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What Are Renewable Natural Resources?

written by: Don Shepard•edited by: Niki Fears•updated: 6/29/2009

Creating a sustainable society demands the use of renewable natural resources. So exactly what are these resources and can we maintain current lifestyles through using them?

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    Defining Renewable

    Defining the term renewable is in theory very simple. Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary does so as, “capable of being replaced by natural ecological cycles or sound management practices.” The same dictionary defines a natural resource as “industrial materials and capacities (as mineral deposits and waterpower) supplied by nature.” In terms of real world applications of renewable natural resources the line sometimes blurs between the resource and the service it supplies to humans. Increasing awareness of the fact that most resources are finite has brought more focus on renewables. With this in mind, taking a step back to consider exactly what they are and their importance seems a productive venture for all of us to undertake.

    The University of Delaware Cooperative Extension website states “We consider renewable natural resources to be: animals, insects, reptiles, plants, trees, water, grass, solar and wind energy.” These sources are used both in the process of creating goods and as materials in the goods themselves. Energy sources such as certain methods of geothermal, hydro, solar and bio-fuel are considered renewable. The materials that make the technologies which allow us to use the energy may not be.

    Taking advantage of things that can be replenished by nature or through adequate use means we do not have to continue looking for alternative methods to provide the good or service they are supplying us with. It also means less stress on the planet's natural cycles, which when interrupted can create endless problems through multiple complex feed backs.

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    Time is Critical

    Considering the speed at which resources can be extracted, harnessed and used, the time it takes for them to replenish themselves is critical. In a mythical land where the planet could produce oil overnight, as opposed to hundreds of thousands or millions of years, even it would be considered renewable. Animals can be rendered extinct if their biomes or they themselves are depleted faster than they can be replenished. Approaching the subject this way makes it apparent that speed of human use is what makes non-renewable resources; they do not often occur naturally.

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    Is Water Renewable?

    It may be surprising to some that things such as water are considered to be replenishable in an acceptable time frame. Water is a good example of a substance that is never depleted; it only changes forms. A resource may be abundant around the globe yet rare in a particular region as is the case with water. Alternatively one can be globally scarce yet plentiful in an area. When considering sustainable practices, where the materials are found must be accounted for. Thus when answering the question is water renewable, your answer may depend on the region in which you live.

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    Endless Use of Natural Resources?

    Increasing concern about the sustainability of current lifestyles including consumption of goods and energy has facilitated interest in using resources which will not run out and cause environmental harm. Regions around the world have developed renewable portfolio standards to usher in the use of cleaner energies. Alternative sustainable technologies and ideas are being implemented to decrease unsustainable building practices. Managing these programs correctly and diligence in environmental protection bodes well for the potential of renewables. The proverbial elephant in the living room concerning a sustainable society is can developed nations continue to consume at current levels without exhausting essential resources?