Reducing the use of natural resources is key to preserving the earth's climate and mitigating the problems of climate change. Fortunately, a little bit of education on the use of natural resources can go a long way in helping people reduce their use. Reducing the use of a variety of natural resources -- trees, fuels and water -- can have a big impact on the overall sustainability of the earth's ecosystem.
Forests and Wood
Reducing the use of forests can go a long way in mitigating problems associated with climate change and ecosystem destruction. One of the most important functions of forests is to convert carbon dioxide into oxygen and retain carbon in their wood, thus reducing the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. Forests serve numerous other functions, however, including preventing flooding and conserving topsoil and water. Because these functions are all so critical, preserving forests is crucial. The world should strive to use less paper and wood, and eat less beef to reduce timber use and conversion of forestland to agricultural use. Other legal and political changes -- such as banning importations of Amazonian wood, legally protecting ancient forests, and better regulating logging -- can help preserve forests, too.
The overuse of water resources is also challenging the world's climate and ecosystems. While 70 percent of the earth's area is covered in water, only 3 percent of that water is made up of fresh water, and only 1 percent is drinkable. This means that drinking water is a finite resource, and conserving it is critical to maintaining life on earth. One of the easiest ways to reduce overuse of this resource is to purchase more water-efficient appliances, such as washing machines and toilets that use less water. Governments can also encourage these policies, as well as help build infrastructure for wastewater treatment. Right now, only about 10 percent of all wastewater is properly treated, so increasing that amount could go a long way in making it possible to reuse water, which would reduce the amount of fresh water taken from natural sources.
Demand for fossil fuels like oil, natural gas and coal is constantly on the rise, which puts pressure on natural resources. By 2030, global demand for these types of energy is expected to increase by 60 percent. Reducing this number, however, is increasingly possible with new policies and consumer practices. One big step is for governments and corporations to increase their use and support of renewable sources, such as solar collectors and hydro power. While we may never completely not use fossil fuels, governments can require more fuel efficient cars. Simple changes, like direct fuel injection technology, can decrease a car's use of fuel by as much as 13 percent. More research and development can reduce our reliance on fuels.
Animals and Biological Systems
Animals are used by humans for food, for laboratory tests, for fur and leather, and even for entertainment. Issues like overfishing, however, endanger ecosystems and deplete fish and animal resources to the point where humans could become food insecure. For example, tuna, despite being a prized food around the world, has decreased in population to the point where the Atlantic bluefin tuna faces extinction. Better regulation of fisheries and reduced waste could go a long way in saving animal species like the tuna and others. It is estimated, for example, that between 8 and 25 percent of the bluefin tuna catch is discarded or wasted each year. Reducing this waste would eliminate the need to overfish, and this example can be applied to numerous other species around the world.
Day to Day Activism
People use natural resources and the people reading this can take steps to reduce their use. Participate in your community's recycling program, or ask your local government to start one if none exists. Eliminate leaks from faucets and hoses to conserve water and energy. Walking or biking rather than driving reduces your use of fossil fuels. Support the groups in your area, or nationally, that work on conserving natural resources, either through participation, financial support, lobbying or other means of involvement.
- The Nature Conservancy: PlanetChange: Top 10 Reasons Why Forests Matter
- EarthFuture: Ten Ways to Preserve Our Forests
- Harvard Gazette: Fossil fuels, conservation in energy future
- U.S. Department of Energy: Energy Efficiency & Renewal Energy: Energy Efficient Technologies
- Save Our Seas Foundation: Threat 1: Overfishing
About the Author
Kevin Wandrei has written extensively on higher education. His work has been published with Kaplan, Textbooks.com, and Shmoop, Inc., among others. He is currently pursuing a Master of Public Administration at Cornell University.