12/12/2016 10:27 EST | Updated 12/12/2016 10:41 EST

Our Most Valuable Non-Renewable Resource Is Time

Shaiith via Getty Images
Old hourglass on the background of clocks.

"Time is our most valuable nonrenewable resource, and if we want to treat it with respect, we need to set priorities" wrote physicist Albert-László Barabási. When I first read this it struck me that amongst the world's many resources, the one we take most for granted is time.

We will often negotiate and even fight over food, oil, land, and water, but we treat time like it will, well, last forever. But if we were to value and use time truly like a resource, meaning effectively and efficiently, we need to set priorities. Enter the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

For those not yet familiar with the SDGs, they are a set of 17 goals and 169 associated targets covering an array of social, economic and environmental issues. The SDGs are the result of several years of research and consultation with stakeholders ranging from governments to communities, from academia to business. They are, in effect, the world's top priorities for ensuring the enhancement and sustainability of civilized human life and society as we know it. They are:

  1. End poverty in all its forms everywhere.
  2. End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture.
  3. Ensure healthy lives and promote wellbeing for all at all ages.
  4. Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.
  5. Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.
  6. Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.
  7. Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.
  8. Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment, and decent work for all.
  9. Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization, and foster innovation.
  10. Reduce inequality within and among countries.
  11. Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.
  12. Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns.
  13. Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts (taking note of agreements made by the UNFCCC forum).
  14. Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.
  15. Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification and halt and reverse land degradation, and halt biodiversity loss.
  16. Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.
  17. Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development.


The SDGs are not just "feel good" goals designed to make people more optimistic about the future. They are real concrete societal goals that prioritize the use of our most valuable resource -- time. If all countries truly collaborate on achieving these goals, we will do so with great effectiveness and efficiency: effectiveness because we have clearly articulated shared goals and targets to focus on, and efficiency because we can coordinate our efforts in such a way so as to minimize duplication and waste. It's the same concepts we strive apply when using other resources.

So the next time someone asks you what our most precious resource is, tell them it is time. And the more we waste it, the greater the risk that we will run out of it before we do what needs to be done.

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