As the human population increases and economies develop, we’re using more natural resources, materials the earth provides that enable economic gain. These substances include minerals, forests, water, fertile soil and more. In many cases, we’re using these resources faster than nature can replenish them. According to Global Footprint Network, we used a year’s worth of resources in seven months in 2018.
While the day when the earth is completely dry and desolate is probably still far off, we’re already seeing some of the effects of resource overuse. We need to act now to protect our planet for ourselves and future generations.
Conserving natural resources is a broad topic, but here are 10 things we can do to start protecting the earth’s resources.
1. Make Electricity Use More Efficient
We use natural resources, such as coal and natural gas, to produce the electricity we use in homes, offices, stores and elsewhere. We can conserve some of that electricity simply by turning things off and unplugging them when we’re not using them and by using more energy-efficient appliances and light bulbs.
Advanced technologies, such as smart thermostats, also help conserve energy by automatically turning appliances on and off as needed.
2. Use More Renewable Energy
Resources like wind and sunlight, however, can also be used to generate electricity, but these resources are renewable. That means once they are used, they become available again quickly. While using fossil fuels to generate electricity burns up finite resources, using renewables does not.
Renewable energy also doesn’t release greenhouse gases, which are causing climate change.
3. Promote Sustainable Fishing Rules
One-third of the world’s fish populations are overexploited or severely depleted.
Reduced fish populations can alter entire ecosystems and hurt coastal economies that depend on fishing. Introducing new laws — and ensuring existing ones stay in place — that protect at-risk fish populations and ecosystems is crucial to preventing these problems.
At the consumer level, buying only sustainably sourced fish can help.
4. Avoid Single-Use Plastics
In 2016, global plastics production was approximately 335 million metric tons, and about half of that was used to make single-use products, according to the Earth Day Network.
Reducing our plastic use helps us avoid the use of the resources needed to make plastic and prevents plastic waste from harming the natural environment. Substituting single-use plastics like plastic grocery bags, utensils and straws with durable items can help.
5. Drive Less
Gasoline is a product made from crude oil, a finite natural resource and fossil fuel. Car manufacturing also requires many different kinds of natural resources, includes rubber and various metals.
You can conserve natural resources by not owning a car, owning a more fuel-efficient car or driving less. Walking, bicycling taking public transportation and carpooling are all excellent alternatives to driving.
6. Recycle More and Improve Recycling Systems
In addition to switching away from single-use plastics, we can also recycle more to help with the plastic problem. Check with your local government or recycling company to see what you can recycle curbside where you live. For other items, you may be able to find a business in your community that can help recycle items.
Improving our recycling systems can also help. Researchers can find new, more efficient ways to recycle, local governments can make recycling easier and businesses can implement recycling programs for their employees.
7. Use Sustainable Agriculture Practices
Agriculture is necessary but extremely resource-intensive. There are, however, ways to farm more sustainably.
Rotating crops and planting cover crops helps to keep soil healthy. Using fewer chemicals and integrating biological pest control and natural fertilizers can help, as well. Precision agriculture, which uses technology to optimize resource use, can help farmers use less fertilizer, pesticides, water and other inputs.
8. Reduce Food Waste
Approximately a third of the food produced for human consumption every year gets wasted or lost. Because of all the resources required to grow, transport and prepare the food, this is a huge waste. Keeping track of the food you have, planning meals and shopping trips ahead of time and properly storing food can help reduce food waste at home.
9. Promote Sustainable Forest Management
Forests are full of natural resources. The ecosystem services they provide are valued at approximately $33 trillion annually, and about a quarter of the world’s population depends on them to make a living. Yet, we’re destroying forests faster than the earth can replenish them — at a rate of about 60 acres each minute.
Sustainable forest management practices can help prevent this. These practices mimic the natural destruction and regeneration patterns of nature and involve aspects such as establishing protected areas, create a harvesting plan and using logging techniques that are easier on the natural environment.
The Forest Stewardship Council and the Rainforest Alliance Certified certify businesses and products, so consumers can tell which ones are created using sustainable forestry management.
10. Treat Wastewater Before Discharging It
Water is, of course, crucial to survival, but more than 2 billion people don’t have clean drinking water at home.
Part of the reason for this is that some industrial plants and wastewater treatment plants, especially in developing countries, discharge water into streams and rivers without adequately treating it. It’s crucial that wastewater discharge regulations are enforced if they exist, and that they get introduced that if they don’t yet exist.
Preventing natural resource depletion is vital for the environment, economy and the health and well-being of the human population. We use a vast range of natural resources, but there are even more ways to conserve them.
This is a guest post written by Megan Ray Nichols.
Megan Ray Nichols is a science writer and the editor of Schooled By Science. She enjoys discussing scientific discoveries and exploring the world around her. Follow her on twitter @nicholsrmegan.