Made by Nature
Natural resources encompass all the things that occur naturally in our world, from the nonliving, such as rocks and water, to living organisms, such as plants, trees and animals. As products of nature, they are an essential part of our ecosystem: they not only represent the building blocks of life on earth, but also make life possible through natural processes such as photosynthesis, pollination, nutrient recycling and waste absorption, among many others.
As humans, we leverage these resources in many ways. We rely on plants and animals for food. We need water to survive. We use trees and minerals to build our homes and provide shelter. We rely on fossil fuels like coal, oil, and natural gas for survival, comfort and convenience as they heat our homes and fuel our transportation. Virtually all man-made things are created in part from natural resources.
Increasing human population, and the associated increase in living standards and technology, has placed higher demand on the Earth's natural resources — particularly on resources like water, oil, natural gas, phosphorus, coal, fish and and other resources. The extraction and processing of natural resources takes a toll on our environment in numerous ways. And since resources are not evenly distributed across the globe, their collection and transportation not only adds to the environmental toll but is often the source of great conflict between the nations and communities where they're extracted and those that need them.
Renewable vs. Nonrenewable
Natural resources are typically defined as renewable or nonrenewable. Renewable resources are those that can be replenished after extraction or remain readily available after consumption. The sun and wind are examples of truly renewable resources whose availability is not affected by our consumption. Trees, freshwater, fish, soil and crops are examples of partially renewable resources that can be regenerated, but often not as quickly they are extracted, which thus diminishes their availability. Nonrenewable resources, such as coal, oil, natural gas and minerals, are those that cannot be replenished after extraction in a timeframe that is meaningful to people or economies.
The overuse of any natural resource has a major impact on the environment and ultimately diminishes the abundance and availability of those, and potentially other, resources.
All modern conveniences are dependent in some part on natural resources, including electricity, transportation and industrial production. As such, we place a greater strain on these resources as our global population grows. Through deforestation, we destroy thousands of square miles of trees each year for commercial agriculture, development and logging. We deplete the abundance of fish species by overfishing and disrupt sea environments with our modern industrial fisheries. We contaminate our land and waterways by mining for coal and drilling for oil and natural gas.
These are just a few examples of costly extraction processes that can disturb ecosystems, endanger plant life and animals, and potentially reduce biodiversity.
Economies that are dependent on natural resources can be devastated when those resources are depleted.
How to Preserve
The best way to help protect our natural resources is by reducing your consumption and waste. Buy only what you need for food, clothing and home. Avoid items that are not necessities. By reducing consumption, you help to lessen the burden on natural resources.
Conserve energy by turning off lights and faucets when not in use, and choose renewable energy alternatives, such as solar panels, when possible. Avoid or limit your use of nonrenewable energies.
Reuse items whenever possible; avoid disposable and non-recyclable items, like plastic bags and other packaging. When you must discard items, recycle or donate them, rather than throwing them away.
You can also help protect biodiversity by supporting wildlife management, and make sustainable food choices by growing your own fruits and vegetables, getting your food from local farms and farmers' markets, avoiding processed foods and finding out where you food comes from before you buy.