Natural resources are woven into every aspect of our lives. From the air we breathe to the water we drink, we rely on Earth's natural resources to survive. We use some of these resources in their natural state for food, shelter and clothing; others become products that enhance our standard of living. Using energy, plant and other natural resources wisely can help humans live more frugally and more in harmony with Earth.
Fuels of Life
The electricity that runs appliances and the gasoline that fuels vehicles begin as natural resources. Power plants turn coal, wind and moving water into electricity, while refineries convert oil and natural gas into gasoline and propane, respectively. You heat and cool your home, cook food, travel and illuminate your world with these energy resources.
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An astounding 44 percent of household costs relate to the energy used by computers, television sets and other electronic devices. Save money by unplugging them after turning them off, and take advantage of natural resources such as sunlight instead of relying on electric lights during the day. A home energy audit can identify ways to save money and conserve natural resources; for example, weatherization can cut heating costs by 35 percent.
Water is a natural resource essential to the survival of all life on Earth. It comprises nearly 75 percent of the human body and about 71 percent of Earth's surface. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that an individual uses between 80 and 100 gallons of water every day in the United States. You use water in the bathroom for personal hygiene, in the kitchen to cook and wash dishes, and outside the home to wash your car, maintain your landscaping and for recreation. Agriculture requires water to grow the food we eat.
Water for bathing, cooking and cleaning also has costs associated with energy-producing natural resources. Green Arkansas reports that at least 85 percent of the energy used to wash clothes goes toward heating the water. Monitoring water usage can help your household budget.
One of Earth's most abundant natural resources — plants — provide the breath of life, removing carbon dioxide from the air and replacing it with the oxygen humans need to breathe. That means if you have plants in your home, you may not need air fresheners. In many other ways, plants lie at the center of home life: Trees provide wood for homes and furniture. Cotton and bamboo plants become home furnishings and clothing. Every envelope in your mailbox and dollar bill in your wallet has a natural resource connection because paper manufacturing uses plants.
Without plants, <atarget="_blank" href="http://sactree.com/pages/302"> </atarget="_blank">humans would starve to death. All of nature's food chains begin with the food plants produce through the process of photosynthesis that uses sunlight to convert carbon dioxide and water into simple sugars. Even carnivores — meat-eaters — depend on prey animals that feed on plants. Most people eat fruits and vegetables daily, satisfy their sweet tooth with sugar, and season their favorite dishes with spices and herbs.
Plants also make life more enjoyable. Flowers give perfumes their scent and their beauty can make a stressful day more tolerable. The beverages people enjoy, such as wine, champagne and cocktails, all have plant origins. The smell of eucalyptus helps cold sufferers to breathe, while aloe soothes sunburns. In fact, 40 percent of the prescription drugs we use are plant-based, such as aspirin, which is derived from willow bark, and the malaria treatment, quinine, which is derived from the bark of cinchona trees. Since 1960, the National Cancer Institute and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have had a plant collection program to look for anti-tumor compounds. The breast and ovarian cancer drug paclitaxel, derived from the Pacific yew tree, came out of this program.
Hard and Soft Resources
Buildings you enter, pathways you stroll and roads you drive are made with natural resources such as rock, clay and asphalt. You wear jewelry crafted from gold, platinum and gemstones, and buy goods with coins made from nickel, copper and silver. An array of manufactured items are made from minerals, another natural resource. Powder, for example, contains talc and dry wall contains gypsum. The steel for cars, trains and equipment needs iron ore, coal and limestone, while the stainless steel in your kitchen requires the mineral chromite. Sand and other minerals provide the ingredients used to make windows and eyeglasses that let us look out on a world rich in natural resources.
- Geology.com: Chromite
- Arkansas: Ten Simple Ways to Save Money, Energy and Help Preserve Natural Resources
- The Corning Museum of Glass: Chemistry of Glass
- Livescience: Photos of the World's Largest Asphalt Lake
- U.S. Department of Energy: Earth Day Recap: Sharing Tips for Improving Your Home’s Energy Efficiency
- U.S.Geological Survey: Water Questions & Answers
- Norfolk Botanical Garden: Plants & People
- Sacramento Tree Foundation: Photosynthesis and Food Chains
- PBS: Plant Medicines