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12.16: Renewable Versus Non-Renewable Resources

Difficulty Level: Basic Created by: CK-12
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What is the difference between these two stands of trees?

Trees are renewable resources. Trees can be planted, grown up and harvested for timber. Forests are a different thing, however. A forest is a mature ecosystem. It has trees of different sizes and ages. Many other plants. Lots of animals. A forest is a renewable resource but it takes much more time to grow a forest than to grow a stand of trees.

Renewable Resources

Renewable resources can be renewed as they are used. An example is timber, which comes from trees. New trees can be planted to replace those that are cut down. Sunlight is a renewable resource. It seems we will never run out of that! What are some other renewable resources?

Just because a resource is renewable, it doesn’t mean we should use it carelessly. If we aren’t careful, we can pollute resources. Then they may no longer be fit for use. Water is one example. If we pollute a water source it may not be usable for drinking, bathing or any other type of use. We can also overuse resources that should be renewable. In this case the resources may not be able to recover. For example, fish are renewable resources. That’s because they can reproduce and make more fish. But water pollution and overfishing can cause them to die out if their population becomes too low. Figure below shows another example.

Forests should be renewable resources. The forest on the left is healthy and is used for recreation. The forest on the right was killed by acid rain. Human use: hiking and bird watching. Human misuse: destruction by acid rain.

Nonrenewable Resources

Some resources can’t be renewed. At least, they can’t be renewed fast enough to keep up with use. Fossil fuels are examples. It takes millions of years for them to form. We are using them up much more quickly. Elements that are used to produce nuclear power are other examples. For example, uranium, which is rare. Sooner or later, it will run out.

Supplies of nonrenewable resources are shrinking. This makes them harder to get. Oil is a good example. Oil reserves beneath land are running out. So oil companies have started to drill for oil far out in the ocean. This costs more money. It’s also more dangerous. Figure below shows an oil rig that exploded in 2010. The explosion killed 11 people. Millions of barrels of oil spilled into the water. It took months to plug the leak.

This oil rig was pumping oil from below the ocean floor when it exploded.


  • Resources may be renewable or nonrenewable.
  • Renewable resources should never run out. Nonrenewable resources are available in limited supply.
  • Some nonrenewable resources are in shorter supply than before. It takes more effort to get to them.


Use this resource to answer the questions that follow.


  1. How are nonrenewable resources used?
  2. Where does oil come from?
  3. What is the most common nonrenewable resource in the world?
  4. What is natural gas?


  1. What are renewable resources?
  2. What is biomass?
  3. What is the most widely used renewable resource in the United States?
  4. What is geothermal energy?
  5. Why is wind energy considered clean energy?
  6. What is solar energy used for?


  1. What is a renewable resource?
  2. What is a nonrenewable resource?
  3. How might a resource go from being renewable to nonrenewable?

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timber Trees that are used for wood.

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Difficulty Level:
6 , 7
Date Created:
Jan 04, 2013
Last Modified:
Sep 11, 2016
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