Resource is a general term for substance, energy and information that can be exploited and developed by human. It is a naturally occurring substance that widely exists in nature and human society which can bring wealth to humanity. According to Elcome (1998), natural resources are the natural commodities and features of the Earth’s physical environment that are exploited by the human populations. Natural resources are extracted from the Earth to use in their existing form and often changed in form during the manufacturing process, which turns natural resources into products.
The world is heading for an “ecological credit crunch” far worse than the current financial crisis because humans are over-using the natural resources of the planet, an international study warns today.
The Living Planet report calculates that humans are using 30% more resources than the Earth can replenish each year, which is leading to deforestation, degraded soils, polluted air and water, and dramatic declines in numbers of fish and other species. (Jowit, 2008)
Basically, natural resources are classified into two major categories, which are renewable resources and non-renewable resources. Renewable resources are further sub-categorized into sustainable and perpetual resources, while non-renewable resources are divided into consumable, recoverable and recyclable resources.
Renewable resources are the first major category of the types of natural resources. “Renewable resources are the resources which regenerate through natural processes within a reasonable time period. They have the potential to regenerate as long as it is not used up faster than it is replaced” (Bagad, 2009). As shown in Diagram 1, renewable resources are sub-distinguished into sustainable and perpetual resources. A sustainable resource has a few characteristics which make it naturally to be classified as one of the sub-classes of renewable resources. One of its characteristics is the ability to maintain its resources for a period of time because its supply are currently available to be used and believed to sustain for the coming hundred and even thousand of years. It is also reliable in a perspective way as its usage hardly or does not cause any pollution to the environment. In turn, this uncountable and environmentally friendly resource can be utilized effectively. Examples of this class resource include soil, forest, and water in aquifers. To improve the perspective towards sustainable resource characteristics, forest is chosen to be illustrated. Forest is formed with thousands of trees and every single of them has the capability to reproduce and renew themselves, where need not human to assist for growth or produce. Forest has large production capacity, long rotation time, and multiply uses (Nine unique features of forest, n. d).
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To be qualified holds the position as the second sub-class of the first major category of natural resources, perpetual resource has certain features which differ as well as share with sustainable resource. Particularly, perpetual resource has unbounded supply of its resource to be repetitively used forever, as compared to that of sustainable. While its reliability to be used and cause free-pollution to the environment is the characteristics sharing with sustainable resource. Tidal, wind, wave and solar energy are the examples for perpetual resource. Let further discuss on wind and solar energy for better understanding of the characteristics for perpetual resource. Wind contains tremendous amount of energy and it uses sophisticated turbines to convert this energy to electric power. Wind is just moving air created as the sun heats the earth’s surface. As long as the sun is shining, the wind remains an infinite. Though wind only generated little power in the United States in 2009, “it is the fastest growing source of the new electric power,” according to U.S. Energy Information Administration. For the case of solar energy, the Sun has produced energy in the form of heat and light since the Earth formed. This formation of the heat is categorical as solar. Since solar energy is originated from the Sun, it does not bring harmful pollution to environment and its infinity supply definitely make it has feasibility and might substitutes any other form of resources. Ashok (n.d.) stated that in the 21st century solar energy is expected to become increasingly attractive as an energy source because of its inexhaustible supply and its nonpolluting character, in stark contrast to the finite fossil fuels coals, petroleum, and natural gas.
In addition to the first major category pointed in above, the non-renewable resources likewise make up the second major category of the types of natural resources. As discussed by Perman, Yue, McGilvray and Common (1999), non-renewable resources are formed by geological processes that usually take millions of years, so that they can be viewed as existing in the form of fixed stocks of reserves which, once extracted, cannot be renewed. Most experts and scientists translate non-renewable resources as not environmental friendly, cause to damaging effects towards living things, lead to imbalance of the ecosystem. In fact, non-renewable resources are sub-classified into three forms, which comprised of consumable, recyclable and recoverable resources as illustrated in Diagram 1. The first sub-class of the second category of natural resources is consumable resource and as its name implied, it can be consumed either partially or completely of its supply. In order to indicate the quantity of this resource that could be undertaken before its depletion occurs and requiring replenishment, a rate of consumption or capacity has been introduced. Fossil fuels are the best example to fit into this sub-class because it is consumable and it has limited resource to be supplied for long term. It is composed of oil, natural gas and coal, these 3 major types and they are all have broad usage to anyone in any country, which makes it be the most useful resource among others. Now, with only about 4.5 percent of the world population, the United States accounts for a quarter of total fossil fuel use, the largest per capita consumption of any country (Pimental & Patzek, 2006).
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Whereas, the second sub-class of the second category of natural resources goes to recyclable. Recyclable resource has a unique characteristic, which is it can be reused again by applying some technological advance such as in machinery to reproduce it into either a brand new product or renew it alike original product. This recycling resource is beneficial to society as well as can remains its scarce resource, and thus it is worth to be recycled. Materials from discarded industrial products are usually being recycled. Holechek, Cole, Fisher and Valdez (2000) discussed that recycled metals become increasingly important as resources are depleted in the U.S. because metal recycling is cost-effective, progress continues to be made in recycling technology. Metallic ores are compatible to be an example for this sub-class as it is now widely being recycled and modified into different types of products.
The third sub-category of non-renewable resources is recoverable resource. Recoverable resources are the amount of resources identified in a reserve that are technologically or economically feasible to extract. Mineral reserves and all other deposits that may eventually become available, either known deposits that are not economically or technologically recoverable at present, or unknown deposits, rich or lean, that may be inferred to exist but have not been recovered yet. Rock, though it is hard and strong, does not stay that way forever. When it undergoes the process of weathering, small grains and tiny particles are worn out and sand is formed. One of the examples of recoverable resources is sand. Mattern (2005) mentioned that weathering and erosion are processes that use natural forces like wind, water, and ice to break down and transport rocks and other material. It takes thousands or millions years to form sand, depending on the climate changes and environmental elements. The most abundant constituent of sand is silica, usually in the form of quartz. There are lands on Earth that are still unexplored. It is believed that much sand will be discovered in the future.
In conclusion, the types of natural resources are classified into renewable and non-renewable as its two major categories. While each of this major category can be sub-differentiated into several classes, i.e. sustainable and perpetual for renewable and consumable, recyclable and recoverable for non-renewable. Each of these sub-classes has its unique and specific characteristic which holds it from being categorized into the others.
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