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josie's avatar

Besides Time, are there any other truly non-renewable resources?

Asked by josie (30931points) February 1st, 2011

The descriptive noun, “non-renewable resource” is often used for political purposes.

But let’s face it-as long as there is a physical universe, there will be resources. Earth is not the only rock in the cosmos, and the sun is not the only natural fusion reactor.

Except for one thing. There is one truly non-renewable thing in the universe.


Every instant that occurs, disappears in the next instant.
It is gone. Forever.
It can not be retrieved, reused, or recycled.

Besides time, are there any other truly non-renewable resources?

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14 Answers

marinelife's avatar

Well, i think it best not to count on other wordly resources.

I would say diamonds and other gems since it would take millions of years to create new ones.

I don’t count synthetic.

Matteo_of_Eld's avatar

Life, I would guess. When it snuffs out, sure, it may feed other life, but it could take centuries or millennia for you to be reused. I suppose then it is really the philosophical idea of life that I’m talking about here. LIFE, consciousness can never be regained.

submariner's avatar


Recommended reading: The Entropy Law and the Economic Process, by Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen. It gets a bit technical, but just reading the introduction will give you food for thought.

I would also encourage you to think some more about time. Time, edited by Jonathan Westphal et al., is a short anthology that presents several views on the subject.

Adagio's avatar


Austinlad's avatar

Sarah Palin’s hot air.

iamthemob's avatar

Whether a resource is non-renewable depends not on whether it will be available at some point, but rather whether the resource can be replaced at a rate that (1) equals consumption, and/or (2) with a sustainable yield (i.e., producing it at the rate of consumption doesn’t require the investments of more and more resources year after year).

Time isn’t a resource – it’s a physical characteristic.

Whether a resource is renewable or not isn’t really up for debate.

josie's avatar

@iamthemob You can parse words all you want, but time is indeed a resource. It is the one thing we all use, and it is the one thing that we all run out of. People will give up all sorts of bits and pieces of the universe in exchange for more time. People can waste water, air, coal etc. all they want to, and the consequence is much less damaging than wasting time. People will spend their last penny for more time. The whole story about the astronauts on the Apollo 13 mission was one of doing anything possible to harvest more time. If time is not something that you use to your benefit or enrichment, than what is?

aprilsimnel's avatar

But surely then you mean senescence? Time goes on whether or not we’re conscious of it. If you were, say, a rock, then time would have no meaning because rocks aren’t sentient.

wundayatta's avatar

Stars. Eventually they will stop being created. Right?

iamthemob's avatar

@josie – The concept of waste is separate and apart from the concept of renewability. If we consider time as a resource, then we can at this point consider it non-renewable from a practical standpoint of individual perspective, because once it’s gone for each of us, it’s gone.

But from a resource perspective, we cannot say that it is renewable or non-renewable as that depends on the use versus the availability of it. An individual moment of time is just like an individual piece of coal – once that piece is used, it’s gone. However, if (1) an infinite amount is available, or there’s no real information about how much of the resource there is and no real evidence that it could run out as a resource, then renewability is not a measurable thing, or (2) we can produce more of the resource so that use doesn’t reduce the overall amount of the resource, then waste is not a measurable thing.

Waste is a matter of general concern only for resources that we know, at this point, are non-renewable. If, somehow, we were able to capture a significant amount of solar energy to power our lives, leaving a light on someplace where you weren’t using it would be waste – but it doesn’t matter, because the energy is replaced regardless because our use of it does not reduce the resource.

If we run out of water – what then?

josie's avatar

If you run out of water, the last thing you will ever use is time, either to try desperately to find more water, or until you die. If you die, then time will have run out in addition to the water. But in least in my case, and yours too I bet, time will run out before the water does.

iamthemob's avatar


I don’t disagree. But (1) it is not a waste of time, in either case, to attempt to put forward measures to ensure that we move to more renewable and sustainable methods of production, as there is no loss to us objectively, (2) if we do face resource crises in our lives, we have potentially wasted time in the sense that if we had methods to maintain productivity without those lost resources, we would have lived longer – and instead, we have shortened our lives, and (3) it shifts a significant cost to our children or their children when the resources, which are in fact disappearing, are gone – is that a supportable theory?

josie's avatar

Which, when all is said and done, is sort of my point. False concern that we are using up resources usually winds up with some authority imposed limitation on our productivity, and not a burst of creative activity, which means that some clever and industrious risk taker is less likely to discover the next great natural resource. Which means that perhaps someday somebody will suck up the last drop of oil (which will certainly happen someday) but nobody will have found the alternative because they were wearing a green ball and chain. If I am on a desert island, I am going to drink all the water that is there, while I figure out a way to get off the island. If some bully keeps me from using the water, and I become listless and lethargic, I am less likely to find my way off the island. And time will have run out.

iamthemob's avatar


You’re working with extremes. Recognition that certain resources are non-renewable inspires investment in alternatives in a way that can be profitable. It also requires that certain externalities are taken into the price. That boosts profitability in other sectors, diversifying the economy.

It’s bringing all necessary information into the market, and requiring that market prices reflect actual value.

When markets grow reflecting an incorrectly perceived sense of value because long-term risk isn’t factored in or known – well, we know what happens then.

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