Natural Resources

Renewable and Non-Renewable


Nature Knows Best

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Resources such as trees, fish, oxygen, and fresh water are generally considered to be renewable resources as they can be continually reproduced.  Fresh water from the Earth's recycling process, fresh air from the oxygen produced by plants and trees, and trees and fish which can reproduce themselves.

Words to know and remember
as you consider what resources are renewable

No limits
Extending indefinitely

Having a limited existence

When are renewable resources not renewable?


Plants and Animals - When plant and animal species become extinct.

Fresh water - When fresh groundwater gets used up and no rain falls, sometimes for years.  More then 3/4ths of underground water is non-renewable, as replenishing it would take centuries or more (Ecological Society of America).   From chemical spills so toxic that the water and surrounding soils are polluted for a lifetime.  And think about population growth - as some 30-70 million people are being added to our planet every year.

Trees - When a forest of trees is clearcut, it can change the soil and the climate of the ecosystem so new trees cannot grow, plants die, and animals lose their habitat and die or leave the area.  A natural forest has a variety of trees, plants, and lifeforms.  A natural forest creates climate.  These ecosystems evolved over a very, very long period of time and through many geologic and climatic changes.  Should humans, then, be allowed to buy whole ecosystems for the purpose of destroying them - for money?  That is what happens when a forest is clearcut.

Oxygen/Clean Air - When forests and plants (on land and in our ocean waters) are destroyed or die from acid rain and pollution, they can no longer absorb carbon dioxide from the air, nor release oxygen into the atmosphere.  When rivers are polluted by chemicals and erosion, oxygen is depleted from the water and living things die.  

Land/Soil - When land is overgrazed or the nutrients in the soil used up from improper farming practices, the soil cannot renew itself and plants and crops cannot grow.  Crop rotation is one way to help maintain soil fertility.  When natural vegetation is removed from land to clear it for construction projects, mining operations or farmland, the plants and trees are no longer there to absorb rainwater and protect the soil from wind.  Erosion occurs and the soil is washed away or soil particles are blown away in the winds. (see Grasslands page regarding the Dust Bowl)

Fish - When land is cleared of vegetation in watershed areas that drain into rivers, lakes, streams, estuaries, etc., soil erodes into the water and the silt smothers the fish and plant life.  When pollutants drain into these waters, the toxins kill aquatic life and the pollutants can be carried through the water far distances.

Biospheres of living things - When pollution destroys an area, like the devastating Exxon Valdez oil spill and the Chernobyl nuclear accident.   Environmental disasters such as these affect whole biospheres and damage all living things for thousands of miles for many, many years.  Nuclear contamination can last for longer than lifetimes.

Renewable is defined as:
"capable of being replaced by
natural ecological cycles or
sound management practices"

So humans need to think of "renewable" as
replenishable only in the right circumstances
and within the laws of the balance of nature
(allow the natural ecological cycles to remain natural,
and "Don't mess with Mother Nature!")

"Oh well, it's renewable so we can use as much as we want"
(Could this be the attitude of those who clearcut forests?)

"It won't matter what we do with our toxic waste, just so we get rid of it"
(Could this have been the attitude of the cruise ship line
that was fined $18 million for dumping waste
and hazardous chemicals into the sea for many years?)

"We can't convert our old factories toxic burning methods -
it's too expensive."
(Has this been the attitude of the "smog grandpas"
the EPA investigated in the power industry?)

"It's OK to log these forests - field surveys are not needed."
(A Judge disagreed and put timber sales on hold, stating
Federal land managers must first conduct required wildlife surveys.)


"Renewable" resources become non-renewable
due to mis-management by humans and
due to pollution of the environment by humans.