What are the Most Extracted Natural Resources on Our Planet?

Published on by Green Initiatives

“Every day 60 million tons of soil across the world are moved by wind, water and other natural forces. When it comes to humans, that figure lies at 156 million, making us the planet’s most decisive geological factor” – from Earth, by Nikolaus Geyrhalter.

From luxurious marble kitchen countertops to faster railroads to cut our travel time, the mining industry is quite literally moving mountains to make room for our demanding life. It plays a pivotal role in the world’s economy, supplying the resources from under our feet to numerous industries worldwide. But at what cost?

Why Do Natural Resources Concern Us?

In this article, we take a look at some of the most extracted natural resources on our planet, at the global level. Our goal is to connect our readers to the true origins of the objects they use. Understanding this will only make us all further appreciate and respect our planet and all that it has to offer.

Natural resources are defined as everything in the world that is not created by humans. They are naturally occurring elements present on our planet, most of them formed over hundreds of thousands of years, that is freely accessible to all living beings on our planet. Like air, sunlight, forests, water, minerals, soil, etc.

The fact is, we simply need them in order to survive.

What Are the World’s Most Extracted Natural Resources?

1. Water

Although mostly free, it is the most valuable natural resource and commodity in the world. All around the world water sources are being overexploited and polluted, forcing people to dig and search for new sources of water, import water from elsewhere, or buy bottled water. In China, more than 80% of the country’s rural water wells are polluted.

Read this article by us to understand why water is the world’s most precious resource.

2. Sand

One of 21st Century’s most important, but least appreciated, resources and commodities: ordinary sand, has become the backbone of our society. It is the primary raw material that modern cities are made from. It is almost hard to believe that the world is facing a ‘shortage of sand’ – a substance that covers 1/3 of the planet’s land surface area.

Read our article to understand what is the challenge with the way we are currently using sand.

3. Fossil Fuels

Fossil fuels (oil, natural gas & coal) supply the vast majority of the world’s energy demands and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. But the problems associated with fossil fuels are many. Most immediately, burning fossil fuels warms the planet and acidifies the oceans by releasing carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions into the environment, not to mention it is a non-renewable resource with roughly 133 years left in the ‘earth’s tank’.

4. Palm Oil

Because it is so cheap and versatile, palm oil is the most common vegetable oil in the world, used in everyday products like bread, chocolate, lipstick, and soap. But it is also causing enormous ecological harm in the countries where it’s harvested. Indonesia’s forests are more carbon-rich than the Amazon rainforest, yet palm oil companies are rapidly eliminating them. This includes draining and burning peatlands, which can hold up to 28 times as much carbon as forests.

5. Forests

Trees provide many essential roles — creating and regulating ecosystems, filtering water, absorbing carbon, protecting people from droughts and extreme weather, mitigating floods, and many more. Yet trees are under siege around the world. Roughly 48 football fields worth of trees are lost each minute. And it is estimated that up to 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions comes from cutting down or otherwise destroying trees.

6. Earth (or Soil)

All life on earth depends on the top 20cm of soil and it can take more than a millennium to produce only 1 centimeter of soil, yet humanity has degraded roughly a third of all the world’s soil, according to the UN, and half of all topsoil has been lost in the past 150 years. Since 95% of the food that humans eat comes from soil, the continued degradation of soil poses an existential risk. Read this article by Green Initiatives to understand the ground beneath your feet.


Several billion tons of earth are moved annually by humans - with shovels, excavators or dynamite.

Join us for China’s first screening of Earth, a powerful piece of visual storytelling by Nikolaus Geyrhalter, that captures the jaw-dropping impact of mining and the unusual perspectives of miners around the world. The documentary observes people, in mines, quarries and at large construction sites, engaged in a constant struggle to take possession of the planet.

The screening will be followed by short discussions with Dr Ruishan Chen, who is a professor of Geographic Sciences at East China Normal University (ECNU).

The film aims to increase awareness and spread appreciation for our most common, yet unnoticed resource, earth, and serves as a reminder that if we deplete our valued natural resources, we would not have any commodities left to sell for profit.