Natural resources are materials that exist in nature without any sort of intervention from man. They are raw materials, in their natural state, that we as humans use to satisfy our social or economic needs, such as clothing, food, and building material. Therefore, in its basic state, every man-made product is made of natural resources. Examples of natural resources include water, air, plants, oil, coal, and metals.
The steep rise in population and consequently the rise in industrialization in recent decades have led to the overconsumption of resources. Therefore, the world today is witnessing a large-scale degradation of natural resources. This has further given rise to environmental concerns such as desertification, floods, deforestation, and an increase in pollution levels.
Resource Availability and Factors Influencing Its Availability
The availability of non-renewable resources varies. Some resources may be scarce, while others may be found in abundance. For example, resources like sand and gravel are non-renewable. But they are found in nature in such abundance that there is no fear of them running out. On the other hand, resources such as emeralds and diamonds are rare, which makes them highly valued.
There are several factors that influence the availability of natural resources. However, the most important of all the factors are supply and demand, price, and politics. The first two of the factors (supply and demand, price) are interdependent. Let’s take the example of diamonds and emeralds again. There is a huge demand for these gems in jewellery. However, they are very rare in nature which makes the price of procuring these resources very high. The third factor, politics, influences resource availability through the import and export policies of countries.
Marine resources are those materials that are found in oceans and seas. The oceans form a source of some of the Earth’s most important natural resources. These resources include corals, fish, other seafood, minerals, sand, oil, and gas. The ocean, as a whole, is also a resource in itself as it provides us with a means of transport. The ocean also plays an important role in sequestering large quantities of carbon dioxide and producing oxygen through the photosynthesis of plankton and algae. The above examples are just a few that signify how important oceans are to life on land.
Energy resources are those resources that are required to do work. In other words, these resources are used for the generation of heat, power, and electricity. They include solar energy, nuclear energy, radioactivity in the Earth’s interior, burning of fossil fuels, and biomass energy. Let’s look at them one by one:
Solar energy: This is energy derived from the sun.
Nuclear energy: The energy produced by nuclear reactions that are deliberately made to occur by human intervention.
Radioactivity: This energy is released by the natural decay of radioactive elements in the Earth’s interior.
Fossils fuels: The energy produced by the combustion of oil, coal, and gas.
Biomass: The energy derived from the burning of wood or other organic products.
Before we learn what mineral resources are, first, let us understand what a mineral is. A mineral is a solid, naturally occurring compound with a definite chemical formula and crystal structure. Mineral resources are those substances that are of economic interest and occur naturally in or on the Earth’s crust. To be considered a mineral resource, the material should be available in such a quantity that it can be economically extracted. Statistics indicate that almost 80% of raw materials used for agriculture and other industries come from mineral resources. Mineral resources can be divided into metallic and non-metallic mineral resources based on the presence or absence of metals in the minerals.
Food Resources: World Food Problem
Food resources are those that we as humans consume for the proper growth, nutrition, and functioning of our bodies. They include crop grains, fruits and vegetables, animals and birds, and seafood. Even though food is an important necessity for us humans, there exists a scarcity of food in some parts of the world. With an increasing population, the demand for food has increased, but the supply has still stayed the same.
Most developing countries have a rate of food production that is less than their population growth rate. The main factors affecting the production of food are:
Climate change: As droughts and floods become more frequent and severe, farmers are fast losing access to fertile lands.
Poverty: Let’s take Africa as an example. Most African farmers are unable to afford proper irrigation facilities and fertilizers required to grow crops on a large scale. Therefore, they produce small harvests that consequently result in low food production. According to statistics released by the UN, around 810 million people went hungry in 2020 because they couldn’t afford to buy food.
Foreign companies: Companies from rich and developed nations buy large tracts of fertile farmland in developing countries. They use these lands to export food for their own profit, resulting in the local farmers’ reduced access to fertile lands.
Overgrazing: Take India as an example here. India has one of the most populations of livestock in the world. India also has the largest area under crop irrigation. However, most of the crops produced in the country are used to feed livestock. This creates food scarcity for the country’s human population.
Soil Resource: Importance of Soil
Healthy soils are fundamental for a healthy environment. Soils provide a pathway for the biological cycle, support biological productivity, provide water for agriculture, and (if maintained properly) act as a buffer against a changing climate.
The most important property of soil is its ability to draw down enormous quantities of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. A recent study claimed that healthy soils store more carbon than all of the world’s forests combined.
The biggest threat to soil resources today is erosion due to overgrazing of livestock, low fertility due to the increasing use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and deforestation. The roots of wild plants are what prevent soil erosion. Roots travel deep into the subsurface and hold together soil, keeping it from being washed away by rainfall or floods. Overgrazing and chemical fertilizers do not allow wild plants and weeds to thrive, thus decreasing the ability of the soil to resist erosion.
The survival of the human race is highly dependent on the availability of natural resources. With resources being depleted (and polluted) at an ever-increasing rate today, it has become an absolute necessity to conserve them. A large majority of the world’s population depends on the burning of fossil fuels to meet their energy demands. If we switch to renewable sources of energy, like solar, the strain on the natural environment and its resources can be tremendously reduced. In sections where the switch to renewable resources cannot be made, care must be taken to ensure the optimized use of resources. Natural resources should never be taken for granted. We must ensure that we minimize our use of resources, and the resources we do use must be fully and effectively utilized so as not to waste them.
Dr. Emily Greenfield is a highly accomplished environmentalist with over 30 years of experience in writing, reviewing, and publishing content on various environmental topics. Hailing from the United States, she has dedicated her career to raising awareness about environmental issues and promoting sustainable practices.