Natural and made; renewable and non-renewable
The biggest impact on ecosystems has been urbanisation and industry. Industries such as agriculture, fishing, forestry, mining and manufacturing have a huge impact on the environment and habitats of many organisms. Urbanisation changes or completely destroys habitats and the organisms are forced to find new habitats. Humans depend on the environment for all of our needs and resources, from providing our food to the materials that we use to make things. This chapter will look at natural and made; and renewable and non-renewable resources.
Resources can be defined as something that is needed by a living organism. Food, water and shelter are resources that organisms need to survive. Resources can be classified in different ways. There are natural and made resources, renewable and non-renewable resources and resources from living things and resources extracted from non-living things.
Natural and made resources
Natural resources are naturally found on Earth. They are resources that are naturally occurring substances and are considered valuable in their relatively natural and unmodified form. Water, rocks, timber, minerals and gases in the air are all natural resources.
Made resources are resources that are manufactured by humans. Humans are able to change their environment like no other species and we depend on the environment and its natural resources to provide the materials that we use to make things.
Most of the things that we use every day are made from natural resources. Plastic and glass are examples of made resources. Plastic is made from petroleum products and other materials and glass is a mixture of silicon dioxide (sand) and metal oxides (found in rocks). We depend on forests to supply wood for building materials, furniture and paper products. Mineral deposits of iron oxide, bauxite, zinc, copper, gold, diamonds are mined and then used to create metals such as iron, aluminium, copper, lead and zinc. All these human activities can damage the environment and ecosystems.
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Renewable and non-renewable resources
Natural resources are often classified into renewable and non-renewable resources. Renewable resources are natural resources that can be replaced. These resources are depleted at a rate slower than the rate at which they regenerate; that is they can renew or restock if they are not over-used or over-harvested. Renewable resources include oxygen, fresh water, timber, leather, wind and solar power.
Renewable resources can be used indefinitely if they are used in a sustainable manner. If renewable resources are consumed at a rate that exceeds their natural rate of replacement, the supplies will eventually run out. Ground water for example may be removed from an aquifer (underground water reservoir) at a greater rate than it fills up and timber could eventually run out if the forests are cut down faster than new trees can be grown.
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Non-renewable resources are natural resources that cannot be re-made or re-grown. Fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas are considered non-renewable resources. They would eventually re-form but it would take millions of years and so the way we use them makes them unsustainable. Most mined resources such as stone, metals, uranium and various other materials and minerals are considered non-renewable.
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Demand for resources
Demand for resources, both renewable and non-renewable, is stronger than ever. There is concern that the present and future demands of industrial societies cannot be sustained for more than a century or two and that the global environment and ecosystems will be irreversibly damaged. New technologies must be developed that enable resources that are renewable to replace those currently being used.
All living organisms depend on the Earth and its resources to survive. As humans are at the top of the food chain and our activities impact on all ecosystems, it is up to us to use resources in a sustainable manner and to protect organisms and their habitats. The Earth and its organisms must be treated with care so that future generations actually have a future.