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Resources Are Not Something We Consume Like Sweets

I keep reading that we are using up the world’s resources at an unprecedented rate. We are selfishly consuming and there will be nothing left for future generations. But in fact the opposite is true.

What is a resource? It’s a raw material we can turn into something more useful. We can turn wood into paper. We can turn land into food. We can turn coal into electricity. Resources are fixed and finite, surely? Wrong!

It has famously been said that the Stone Age didn’t come to an end because people ran out of stone. Instead early humans learned how to make better tools out of metal. Hunter gatherers didn’t stop hunting and gathering because they ran out of berries, or hunted all the rabbits. They developed farming and settled down. People didn’t stop using wood fires for heating and cooking because they chopped down all the trees, and we didn’t phase out steam engines because we ran out of coal.

At each stage, a new resource became available. Something that was previously unknown, unavailable or unusable suddenly became a valuable commodity. In other words, key developments in technology created new resources. The quantity of available resources has continued to expand throughout human history.

Resources are still expanding today. It’s true that there’s pressure on land, and that oil is becoming more expensive. But resources like computing power, medicines and knowledge are becoming more and more abundant.

The reason why the total forested area in Europe and North America is increasing year by year is because we no longer need to burn the trees.

One of the most important things to recognise is that each technological breakthrough depended on an existing resource. Water power was needed for the mining revolution that gave us coal. Coal-powered steam engines were used to extract oil. Electricity from burning oil was essential for the development of nuclear power.

The lesson is simple: we have to use today’s resources to create new and more abundant resources for the future. Resources are not something we consume like sweets, but can be turned into something greater. We can create resources as well as consume them.

If you agree with me, you’ll understand why the worst thing we could do for our children and grandchildren would be to slow or halt technological advancement. We need to multiply the available resources so that we can share out more for everyone.


About the Author:

Steve Morris studied Physics at the University of Oxford and used to do research in nuclear physics. These days he runs an internet company and writes about consumer technology at S21.com.

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  • I agree with you fully, aside from the statement “The reason why forested area in Europe and North America is increasing year by year is because we no longer need to burn the trees.” One of the main reasons why the northern hemisphere’s forested areas are increasing is because much more of the deforestation has been occurring in South America and Africa in the last 20 years, due to corporate control and less stringent environmental policies in those countries. There is plenty of information available about deforestation online. Maybe read the data on other parts of the world before jumping to such a conclusion, so one is less likely to be accused of maintaining a Euro-centric point of view.

  • Properly educated children are the key to the future of environmental protection. The Little Wave is a beautifully illustrated environmental children’s story, written in rhyme, that kids between the ages of 4 [read to] and 10 [read themselves] will find engaging, entertaining and educational. http://www.thelittlewave.com

    The lack of appreciation of our planet and disrespect for the natural world is front-page news regarding global warming, clean water shortages, garbage accumulation, depletion of natural resources, etc. Human behavior must change if we are to continue to inhabit the Earth into the future. “Nature is patient, but time is running out.”

    Short Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EKDUFwGJAeo&feature=youtu.be

  • Pingback: Scarcity and abundance | Blog Blogger Bloggest()

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