Natural Resources & Ecosystem Services

Natural Resources & Ecosystem Services -

Natural resources exist in two spheres:

  1. The biosphere, from which we harvest plant and animal life and consume fresh water and clean air, and
  2. The lithosphere, from which we extract fossil fuels, minerals, and other raw materials.

Natural resources are generally considered either renewable or nonrenewable, depending on whether or how quickly they are regenerated by the earth’s biological, geological and chemical processes. Renewable resources include forests, fisheries, and living soil, whereas non-renewable resources include oil, iron, and gold. The term ecosystem service refers to the ability of Earth’s natural systems to create benefits such as water supply, water purification, waste treatment and detoxification, air cleansing, regional and local climate regulation, erosion regulation, natural hazard protection, wild fisheries and aesthetic enjoyment. To the growing alarm of scientific observers worldwide, the exploits of human industry have begun to threaten nature’s capacity for resource renewal and the provision of ecosystem services. Here are a few of their observations:

  • Rainforests once covered 14% of the earth's land surface; they now cover 6%.
  • 40% of US rivers and 46% of US lakes have become too polluted for fishing, swimming, or aquatic life.
  • US oil production peaked in 1971 and many experts believe worldwide production will peak sometime around the year 2010.
  • Since 1750, the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide has increased by about 32%, primarily due to the combustion of fossil fuels and land use changes.
  • Earth’s average surface temperature has increased by about 1°F; most of the warming over the last 50 years is likely due to human activity.
  • 20% of the world’s coral reefs have been lost and another 20% have been degraded.
  • The species extinction rate in the past few hundred years is around 1,000 times higher than rates typical over the planet’s history; 10% - 30% of mammal, bird, and amphibian species are threatened with extinction.
  • Worldwide water withdrawals have nearly tripled since 1900 to an average of 700 cubic meters per person per year.
  • Snow cover has decreased by about 10% since the late 1960s according to satellite data.

Buying Guide

Conscientious consumption describes an ethic of purchasing that minimizes environmental degradation associated with the manufacture, use, and disposal of goods. Conscientious consumers ask three questions when considering a purchase:

  1. Where does it come from?
  2. How is it used?
  3. Where will it end up?

The preservation of our natural resources and ecosystem services increasingly depends on decisions made by consumers. Here are some ways to vote with your dollars for positive change:

  • Buy products made with post-consumer recycled material.
  • Buy organic and/or local.
  • Buy products that are biodegradable or compostable.
  • Buy products with reduced chemical content.
  • Buy products with meaningful third-party green certifications.
  • Purchase renewable energy.
  • Offset carbon emissions.

Best Practices

Preserving natural resources and ecosystem services will take the combined efforts of numerous actors including consumers, manufacturers and governments. The following best practices represent the most promising strategies for positive change:

  • Design products and services from “cradle to cradle”.
  • Use the precautionary principle.
  • Reduce & reuse.
  • Recycle & compost.
  • Utilize environmental management systems & reporting.

Sources & Links