Published on: Mar 3, 2016
Transcripts - Natresources
What Are Natural Resources?
Key PointsNatural resources are useful materials from the
Earth, such as coal, oil, natural gas, and trees.
People use natural resources as raw materials to
manufacture or create a range of modern conven-
iences. Water and food provide humans with
sustenance and energy, for example, and fossil
fuels generate heat as well as energy for trans-
portation and industrial production. Many of the
same natural resources used by people are impor-
tant to plants and wildlife for survival as well.
• Natural resources are vital to all forms
of wildlife and the ecosystems in which
• Humans use natural resources for such
modern conveniences as electricity,
transportation, and industrial produc-
tion, as well as basic survival.
• Rapid population growth, a higher stan-
dard of living, and technology all
contribute to increased use of natural
Virgin Versus • Extracting, processing, and using natu-
Recovered ral resources can cause environmental
Resources problems, such as the disruption or
Resources used for the destruction of ecosystems; a decrease
first time are consid- in biodiversity; and land, water, and air
pollution.ered virgin resources,
and their extraction,
processing, and use
requires a great deal of
energy and can create
• Using renewable natural resources
impacts the environment less than using
nonrenewable resources because their
supply can be regenerated.
pollution. Resource • Using recovered resources prevents
recovery is a practice that conserves natural natural resources from being wasted.
resources by extracting used materials (e.g.,
paper, glass, and metals) and energy from the • Using recovered resources rather than
waste stream and reprocessing them for reuse. virgin resources reduces the emission
For example, a company can create plastic from of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
oil, a virgin natural resource, or it can use • Resource recovery and conservation,
recovered plastic from recycling programs. If a as well as buying recycled products, are
company uses recovered plastic, it is actually emerging trends that reduce consump-
saving materials that would otherwise become tion of natural resources.
waste, helping to prevent the depletion of natu-
ral resources, conserving energy, and preventing
pollution that would have been created in the
extraction and processing of oil from the ground.
vanishing. Diminishing the Earth’s biodiversity
In addition to the benefits already discussed,
using recovered resources reduces threats to
biodiversity. Natural resource extraction, along
with other human activities, increases the rate at
which species of plants and animals are now
has a substantial human cost because wild
species and natural ecosystems are important
resources. For example, some economists esti-
mate that the lost pharmaceutical value from
plant species extinctions in the United States
alone is almost $12 billion. Reducing the land
The Quest for Less Unit 1, Chapter 1.1, Natural Resources 5
Biodiversity refers to the variety of organisms
that live on Earth. Supporting so many different
organisms requires the conservation of the nat-
ural resources they need to survive. Using
natural resources can not only deplete the Earth
of the resources themselves, but by destroying
critical i , it can also drive some specieshab tats
to extinction, ultimately reducing biodiversity.
Products Made From Natural
People use an abundance of resources to survive
in a continually developing world. Globally, how-
ever, some people live simpler lifestyles than
others and therefore use fewer resources. The fol-
lowing table lists some natural resources and the
products and services people produce from them.
Natural Resource Product/Service
Trees Paper, furniture, fuel
Clothingdisturbance and pollution Cotton plant
associated with virgin Oil/Petroleum Plastic, fuel
materials extraction by
Fuelusing recovered materi- Gas
als, therefore, helps stop Coal Fuel
the degradation of the
Steel products (cans, bridges)
Bauxite ore Aluminum products (cans, car
Jewelry, dental material
Wire, coins, electrical equipmentSome natural resources are nonrenewable and Copper
some are renewable. Nonrenewable resources Manganese
Steel, cast iron
are those that become depleted more quickly
Steel, jet engine parts, cutting tools
than they naturally regenerate. One example
of a nonrenewable resource is mineral ore. Platinum
Air pollution control and telecom-
Once mined and used completely, it is gone munications equipment, jewelry
forever for all practical purposes, because it
Chromium Stainless steel, green glass, gems
will take millions of years to regenerate.
(rubies and emeralds), leather
Renewable resources can be replenished at
approximately the same rate at which they are
used (for example, sun and wind, which can Diamonds
Jewelry, mechanical equipment
be used to provide energy).
Renewable or Nonrenewable—or Both?
Some resources can be considered both renewable and nonrenewable. Trees are considered a
renewable resource because their supply can be replenished (e.g., more trees can be planted). If,
however, an entire forest of 400-year-old trees is cleared and a new-growth forest is planted, the
supply of old-growth trees has not been replenished. It takes many generations for an old-growth
forest to mature, and so, old-growth trees are considered nonrenewable. Trees are a complex
resource because as a forest, their environmental and economic contributions often depend on their
age. For example, clearing a forest of 200-year-old Redwoods, unlike clearing a forest of new-
growth pines, reduces the corollary biodiversity that is usually found in old-growth forests.
6 Unit 1, Chapter 1.1, Natural Resources The Quest for Less
What Are the Benefits
of Natural Resources?
Renewable resources offer a
number of environmental and
economic benefits over nonre-
newable resources. One
obvious benefit is the infinite
supply of renewable
resources—they cannot be
depleted. Another benefit of
using renewable resources is
self-reliance. A country that can
provide its own renewable resource, such as
solar-powered electricity, need not rely on other
countries for an energy source. Additionally,
renewable resources offer communities relief
during periods of recovery from natural disas-
ters. When communities lose standard services
that require the use of natural resources (e.g.,
electric power or natural gas), renewable
resources, such as wind and solar energy sys-
What Are the
Challenges of Using
using natural resources cre-
pollution, which can cause
global environmental prob-
A gas that absorbs and retains heat from the
sun. Greenhouse gases include methane, ammonia, sulfur
dioxide, and certain chlorinated hydrocarbons. A buildup of
the global climate.
Gl l Cli Natural- or human-induced change in
the average global temperature of the atmosphere near the
Extracting, processing, and
ates air, water, and land
lems. For example, carbon
these gases traps warmth in the Earth’s atmosphere, changing
oba mate Change:
tems, are used to provide these services until the
usual methods of achieving service can be
restored. Following Hurricane Andrew in 1992,
for example, a south-Miami subdivision contin-
ued to have working streetlights because they
were all photovoltaic (PV)-powered. The areas
became neighborhood gathering spots for a
community left without electricity following the
storm. In several cases, homes equipped with
PV systems were able to keep minimal services
running and became emergency shelters for sur-
rounding residents who had lost power.
dioxide, which is produced
from deforestation, and from burning coal,
oil, and natural gas (fossil fuels), is a critical
greenhouse gas. Many scientists believe that the
buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere
can cause global climate change. Over time,
this condition could pose serious dangers
around the world, prompting such disasters as
flooding, drought, and disease.
In addition, extracting and using resources can
disturb relationships within ecosystems. For
example, the effects of clearing an old-growth
forest for wood can destroy habitats used by
What Are Ecosystems?
Ecosystems are self-regulating communities of plants and animals that interact with one another
and with their nonliving environment. Examples of ecosystems include ponds, woodlots, and fields.
in or . In a food chain, energy is trans-
tree, which provides sustenance for wasps. The wasps are a food source for spiders, which are
eaten by birds. More complex food webs can be thought of as a network, involving energy transfers
among several organisms.
Organisms within an ecosystem are connected by energy. Individuals in a community feed on each
other, thus transferring energy along a food cha food web
ferred from one organism to another in a linear form. For example, the sun provides fuel for a fig
The Quest for Less Unit 1, Chapter 1.1, Natural Resources 7
many animals, forcing them to
find homes elsewhere. If these ani- Natural Resource Consumption Facts
mals leave an ecosystem, further
• The United States uses one million gallons of oil every
disturbances can occur within
plant and animal populations that
• Every American uses about 47,000 pounds of newlydepend on these species.
mined materials each year.
Additionally, with the absence of
tall trees in the forest, lower vege-
• A television requires 35 different minerals, and more
tation would lose shade provided
than 30 minerals are needed to make a computer.
• Over the past 40 years, global consumption of woodby the upper canopy, resulting in
as industrial fuel rose by nearly 80 percent. Northincreased exposure to sunlight
America alone accounts for about 40 percent of bothand decreased moisture. Changes
production and consumption of wood as industrialin an ecosystem’s climatic condi-
wood products.tions will eventually change
vegetation type, which will alter • In 2001, each person in the United States threw away
the kinds of animals that can exist an average of 4.4 pounds of waste each day.
in that community. Over time, if (Sources: Natural Resources Defense Council, 1996; National
enough ecosystems are affected, Mining Association, 2000; World Resources Institute, 2000; EPA,
an entire community type can 2003.)
change (e.g., over-harvested fields
can turn into deserts).
undeveloped nations. For example, according to
Population growth, increas- the Department of Energy, residents of the
ing affluence, technological industrialized world comprise only 20 percent of
change, and urbanization the world’s population, yet consume 86 percent
are all responsible for rap- of its iron and steel, and 76 percent of its
idly rising resource timber. Despite the inconsistent relationship
consumption all over the between resource use and developed and unde-
world. The relationship veloped nations, it is apparent that worldwide,
between population more people use more resources. With popula-
growth and increased tion, technology, and lifestyle demands growing
resource use varies exponentially, people are using increasing
among developed and amounts of many natural resources.
such as plastic grocery bags and wood chips or sawdust.
Used as a wood alternative, plastic lumber offers several
example of how using plastic lumber can conserve and
Missouri. The construction of the plastic lumber bridge
utilized 13,000 pounds of mixed plastics that otherwise
would have gone to waste. This exercise in reuse trans-
lates into significant natural resource conservation.
Innovative Technology Using
Plastic lumber was developed to utilize low-cost materials
advantages over using lumber; it is long lasting, requires
limited upkeep, and resists warping and decay. One
recover resources is a bridge at Ft. Leonard Wood,
Increasing demands for natural
resources have spurred new methods for
conserving existing resources. More and
more companies are developing new
and innovative technologies that use
recycled materials as raw materials in
the manufacture of products. Some steel
producers, for example, use minimills
and a manufacturing process that uses
virtually 100 percent recovered scrap
steel as the raw material.
Unit 1, Chapter 1.1, Natural Resources The Quest for Less8
• More than 65 percent of the steel produced in the United States is made from recovered steel.
• Using recovered aluminum cans saves 95 percent of the energy required to make the same
amount of aluminum from bauxite, its virgin source.
By 2003, the paper industry relied on recovered paper for 50 percent of its feedstock.
The average aluminum can contains an average of 50 percent post-consumer recycled content.
Recycling and reuse of 2,000 pounds of paper saves 7,000 gallons of water and 380 gallons
(Sources: Steel Recycling Institute, 2000; Aluminum Association, 2000; American Forest and Paper Association,
2000; The Can Manufacturers Institute, 1997; Weyerhaeuser Company, 1999.)
How Can You Help? for ways to practice conservation of natural
An increasing number of individuals are also
practicing conservation methods by using less— • Reducing waste by reusing paper grocery
such as buying products with less packaging. and lunch bags or eliminate waste by using
(See the Teacher Fact Sheets titled Recycling on cloth bags.
page 101 and Buying Recycled on page 107).
Certain lifestyle changes, such as composting • Donating old toys, clothes, furniture, cars,
food scraps rather than buying fertilizer (see the and other items to organizations such as the
Teacher Fact Sheets titled Source Reduction on Salvation Army rather than throwing them in
page 79 and Composting on page 141), also the garbage.
preserve natural resources. Other suggestions • Closing the recycling loop by purchasing
recycled-content products and packaging.
Additional Information Resources:
Visit the following Web sites for more information on natural resources and solid waste:
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): <www.epa.gov>
U.S. EPA Office of Solid Waste composting site: <www.epa.gov/epaoswer/non-hw/
World Resources Institute: <www.wri.org>
Natural Resources Defense Council: <www.nrdc.org>
United States Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory: <www.nrel.gov>
United States Department of Energy’s Center of Excellence for Sustainable Development:
To order the following item on municipal solid waste, call EPA toll-free at (800) 490-9198 or look on
the EPA Web site <www.epa.gov/epaoswer/osw/publicat.htm>.
A Collection of Solid Waste Resources on CD-ROM
The Quest for Less Unit 1, Chapter 1.1, Natural Resources