All living organisms rely on certain natural resources to survive. Natural resources can be categorized into renewable resources (water, solar energy, metals) and nonrenewable resources (fossil fuels). Materials from human societies affect both the physical and chemical cycles of the earth, usually in a negative way. Effects of our over-exploitation of Earth’s natural resources include climate change and global warming. Many of us are calling for sustainable use, or the use of resources that preserves them for future generations.
Natural Resource: A material supplied by nature that supports life.
Renewable Resource: A resource that can be replenished by natural processes.
Sustainable Use: The use of resources in a way that meets the needs of the present but preserves the resources for future use.
Nonrenewable Resource: A natural resource that is in a fixed amount and therefore can be used up.
Soil: A mixture of eroded rocks, minerals, and partly decomposed material.
Water: The liquid that makes up all living things.
Algal Bloom: Excessive growth of algae in bodies of water because of high levels of nutrients.
Dead Zone: Area in the ocean or other body of water where low oxygen levels from excessive growth of algae have killed all aquatic organisms.
Air Pollution: Chemical substances and particles released into the atmosphere, usually by human activities.
Acid Rain: Low-pH precipitation that forms with air pollution combines with water.
pH: The chemical term that refers to how acidic a substance is.
Ozone Hole: A gap in the ozone layer due to ozone depletion.
Greenhouse Effect: A process that occurs naturally in the Earth’s atmosphere where gases in the atmosphere radiate the sun’s heat back down to Earth’s surface.
Global Warming: Recent rise in Earth’s average surface temperature generally attributed to an increased greenhouse effect.
Examples of natural resources:
Natural resources can be renewable or nonrenewable:
Renewable resources are not in danger of being used up.
Nonrenewable resources are in a fixed amount and therefore can be used up.
Soil is important because it is essential for most plant growth, it breaks down wastes, and it removes toxins from water. For human purposes, soil is a nonrenewable resource because it takes hundreds of million years to form.
Water is theoretically a renewable resource. For humans, water must be fresh, but only 1 percent of Earth’s water is fresh, liquid water.
The atmosphere is a valuable natural resource that is a part of the water cycle and provides oxygen and carbon dioxide for important life processes.
Air pollution can also result in global climate change.
The decisions made by one generation about the environmental crisis affect the possibilities of the next generation. Societies and individuals must make decisions that assess risks, costs, benefits, and trade-offs. Here are just a few of the many individual choices to help sustain Earth’s resources and protect our environment: