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Exploitation of Natural Resources

Exploitation of Natural Resources

Have you ever been driving along the motorway and noticed a huge power plant in the middle of nowhere, releasing seemingly endless amounts of fumes? These are examples of energy resources and are necessary for countries to provide the energy to light up cities at night and heat our homes. However, there’s bad news: these resources we depend on are finite and non-renewable, so they will run out someday. Today we are going to cover some of the major non-renewable energy resources, how they are being exploited, and some renewable alternatives that are offering possible solutions.

Causes of Exploitation of Natural Resources

The exploitation of natural resources occurs when natural and finite resources are used for the purpose of economic growth.

Let's first look at the factors that lead to the exploitation of natural resources:

  • Overpopulation: an ever-increasing population (around 9 billion in the current day) demands more and more energy from natural resources.
  • Deforestation: timber is an essential construction material, so forests worldwide are destroyed and left bare.
  • Intensive agriculture: heavy machinery and transport needed for intensive agriculture require masses of fossil fuels to be burnt.
  • Consumerism: the consumerist nature of modern society means mass production warehouses and factories need to produce huge amounts of energy to produce sufficient goods.
  • Lack of energy conservation: vehicle use, electricity, and heating use masses of energy, often harnessed from fossil fuels.

Ways to Prevent Exploitation of Natural Resources:

Let's now consider how we can prevent the exploitation of natural resources:

  • Transition to renewable sources: this will be covered in more detail below but it is important that humans begin to use renewable energy sources as an alternative to fossil fuels.
  • Oil and metal ores: the extraction of oil and metal ores is environmentally damaging and a costly process, so needs to be reduced.
  • Deforestation and afforestation: forests are often unable to grow back after being logged, so renewable construction materials need to be used and areas must be selectively chosen (less productive) for human development.
  • Individuals: on an individual level, we should strive to burn fewer fossil fuels by using less electricity, heating, and fossil fuels and conserve water wherever possible.
  • Wetlands: marshy and coastal wetland areas are essential in maintaining nutrient flow and fertility in soils. These areas are easy targets for changes in land use (human development), and this needs to be stopped.

Exploitation of Natural Resources Examples

Synonymous with any environmental debate, fossil fuels are now renowned for their negative impacts on the environment, ecosystems, and human life. Fossil fuels are produced from the compression of organic matter (dead plants and animals) over millions of years. The three types of fossil fuels are oil, gas, and coal.

Fossil fuels do renew in a sense, but this million(s) year timescale is far too large for them to be considered renewable.

Oil

Oil is a resource found under the ground and is the reason behind the extreme wealth of Middle Eastern countries with immeasurable oil reserves. Enormous oil rigs are pumped with heavy machinery (drills, rigs, tankers) all over the globe. Oil is found anywhere from under arid deserts, frozen tundra, and even at the bottom of the sea. Extracting oil is an expensive process, but the rewards far outweigh the costs. Oil reserves around the world are being heavily exploited though, as technological innovations have allowed organisations to find oil reserves in the most remote places, meaning a world with no oil is now a real possibility.

The Middle East is home to vast oil reserves which many countries have gained their enormous wealth from (Qatar, Saudi Arabia).

Gas

Like oil, gas is found in the ground. Rigs and gas pumps are implemented to extract this indispensable fuel for human use. Gas is what allows humans to travel around the world. Most cars, trains, and planes all require petroleum gas for fuel and are a huge part of most people’s lives, especially in developed countries.

Coal

Coal is another fossil fuel that is found underground on land. Coal mines were prevalent all over England after the Industrial Revolution and provided millions of workers with jobs. Coal is very cheap and simple energy resource, but safely extracting it and burning it can be very dangerous for workers. This means there are few coal mines in modern times (some developing countries still depend on them). Coal was the first fossil fuel to be heavily exploited, as coal chimneys have been round for hundreds of years.

Environmental impacts of fossil fuels

Let’s have a look at the environmental impacts of using fossil fuels:

  • The combustion of fossil fuels releases carbon dioxide (CO2) as a by-product. CO2 is a greenhouse gas, meaning that it will add to the greenhouse effect of the atmosphere and warm the Earth’s surface.

  • Global warming has wide-spanning consequences for ecosystems and humans. Rising sea levels, melting ice sheets, droughts, increased precipitation, and more frequent extreme weather are a result of increased temperatures.

  • The ocean absorbs 30% of CO2 emissions, which causes ocean acidification. Lower carbonate saturation resulting from acidification severely impairs the ability of calcifying organisms to build their protective shells.

  • The incomplete combustion of fossil fuels will produce many dangerous by-products. Sulphur dioxide and nitrous oxide emissions can react with water vapour in clouds and form acid rain, which will damage habitats, pollute waters, and corrode buildings.

  • Mercury is released during incomplete coal combustion. Inhalation of mercury can cause brain defects in humans. Mercury can also reach aquatic ecosystems and bioaccumulate, which affects ecosystem health and the quality of fish catches.

  • Humans are especially susceptible to the by-products released from incomplete gas combustion in car exhaust pipes. Metal particulates can clog respiratory systems and can be mutagenic, while carbon monoxide is a colourless, odourless gas which binds to haemoglobin and restricts blood transport around the body.

  • Large sites of fossil fuel exploitation will have direct impacts too: habitats will be cleared and fragmented to make way for drilling sites and power plants.

The greenhouse effect is the process by which greenhouse gases (CO2, methane, water vapour) absorb infrared radiation and re-emit it in all directions. Therefore, some the IR radiation reflected or re-emitted from the Earth’s surface will be sent back towards the Earth and warm the planet.

Ocean acidification concerns any rise in the pH of the ocean’s chemistry. When carbon dioxide dissolves into the oceans it will dissociate to form carbonic acid and protons. The influx of protons will strip carbonate molecules of protons themselves and form the less useful bicarbonate.

Calcifying organisms are species which require the availability of carbonates to survive. They will absorb these carbonates and use them to form their shells and exoskeletons, secreting calcium carbonate in the process.

Fracking

Fracking is a recently discovered method of energy production. Shale rocks are used in fracking, which involves the pumping of sandy, chemical mixtures at extremely high temperatures and pressures. The rock is shattered under immense forces and releases Shale gas, which can be captured and used for energy. The environmental impacts of fracking are not completely known, but tremors and earthquakes from heavy machinery can disturb nearby ecosystems and human populations.

Alternative Energy Sources

Over the last 30 years, worldwide finite resource exploitation has started to raise serious concerns about the sustainability of producing energy from these methods. In recent years, these concerns have developed into a global realisation that the environmental impacts of fossil fuels are killing our planet. Governments and organisations have started to explore alternative methods of energy production. The key with these methods is that they are renewable, so the materials and forces needed will not deplete over time.

Solar Power

Solar power is energy harnessed from radiation from our Sun. The Sun is not going to stop shining and emitting solar energy anytime soon, so there are no worries about where the energy is coming from. Solar panels are suitable for homeowners because of their size and the fact they can be installed onto roofs. Solar panels work amazingly in tropical regions that receive the sun all year round but are less effective in colder, cloudier locations.

Solar panel batteries must be replaced after roughly 30 years, but there is currently no environmentally friendly way of doing this.

Biofuel

Biofuel is the use of plants to produce energy. Under certain conditions (Suitable light, temperature, nutrients, pH), some species of plants will produce ethanol. The combustion of ethanol will release energy. Wood pellets are extracted from trees after deforestation and can be burnt to release energy from the breakdown of the organic matter. The sustainability of biofuel is based on the fact these trees and plants will absorb the same amount of carbon dioxide that is released from the combustion of the ethanol they produce or their organic material.

Wind Power

Wind turbines allow the force from wind currents to be converted to usable energy. These contraptions are very environmentally friendly as they do not produce any waste and can produce energy for decades when properly maintained. They are much more effective in coastal and especially windy areas that are not blocked by land masses.

Wind turbines emit electrical currents that can negatively impact animals that sense the Earth’s magnetic field and use it for navigation.

Geothermal Energy

Geothermal power concerns harnessing the abundance of energy released from the Earth’s core. This is done by implementing geothermal pumps into the ground that convert heat energy to electricity. Regions with high tectonic plate activity will receive much energy from the Earth’s core, so geothermal pumps are most effective here. However, they are extremely expensive to construct and maintain, so thorough calculations of energy production and costs must be done before any geothermal energy operations.

Hydropower

Hydropower stations work much in the same way as wind turbines. They will use turbines to harness energy from the forces of water currents and produce electricity. These stations are environmentally friendly in the sense they do not create any waste but will obstruct the natural flow of water that the hydrological cycle depends on and disturb aquatic ecosystems.

Energy resource exploitation concerns the use of non-renewable resources for energy production. These include coal, gas, oil, and fracking.

Exploitation of Natural Resources - Key takeaways

  • Fossil fuels (coal, gas, oil) are not only a finite resource but also have devastating impacts on the environment as they release carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas) into the atmosphere.
  • Carbon dioxide will contribute to the greenhouse effect, which increases the amount of infrared radiation reaching the Earth’s surface and causes global warming.
  • Consequences of global warming include rising sea levels, melting ice sheets, droughts, and increased precipitation.
  • Incomplete fossil fuel combustion will also release dangerous by-products like sulphur dioxide and nitrous oxide (which cause acid rain) and dangerous particulates such as carbon monoxide, soot, hydrocarbons, metal particulates.
  • Countries are now realising we must switch to renewable energy sources for a sustainable future. Examples of these include solar power, geothermal energy, biofuel, hydropower, and wind power.

Frequently Asked Questions about Exploitation of Natural Resources

The exploitation of natural resources occurs when natural and finite resources are used for the purpose of economic growth. 

  • Overpopulation
  • Deforestation 
  • Intensive agriculture
  • Consumerism 
  • Lack of energy conservation

Using renewable energy sources for economic gain.

Transition to renewable resources, reduce usage of oil and metal ores, stopping deforestation and wetland destruction and making changes at an individual level. 

Global warming, ocean acidification, bioaccumulation of mercury and habitat destruction amongst others.

Final Exploitation of Natural Resources Quiz

Question

Define habitat.

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Answer

A habitat is the place that an organism lives inside a wider ecosystem.

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Question

Habitat size is negatively correlated with the size of the organism.

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Answer

False

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Question

What is acid mine drainage, and when does it occur?

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Answer

Acid mine drainage occurs when sulphide ores become exposed to water and air, forming sulphuric acid. This can seep from mines and waste rock into waterways.

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Question

What is the function of power stations?

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Answer

Power stations convert solid fuel into energy.

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Question

Fossil fuel power stations emit pollutants. What problems does this cause?

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Answer

Pollution from fossil fuel power stations leads to stunted plant growth and respiratory problems in animals, especially birds.

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Question

Define habitat fragmentation.

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Answer

Habitat fragmentation is the process where a large, continuous habitat is divided into smaller, isolated habitats.

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Question

What is the primary effect of habitat destruction?

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Answer

The primary effect of habitat destruction is biodiversity loss.

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Question

How can habitat destruction affect pollination?

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Answer

Many plants require animal pollinators. If they are lost due to habitat destruction, the plants will be severely affected. 

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Question

Define food security.

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Answer

Food security is the state of having reliable access to a nutritious and affordable diet.

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Question

How can habitat destruction affect the climate?

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Answer

Habitat destruction reduces a habitat's capacity to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

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Question

How does habitat destruction affect pests?

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Answer

Plant diversity supports the natural enemies of pests. If this diversity is lost by habitat destruction, pests will be able to spread easily.

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Question

Name some examples of activities that use energy.

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Answer

  • Agriculture

  • Manufacturing

  • Transport

  • Cooking

  • Leisure

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Question

How can we prevent habitat destruction without sacrificing energy usage?

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Answer

Establish restoration projects

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Question

What does a suitable habitat need?

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Answer

A suitable habitat needs the correct amounts of shelter, food, water, and space.

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Question

How do hydroelectric power schemes affect habitats?

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Answer

Hydroelectric power schemes flood river banks, limit fish from swimming upstream, and increase water temperatures.

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Question

Define non-renewable energy resources.

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Answer

Non-renewable energy resources are fuels that cannot replenish themselves.

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Question

Define energy reserves.

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Answer

Energy reserves are deposits of natural resources that are used as fuels, such as fossil fuels and uranium.

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Question

Why are energy reserves being depleted?

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Answer

They are being used up faster than they can replenish themselves.

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Question

Define fossil fuels.

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Answer

Fossil fuels are carbon-rich fuels formed from dead plants and animals over millions of years.

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Question

How much of the world's electricity comes from coal?

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Answer

38%

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Question

How long will reserves of coal last?

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Answer

Reserves of coal will last until 2090.

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Question

How much transportation energy comes from crude oil?

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Answer

96%

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How long will reserves of crude oil last?

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Answer

Reserves of crude oil will last until 2052.

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How much of the world's electricity is produced using natural gas?

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Answer

23%

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Question

How long will reserves of natural gas last?

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Answer

Reserves of natural gas will last until 2060.

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Question

How much of the UK's energy comes from nuclear power?

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Answer

21%

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Question

When are uranium reserves expected to run out?

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Answer

Uranium reserves are expected to run out by the early 2100s.

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Question

Choose three renewable energy resources.

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Answer

Solar power

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Question

What is the primary component of natural gas?

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Answer

Methane (CH4) is the primary component of natural gas.

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Question

Which country has the most oil reserves?

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Answer

Venezuela

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