot of energy and materials in their production and set up.
“We can make only probabilistic statements” (Robinson, 1975) about what will happen in years to come. If we run out of energy sources would we go back to making or retrieving things by hand? Would there be too many people for the Earth to maintain? Would the Earth recover? If we were unable to find more metals would we have to recycle huge amounts of existing supplies? Anything could happen.
The best way to prepare people is to educate them about sustainability, as this topic is not being taught on a large scale (Spangenberg, et al., 2010). Past generations, and even this one, appear not to be considering future generations and they are taking advantage of current resources in the meantime. Some people do however choose to recycle consumable goods. Most things can be recycled now and this cuts down on waste in our throwaway society, making it less of a problem. Teaching sustainability could perhaps help everyone to understand the importance of recycling and that the use of less energy will be essential in the future.
Linking sustainability to design would be another key issue because other methods of designing, sourcing materials and producing products may change things for the better.
Earth Hands - The world is in our hands...
From a jewellery perspective, metals are important in the way of design. Gold and silver are the top precious metals used in jewellery and are both particularly rare materials. Perhaps there is less of a worry about the depletion of gold because “a third of all gold ever mined, is in government vaults” (Brookins, 1990). Companies are currently advertising on television to try and get people to exchange mobile phones and old or broken jewellery for money. Mobile phones are made of many materials; gold is the main one these companies are after. For all of the mobile phones they receive, they must accumulate substantial amounts of gold.
The mining of gold is not good for the environment as cyanide is used in the extraction process:
”monitoring wells surround each property to ensure against pollution of water by the cyanide” (Brookins, 1990).
Some mining companies are environmentally friendly. If designers were willing to pay more for metals that are extracted from a reliable source, which is not destroying the land and water, then land degradation would reduce.
Increasingly designers are now choosing to use different materials and they are promoting the fact that they are sustainable designers. Many use found objects, recycled items or other non-metals that will not affect resource depletion. Using recycled metals for design purposes is another way to avoid depletion, but the cost of the recycling process makes this unsuitable for some project budgets.
To help with the energy problem, jewellers may want to go back to making everything by hand, which would take more time but would result in more personal work being created than mass produced mechanically made pieces.
Anon., 1960. Statistical Summary of the Mineral Industry 1953-1958. London: Overseas Geological Survey. Available at: <>
[Accessed 27 September 2010].
Anon., 2009. World Mineral Production 2003-07. Keyworth, Nottingham: British Geological Survey. Available at: <>
[Accessed 27 September 2010].
Blunden, J., 1985. Mineral Resources and their Management. New York: Longman Inc.
Brookins, D. G., 1990. Mineral and Energy Resources. Columbus, OH.: Merrill.
Earth Hands. [picture] Available at:
Kesler, S. E., 1976. Our Finite Mineral Resources. USA: McGraw-Hill, Inc.
Overpopulation. [picture] Available at: <> [Accessed 25 September 2010].
Robinson, C., 1975. The Depletion of Energy Resources. In: D.W..Pearce, ed. The Economics of Natural Resource Depletion. London: The Macmillan Press Ltd. Ch. 2.
Spangenberg, J.H., Fuad-Luke, A. and Blincoe, K., 2010. Design for Sustainability (DfS): the interface of sustainable production and consumption, Journal of Cleaner Production, 18( 15) [online] Available at:<> [Accessed 29 September 2010].
U.S. & World Population Clocks, n.d. [online] Available at:
Young, A., 1998. Land Resources. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.