Industrial production is a significant source of worldwide pollution.
In addition to affecting the quality of air, water, and human health, industrialization and manufacturing also contribute to natural resource consumption.
This article explains how industries contribute to natural resource consumption and how that affects our global ecosystems.
Consumption of Natural Resources
Resource consumption is an essential part of any industrial production. Natural resources are necessary to create materials that make up the products we buy, but as consumption and production increase worldwide, the use of these materials can have devastating effects on our global ecosystems.
Industrial production requires large amounts of:
- Palm oil
These products account for the majority of industrial production and are often harvested with unsustainable practices. The most significant consequences of natural resource consumption include:
- Water consumption
While resource consumption can happen sustainably, our increasing demand for production puts significant pressure on manufacturers and can substantially impact our planet.
Deforestation is a significant consequence of industrial production. Timber is not only a major raw material for manufacturing, but deforestation occurs at increasing rates to make way for other forms of resources, including soy, palm oil, and agriculture.
Currently, the world suffers an average of 18 million acres of deforestation per year. Deforestation happens partially as a result of lumber harvest, where fast-growing commercially planted forests replace naturally grown forests for the purpose of harvesting. These forests are monocultures consisting of a single species, and lack the habitat, carbon sequestration, and biodiversity of natural forests. Approximately 24.7 million acres of fast-growing forests exist worldwide, with over 2.5 million acres of land being converted to commercial forests per year.
1.6 billion people across the world depend on timber products to maintain their livelihood through construction and building materials, as well as paper products. This substantially inhibits the ability to limit deforestation for lumber and worsens as populations and affluence across nations grow.
Agriculture is another major cause of deforestation, causing over 40% of natural forest loss. Livestock, soy, and palm oil make up the majority of agriculture that overtakes forests. The use of these resources is increasing globally, despite international commitments to limit their production.
Palm oil and soy are major commodities that significantly contribute to worldwide deforestation. Both are highly efficient and versatile materials that can be used in foods, shampoos, toothpaste, and other hygienic and cosmetic goods, with little waste. However, the production of soy and palm oil are two of the most significant drivers of rainforest loss in the world.
Consumers can help limit the spread of deforestation by purchasing products made without soy, palm oil, or unsustainably harvested timber, and by being aware of sustainability practices being taken by manufacturers.
Water consumption is another primary consequence of resource consumption. While water is a renewable resource and one of the most available resources on the planet, it is currently being used at unsustainable rates for industrial purposes.
Water is consumed through a number of industrial processes, including:
- Resource extraction
- Resource production
The extraction of raw materials like ore and oil requires large amounts of freshwater. Hot water is used to separate raw oil from sands and clay, while hydrofracking pumps freshwater into the ground to release natural gases. These processes use approximately 7 billion gallons of water consumption per day in the United States alone.
Agriculture is another significant source of water consumption, with 42% of water in the United States directed manufacturing resources and food supply. In other countries, including many in Africa and Asia, this percentage is significantly higher. Industrial water consumption is a major threat in many of these areas, as it directs water away from people who lack clean drinking water. 6% of the world’s population lacks clean drinking water, and industrial usage and pollution is the highest cause of this shortage.
In addition to resource extraction and production, industries also create significant amounts of water pollution in areas that lack sufficient wastewater treatment facilities. This can result in substantial quantities of chemical and solid waste in waterways, and severely limit the availability of clean drinking water in surrounding communities.
Global Impact of Resource Consumption
Deforestation and water consumption impact more than the communities within their immediate vicinities. Industrial resource consumption has global impacts that span worldwide and have long-term effects on our planet.
The increasing loss of forests across the world poses major threats to the planet through losses in biodiversity, habitat, and species. It also threatens the livelihood of indigenous peoples who occupy the land being commercially depleted. Across the world, indigenous peoples rights are illegally violated for industrial purposes, a significant portion of which occurs in South American rainforests for the production of soy, palm oil, and timber. In Brazil alone, over 2000 acres of indigenous Karipuna land were illegally overtaken for commercial purposes in 2020 alone. These violations are common in many indigenous peoples across the world, and numbers are expected to increase with the growing expansion of industrial production.
In addition to human rights, deforestation is also a major contributor to climate change. Forests are worldwide sinks for atmospheric carbon, and significantly reduce the effects of climate change through sequestration. The loss of forests substantially adds to the increase of atmospheric carbon, and accounts for approximately 30% of annual net carbon emissions.
Deforestation further exacerbates the issues with air quality around the world. Rainforests in South America are significant sinks of the world’s carbon, efficiently cycling through carbon dioxide and oxygen to produce a considerable amount of the air we breathe. However, due to increasing deforestation rates, the Amazon Rainforest is predicted to become a carbon source by 2035.
This rapid change in forest cover across the planet holds major implications for climate change, as the world is quickly losing its natural carbon sinks. Studies have shown that deforestation is directly linked to local temperature increases and that increasing deforestation rates will exponentially increase global temperatures (Lejeune et al., 2018).
Read more: Industrial Contributions to Climate Change
Water deserts are a substantial threat to people across the world, with water scarcity affecting over 2.7 billion people for at least one month of every year. Industry, including agriculture, accounts for 70% of the world’s freshwater usage, and this rate is steadily increasing with global production rates. Current projections predict that two-thirds of the world population will face water scarcity by as early as 2025.
Industrial water consumption and contamination affect not only human health, but also have major implications for the world’s ecosystems. Lakes, rivers, and other natural sources of freshwater are decreasing worldwide due to pollution and mass consumption, limiting habitat availability for species, as well as limiting water availability for the ecosystems these water sources feed. This creates substantial cascades in environmental degradation and can lead to devastating effects on both humanity and the environment.
Industrial resource consumption is happening at growing rates worldwide. This mass consumption has devastating consequences on natural ecosystems, and by extension, human life. These impacts are expected to grow throughout the next century and will require substantial intervention to mitigate the effects.