Natural Resources

 

Natural resources are useful raw materials that we get from the Earth. They occur naturally, which means that humans cannot make natural resources. Instead, we use and modify natural resources in ways that are beneficial to us. The materials used in human-made objects are natural resources. Some examples of natural resources and the ways we can use them are:

Natural Resource

Products or Services

Air

Wind energy, tires

Animals

Foods (milk, cheese, steak, bacon) and clothing (wool sweaters, silk shirts, leather belts)

Coal

Electricity

Minerals

Coins, wire, steel, aluminum cans, jewelry

Natural gas

Electricity, heating

Oil

Electricity, fuel for cars and airplanes, plastic

Plants

Wood, paper, cotton clothing, fruits, vegetables

Sunlight

Solar power, photosynthesis

Water

Hydroelectric energy, drinking, cleaning

Natural resources can be classified as:

  • Renewable Natural Resources

  • These are the natural resources that are never depleted despite their continual use. This characteristic is due to two reasons:
  1. The available stock or state of the resource is not modified by its exploitation: solar energy, wind power, hydraulic energy, bio-thermal energy, etc.
  2. Their rate of renewal is fast enough for continual use to occur without being depleted: fish, forests, biomass, etc. However, these types of natural renewable resources can cease to be renewable if used in excess. For instance, excessive fishing depletes the number of certain species over time. In other words, the exploitation rate is greater than the regeneration rate. The same is happening to many native forests.
  • Non-Renewable Natural Resources.

    These are resources that exist in fixed quantities or whose regeneration rate is lower than their exploitation rate. As non-renewable natural resources are used, their stock decreases until they are completely depleted. Some examples of non-renewable natural resources are petroleum, minerals, and natural gas.
    Petroleum plays an important role in the economy, as the current economic system relies heavily on the energy it provides. As stated, petroleum is a non-renewable natural resource; this means that someday it will be completely diminished.

Consequences of Deforestation

More than half of Earth was originally covered with forest before mankind came and progressively deforested the land. This change has occurred over centuries, if not millennia, but it still means that deforestation is a major negative influence on biodiversity, soil quality and even climate.

Changes in Soil

  • Soil in the forested land is covered with a rich layer of nutrients. The nutrients come from leaf litter that falls from the trees, and the trees also contain lots of nutrients. If the forest were not there, the soil would be unprotected from the elements, and wind and rain tend to erode it or wash it away. Forest trees normally take up water from the rain, but when the trees are cut down, the rain has nowhere else to go but into the soil, where it can cause flooding. This flooding has the additional effect of washing away the nutrients into the rivers. All of these detrimental effects mean that the deforested land is less able to support trees or other plants like crops.

Loss of Biodiversity

  • Many plants and animals are specially adapted to forest life and cannot thrive and grow outside of the forest. The effect of deforestation can, therefore, cause extinction, and competition by other, more adaptable, plants and animals can also place pressure on species in danger of extinction.

Alterations in Climate

  • Trees eat up greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, thereby removing them from the atmosphere and preventing them from contributing to global warming. When forests are burned to clear them, this stored carbon also returns back into the air. Another way deforestation can affect climate change is the way that rain is recycled through the ecosystem. Normally, when rain falls on forests, much of it evaporates off into the air and recycles itself into more rain.

Impact on People

  • Many poor people rely on collecting firewood for cooking and for heat. In addition to these people chopping down trees for firewood, farmers and developers may also cut down swathes of forest for more space for agriculture or business. This has the effect of making wood more scarcely to come by and also causes localized natural disasters like mudslides or severe flooding, which can endanger people and their livelihoods.

In the last 40 years, world consumption of paper has grown four hundred percent! Today, the world consumes about 300 million tons of paper every year.

Most of this paper is made from virgin pulp that comes from nearly 4 billion trees. Trees that would have served as badly needed carbon sinks, had they not been cut down to meet this global demand for paper.

Each time paper is recycled, environmental savings are made as it takes less energy to produce paper from waste paper than it does from wood which also means less CO2 produced in the manufacturing process and less methane produced from the paper breaking down in the landfill.

It takes less water to break down waste paper than it does to break down wood.
If paper recycling is used to the full potential, wood is only needed once to produce 5 cycles of paper which also means saving waste from landfill 5 times.
It only takes 1.2 tonnes of waste paper to produce 1 tonne of recycled paper whereas it takes 2.5 tonnes of wood to produce 1 tonne of virgin fibre paper.

Reforestation

Reforestation involves the replanting or regeneration of areas of forest which have previously been damaged or destroyed. Sometimes forests are able to regenerate naturally if sufficient trees remain nearby and seeds can be dispersed into the deforested areas via animals or wind. However, areas of forest which have been severely degraded are unlikely to be able to regenerate naturally and need to be replanted by hand using native tree species.

Why is reforestation needed?

Reforestation is needed because huge areas of forest are being damaged or destroyed around the world on a daily basis. Some estimates suggest that an area of forest equivalent in size to 36 football pitches is lost every minute. This deforestation has a number of causes, including fires, the clearing of land to make way for agriculture or human settlement, logging, mining and climate change.

Forests are very important for a number of reasons and deforestation is a serious problem which affects us all. As well as being home to a huge and diverse range of animal and plant species, forests provide livelihoods for a vast number of people around the world and are a source of paper, timber, food and the ingredients of many other products, such as medicines and cosmetics. Forests are also vital for the health of our planet, maintaining the water cycle, preventing soil erosion and absorbing and storing enormous amounts of carbon dioxide which helps to limit the effects of climate change.

In order to tackle deforestation, there are a number of organisations around the world that aim to replant trees and help to regenerate and restore forest habitats.

How coal and petroleum are formed?

Coal and petroleum have been formed from remains of dead animals and plants which has been subjected to various biological and geological process. Coal is the remains of trees, ferns and other plants that lived millions of years ago. These were crushed under the earth by earthquakes or volcanic eruptions. They were pressed down under the layer of earth and rock and slowly decayed into the coal under the high temperature and pressure.

Oil is the remains of millions of tiny plants and animals that lived in the sea. When they died, their bodies sank to the seabed. Bacteria attacked the dead remains and changed them into oil under high pressure.

Why are coal and petroleum called fossil fuels?

Coal and petroleum are called fossil fuels because they are made up of remains of dead animals and plants. 

Disadvantages of fossil fuels:-

  1. Coal and petroleum products cause air pollution from burning.
  2. The oxides of carbon, nitrogen and sulfur that are released on burning fossil fuels are acidic oxides lead to acid rain which affects our soil and water resources.
  3. Excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is responsible for green house effect that leads to global warming.

How can you reduce the pollution caused by burning fossil fuels?

The pollution caused by burning fossil fuels can be reduced by increasing the efficiency of the combustion process and using various technology to reduce the escape of harmful gases and ashes into the surroundings. 

Why do we need to conserve fossil fuels?

We need to conserve fossil fuels because fossil fuels are non-renewable resources and it is limited in stock. If we were to continue consuming these resources at alarming rates, we would soon run out of energy and we know that fossil fuels are the major fuels used for generating electricity.