The overuse and misuse of natural resources is gradually becoming a more and more serious problem for the humanity. It is important to mention that a great part of them was used during the last century due to the rapid development of the society. The amount of the resources used within the last 50 years by humans is shocking. Thus around 90 percent of all the fish was killed, 70 percent of forests was destroyed, 45 lakes were dried up, a quarter of bird kinds was killed and 18 percent of all mammals, 5 percent of the fish and 8 percent of plants are under the threat of extinction. Overall, about 30 percent of all Earth’s natural resources have been used up while the population of the planet still keeps growing. It is possible to assume that the industrial revolution and the development of agricultural practices contribute to the problem of resources overuse.
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Depletion of natural resources is a major focus of governments and organizations not in one country or one continent only. The whole planet is suffering from that currently. Even Theodore Roosevelt said, “The conservation of natural resources is the fundamental problem. Unless we solve that problem, it will avail us little to solve all others.” It is a thought-provoking quote. People need to remember that the earth we live on, the water we drink and the air we breathe are essential for us, so we have to take care of the planet and use the resources it provides us with in a wise way. However, the majority of people does not understand that and tends to fulfill their needs in the first place, forgetting about the fact that we need to live in harmony with nature.
Thus the overuse of natural resources is caused mainly by industrial and agricultural practices. Such drivers of change as demography, economy, society and technology contribute to the situation as well. Therefore, the following questions will be examined in this paper. Such industrial practices as over-consuming, waste disposal, the influence of local industries, fossil energy consumption, water consumption and availability will be discussed in accordance with the current situation in the world. Further, the agricultural practices, including water and fossil energy consumption in farming, keeping of farm animals, overfishing, biodiversity issues, usage of pesticides and fertilizers and their influence on the food quality will be studied and assessed. As a result, it is expected to get the understanding of resource overuse issues in the world and to offer possible solutions of these problems.
First of all, it is important to give a definition to the notion of natural resources. They are usually defined as materials and components that can be found within the environment. Natural resources are derived from the environment and are characterized by biodiversity, geodiversity and various ecosystems. They include water, air, oil, metals, energy forms and living organisms. Natural resources are usually subdivided into two categories: exhaustible, including fossil fuels and metal ores, and renewable resources, such as sunlight, wind, air, and so on. It is proved that the use of the energy of these resources will contribute to the environment maintenance and be more useful for the humanity. Nevertheless, the use of solar energy, wind power and hydropower is considered as more expensive and difficult in comparison with the effectiveness of exhaustible resources. Therefore, the problem of overuse of natural resources remains in the present society.
Contribution of Industrial Practices
As Gandhi once said, “There is enough on earth for everyone’s need, but not for everyone’s greed.” In the present days, we can witness the sense of this quotation. Becoming a symbol of most world economies, consumerism remains a common phenomenon in the United States and is now spreading to other countries. By definition, consumerism is the consumption of goods at a higher rate, which becomes an indicator of prosperity and of developed society (Shukla, 2009). As it is seen today, people in developed countries are willing to increase their spending power by buying more products in order to be able to keep up with others. It gives the feeling of power and satisfaction and fulfills the need for a variety in life.
It is well-known that the more goods produced and consumed in the society, the higher the economy growth rate is. The constant purchase of new goods, using and throwing them away with the subsequent replacement of newer goods leads to both positive and negative results. The positive results of consumerism include economy growth, the availability of goods and services, more employment opportunities, more comforts for the lifestyle and so on. Thus, it is appreciated by most countries with developed economies. However, the negative effects of consumerism certainly outweigh the positive ones (Shukla, 2009).
Among the negative consequences of consumerism are excessive craving for goods, over-dependence on labor saving devices, deterioration of psychological health and personal relationship and the prevalence of material wealth over spiritual values. Moreover, consumerism has bad effects on the environment. The nature is being destroyed as a result of creation of new goods and buildings (Shukla, 2009), while industrial pollution leads to the depleting of natural resources, which becomes a serious problem.
It is estimated that approximately 1.7 billion people in the world makes the consumer class, being characterized by the desire for bigger houses and better cars, diets of highly processed foods and usage of non-essential goods (Mayell, 2004). Developing countries also get closer to the consumerist society due to globalization, which makes goods and services more available there. Thus, such goods as cell phones, air conditioners and TV-sets are not considered to be luxuries any more. What is important, it does not affect only the nature and its resources. Consumption of highly-processed foods and the sedentary lifestyle leads to the epidemics of obesity. Around 65 percent of adults are overweight or obese in the US currently, which goes along with heart diseases, diabetes and other health problems (Mayell, 2004).
It is also important to note that while the expenditures for cosmetics and for pet food in the US and Europe are approximately $18 billion and $17 billion accordingly, the money required for eliminating hunger and providing fresh water for people make up $19 billion and $16 billion accordingly (Mayell, 2004). Therefore, there is a need to understand that in this case, it is better to spend this money on helping people who need food and water to survive.
However, the most important drawback of consumerism is its influence on the nature and environment. Consumption is associated with higher levels of production and requires larger energy inputs. Thus, the increased consumer demand leads to the imbalance of the planet, which reveals itself in the climate change, pollution and environmental degradation. It requires the extraction and use of such natural resources as wood, ore, water, and fossil fuels, which in its turn requires the construction of factories and plants, creating toxic byproducts and as a result polluting the environment. Moreover, higher levels of consumerism lead to another issue that creates environmental problems, namely the wate disposal.
Most people in the present days have a “throw away” mentality. It is estimated that Americans dispose more than 700 kilograms of garbage per person annually. Today, when something breaks down (a car, a TV-set, or a cell phone), people think that it is easier to buy a new product than to repair the old one. It happens due to many reasons, including an individual’s laziness and willingness to display the buying power. As a result, it leads to the increased amount of waste, which pollutes the environment. Moreover, industries contribute to this situation because there is much waste left by the local factories and plants, which can even be toxic. In addition, it is often dumped into oceans and rivers, creating bad life conditions for water animals, fish and water plants.
The most part of the buried waste eventually rot. However, some remains and lets up the smell, generating methane gas and greatly contributing to the greenhouse effects. Furthermore, plastics tend to produce toxic substances while being burnt, in this way polluting the air and even causing acid rains. Therefore, the amount of waste needs to be reduced and there are many available for everybody ways to do that. Buying durable products, repairing used items, avoiding excessive packaging and recycling waste will let use fewer resources and energy, save money and create less influence on the environment (“What are some ways to reduce waste?”, n.d.).
Another problem brought by the industrial development is the excessive usage of fossil fuels such as oils, coal and natural gas. Being widely used all over the world, they cause serious harm to the. Thus, the burning of fossil fuels is responsible for almost 80 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, which leads to such problems as climate change. Oil’s contribution to the environmental issues includes environmental degradation, caused by oil spills and extraction. However, the dependence of transportation on this fossil fuel makes it difficult to reduce its consumption. Coal, which is used for generating electricity, releases air pollutants and greenhouse gases when combusted. The mining process, in its turn, can lead to the destruction of vegetation and top-soil (Fossil fuels, n.d.).
One more problem that contributed to the environmental issues globally is the water consumption. Shortages of water are a great threat for many people globally in the present days. On average, the US uses around 345 billion gallons of fresh water a day, which is broken down in the following way. 39 percent of this water is used on irrigation, another 39 percent is referred to the electric power, 14 percent is used for the public supply, 6 percent goes to the industrial use, and 2 percent is used by other agricultures (Hutson et al, 2004). The environmental impacts of using this water vary from minimal to significant, depending on the location. Thus, such constructions as dams and diversions, created for water storage, flood protection and conveying water to the places of scarcity may lead to the eliminated populations of fish and other water animals. Groundwater mining, in its turn, may contribute to the destruction of ecosystems, drying up of rivers and other negative consequences (Hutson et al, 2004).
Water shortage can also be caused by famous producing companies, such as Coca-Cola Company. Namely, the state government in the south of India took Coca-Cola accountable for the water shortages in the region due to their bottling operations. The company was accused of draining the water and poisoning the land with waste sludge as high levels of lead and cadmium were found there. These elements are proved to be bad for the nervous system, kidneys and liver, and are able to cause cancer. Moreover, the committee’s report on this issue showed that the company is responsible for the water pollution, agricultural losses in the region, as well as for the loss of wages for people who had to abandon their crops due to the lack of water. As a result, the water depletion caused by Coca-Cola was assessed, and the company had to pay $48 million compensation to the Indian government (Brown, 2003).
Therefore, it is obvious that industrialization has become a cause of many environmental problems. However, industry does not cause these issues alone. Agricultural development and farming also contribute a lot to that, which will be examined further.
Contribution of Agricultural Practices
The development of agriculture also has a great influence on the environment. Partly, it is also reasoned by over-consumerism. Thus, the growing emphasis on the use of meat products leads to negative consequences. Due to the high demand on beef, chicken and pork, the livestock industry has moved to factory farming. There are different issues that display a negative consequence of farming on the environment, which vary depending on the certain agricultural practices employed in a region. Generally, climate change, deforestation, pollutants and soil degradation are partly caused by agriculture.
Globally, climate change and agriculture are considered to be interrelated processes. It happens due to the fact that agriculture contributes to the release of greenhouse gases and alters the Earth’s land cover. This may lead to changes in its ability to absorb or reflect heat and light. In its turn, these effects lead to the increase of radiative forcing. Moreover, agriculture is considered to be the major contributor to the increased concentration of methane in the atmosphere (Europa), which is referred to as the main cause of the climate change.
Deforestation is another issue that is partly caused by agriculture. Thus, the forests can be cut down for cattle ranching, farming and plantations. Other reasons for deforestation are building of new cities and towns. The lack of forests may become a contribution to global warming due to the fact that trees absorb carbon dioxide, and the deforestation causes this gas to remain in the atmosphere. This, in its turn, leads to the appearance of the greenhouse effect and to the global warming. Therefore, the lack of trees on the planet leads to serious environmental consequences.
In the meantime, agriculture also contributes to the soil degradation and erosion. It happens as a result of such mechanisms as water and wind erosion, as well as chemical and physical degradation. In addition, overgrazing of animals, plowing, row cropping and land-use conversion increase the risk of erosion. These issues lead to the following consequences: yield decrease, frequented natural disasters, such as mud floods, water quality deterioration, biodiversity decrease, animal extinction and so on.
Furthermore, the cattle breeding by factory farming also leads to negative consequences. Thus, production of eight ounces of beef requires more than six gallons of water, while 16 percent of the world’s methane is estimated to be produced by livestock (Mayell, 2004). Certainly, this is regarded as an issue for the environment. Moreover, then the chickens are bred, they are fed with hormones in order to produce a bigger amount of meat. The crowded conditions the birds live in lead to the spread of disease among them. To prevent this, they are also fed with antibiotics (Mayell, 2004). This, in its turn, lleads to the emergence of various diseases in people who consume such meat.
In addition to farming, overfishing is also becoming a serious issue in the present days. By definition, overfishing is the practice of commercial and non-commercial fishing that influences the number of species that breed and replenish the population. The increased intensity of fishing leads to the reduction of breeding stock levels in such a way that they are no longer able to support a sufficient quality of fish (“Why Is Overfishing a Problem?”, n.d.). Today, according to the data given by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, 52 percent of fish stocks is fully exploited, while 20 percent is moderately exploited. In the meantime, 7 percent of the fish is depleted, and 1 percent is recovering from depletion (“Why Is Overfishing a Problem?”, n.d.).
It is possible to say that we are losing an entire ecosystem because about 90 percent of the fish stocks worldwide are gone. Moreover, the fishing does not only affect the fish population. Up to 80 percent of the catch from fishermen’s web is represented by non-commercially viable fish species and since they are not required for sale, they are usually killed and discarded, which creates contaminated water ecosystems (“Why Is Overfishing a Problem?”, n.d.). Considering the presented numbers, it is impossible to doubt the overexploitation of marine biodiversity. This makes a huge influence on the environmental situation.
The above-mentioned problems lead to the decreased biodiversity. By definition, biodiversity is a measure of the health of ecosystems (Gaston and Spicer, 2004). The mass extinctions, caused by the environmental issues, lead to the reduction of biodiversity, which is considered to be a serious problem. Moreover, the diversity of all living beings depends on such factors as the air temperature, precipitation, soil quality, geography and the presence of other species in the same place. Biodiversity, in its turn, also makes its important contribution to the ecosystems. Thus, some of the human health issues, such as dietary health, nutrition, medical science and so on are influenced by it. It is also important for industrial materials, resources security, economic sustainability, and reducing the risk of disaster (Gaston and Spicer, 2004).
However, the decrease in biodiversity is being observed globally. Thus, many scientists say that around 30 percent of all species will become extinct within the next 50 years, which will greatly influence the environment. Currently, many species are already considered as rare or endangered. This occurs mostly due to the habitat destruction, overpopulation, deforestation, global warming, air and water pollution, overexploitation, erosion and other environmental issues.
One more issue that influences both the population of various species and the environment is the excessive use of pesticides and fertilizers in the agriculture. The most important problem here is the fact that over 90 percent of sprayed chemicals affect not only the target species, but also the non-target ones, as well as air, food and bottom sediments. Thus, they contaminate water and soil to a great level, in the meantime contributing to the global warming and the depletion of the ozone layer. It is well-known that pesticides represent a major threat to the bees’ population. Bees pollinate plants and, therefore, they are necessary for the whole environment. Today, the bees’ population decreased due to various issues and one of them is the use of pesticides, which kill them directly or via poisoned flowers. Moreover, these chemicals are also dangerous for humans and animals. It is important to remember that the effects of chemicals on the health may be caused not only by the direct inhale of their vapors, but also by consuming contaminated water, fruits, vegetables and other kinds of food. Moreover, the usage of pesticides as well as fertilizers is dangerous for the environment also due to the fact that they contribute to the greenhouse gases emission.
As a result, the misuse of natural resources is caused by commercial interests, ignorance on the necessity to preserve the resources, self-interest, population increase and biodiversity loss as well as the over-consumption of fossil fuels and other resources, deforestation, use of chemicals, incorrect waste disposal and other reasons. Certainly, considering these issues, it is necessary to admit that the human activities have a great influence on the environment. Therefore, the future of the nature and its resources is in the hands of people, who have a choice to either stick to the usual everyday life, which will eventually result in the complete destruction of the environment, or to alter it and start using the Earth’s resources wisely.
First of all, since it is obvious that most of the environmental problems are caused by over-consumption (waste disposal, excessive meat and fish production, and so on), it is necessary to change the consumption system. People need to understand that the strife for newer things does not give a real satisfaction and deteriorates the environment. People have to be able to distinguish wants from needs and buy only as many products as they really need. We need to change the “throw-away” mentality and repair the devices, tools and other products instead of getting rid of them and buying new ones. Waste recycling is also important, so there is a necessity to buy beverages and food in recyclable containers (“What are some ways to reduce waste?”, n.d.). In addition, in order to reduce the water consumption, it is required to improve water efficiency on lawns and fix leaks in time.
The most effective way to save the natural resources is to transfer from exhaustible resources to the renewable ones and to use sun energy, tides, waves, rain and wind power instead of oil, coal and other fossil fuels. Even though it is expensive, it will be much better for the environment. It can help reduce air and water pollution, soil contamination, destruction of natural habitats and other issues. Using renewable resources can be available anywhere, even in rural and remote areas. Biogas and biofuel have also been invented and can be used instead of usual fuels, creating less threat for the environment. In addition, what is important, these resources will never be exhausted on the planet.
It is extremely important to take measures to encourage producers and consumers to adopt environmentally friendly behavior. People need to understand that if we do not respect the Earth, we will lose all the natural resources and as a result, our lives. The nature will be able to survive and even flourish if people become extinct. However, the humanity will not survive if the nature dies. As it goes in an old Native American proverb, “Only when the last tree has died, and the last river has been poisoned, and the last fish has been caught, will we realize that we cannot eat money.” We need to remember that we have to live in harmony with nature instead of destroying it, due to a reason that we are a part of it. Moreover, we are not the last ones who inhabit this planet, and our children will live on it after us. Therefore, it is our duty to leave it livable for them.