Are you familiar with the term “conservation?” When we conserve something, we are preserving it, rather than using it immediately or wasting it. In fact, “conserves” is another word for fruit jam, because people had to make jam out of their fresh fruit when it was first picked so that they could enjoy it for months, even years.
Conserving our natural resources typically refers to protecting them so that they continue to flourish, so that we can use them without worrying that they will run out.
Everything that we need for our survival is produced from the Earth’s natural resources, from the food we eat and the water we drink, to the materials we use to build our homes. All of our resources can be put into two broad categories:
Renewable natural resources are any natural resources that regenerate or cannot be exhausted. Renewable resources can be organic (plants and animals) or inorganic (like water, air, and sunlight). Although renewable natural resources can replenish themselves without human intervention, they nonetheless require protection, because they can be rendered unfit for consumption or use if they are polluted or harmed by human activities. For example, even though water is a renewable, inexhaustible resource, our local waterways can still be polluted. This is also true of air — industrial pollution can make the air unsafe to breathe.
Non-renewable natural resources are all resources that will never regenerate once they are used. These include fossil fuels and minerals, though minerals do naturally form in the rock cycle, the process takes thousands of years. Although living things are renewable, if a species of plant or animal is overused to the point of extinction, it cannot be regenerated. Like renewable resources, there are two categories of non-renewable resources: organic and inorganic. Inorganic natural resources are all resources that were not living organisms at any point. Examples of non-renewable inorganic natural resources include rocks, wind, and minerals. Fossil fuels are considered organic non-renewable natural resources because they were once alive.
We use approximately 100 tons of natural resources every year for food, shelter, travel, and communications. The volume of resources used increases steadily as the human population grows and new technologies emerge, so conservation is becoming progressively more critical. The following resources must be conserved in order to ensure the health and wellbeing of not only humans, but the planet as a whole:
Forests exist on every continent except Antarctica. Forest cover provides a home to over two-thirds of all of the land species known to humans. Forests are critically important resources because they support a diversity of plant and animal life, which we use as natural resources both directly and indirectly. We use forest resources directly because they provide us with lumber for building and manufacturing necessary products, as well as plants and animals for a variety of essential uses. We use forest resources indirectly through their role in combating climate change — forests absorb harmful greenhouse gasses from the atmosphere, helping to lessen the impact of industrial pollution.
Our soils must stay nutrient-rich and free of pollutants if we are to continue to grow food and protect wildlife. Soil conservation is critically important for a variety of environmental efforts, including animal conservation and forest conservation.
Soils can be robbed of their nutrients through bad farming practices, such as only growing a single crop, soil erosion, and over-plowing. (These farming practices are what caused the Dust Bowl, widely considered worst U.S. manmade natural disaster in history.)
Although it is critically important to transition to renewable energy sources for the health of the environment and to dramatically reduce carbon emissions, we also need to conserve fossil fuels for several reasons:
While the planet isn’t going to run out of water, humans do routinely render water reserves unusable through contamination and pollution. Moreover, we do experience shortages of water in different regions due to drought. As the climate crisis worsens and once-habitable regions become hotter, droughts will worsen, reducing access to water for significant portions of the global population.
The larger cities in the wealthier countries tend to use a greater total volume of natural resources than smaller, less-wealthy regions. Approximately 75 percent of all carbon emissions are generated by global cities. Because the developed world is largely responsible for resource consumption, it’s up to us who have the most access to consumables to make the effort to protect our precious resources. Here is what you can do to help conserve our natural resources:
We can all afford to spend less time behind the wheel, and one year of driving a standard passenger vehicle produces roughly 5 tons of carbon dioxide. Walking or riding a bike can help conserve natural resources.
It’s surprising how much energy we use when we aren’t being vigilant. Turn off your lights in rooms you aren’t occupying. Turn down the air conditioning and the heat. Take shorter showers.
Education is critical to preserving our precious natural resources. When people understand how important conservation is to the health of all of our children and grandchildren, they will be more likely to be conscientious about their resource use.
Forest Founders is committed to raising awareness about the importance of preserving and restoring global forests. To learn more about Forest Founder’s tree planting initiatives, please visit our information page.