Conservation of resources
Management of the human use of natural resources to provide the maximum benefit to current generations while maintaining capacity to meet the needs of future generations. Conservation includes both the protection and rational use of natural resources.
Earth's natural resources are either nonrenewable, such as minerals, oil, gas, and coal, or renewable, such as water, timber, fisheries, and agricultural crops. The combination of growing populations and increasing levels of resource consumption is degrading and depleting the natural resource base. The world's population stood at 850 million at the onset of the industrial age. The global population has grown to ...view middle of the document...
Indeed, new technologies have often reduced pressure on these resources even before they are fully depleted. Fiber optics, for example, has substituted for copper in many electrical applications, and it is anticipated that renewable sources of energy, such as photovoltaic cells, wind power, and hydropower, will ultimately take the place of fossil fuels when stocks are depleted. Renewable resources, in contrast, can be seriously depleted if they are subjected to excessive harvest or otherwise degraded, and no substitutes are available for, say, clean water or food products such as fish or agricultural crops. Moreover, when the misuse of biological resources causes the complete extinction of a species or the loss of a particular habitat, there can be no substitute for that diversity of life.
“Conservation” is sometimes used synonymously with “protection.” More appropriately, however, it refers to the protection and sustainable use of resources. Critical elements of the effective conservation of natural resources include sustainable resource management, establishment of protected areas, and ex situ (off-site) conservation.
Some of the most pressing resource conservation problems stem directly from the mismanagement of important biological resources. Many marine fisheries are being depleted, for example, because of significant overcapacity of fishing vessels and a failure of resource managers to closely regulate the harvest. In theory, a renewable resource stock could be harvested at its maximum sustainable yield and maintain constant average annual productivity in perpetuity. In practice, however, fishery harvest levels are often set too high and, in many regions, enforcement is weak, with the result that fish stocks are driven to low levels. A similar problem occurs in relation to the management of timber resources. Short-term economic incentives encourage cutting as many trees as quickly as possible.
A number of steps are being taken to improve resource conservation in managed ecosystems. (1) Considerable scientific research has been undertaken to better understand the natural variability and productivity of economically important resources. (2) Many national and local governments have enacted regulations for resource management practices on public and private lands. (3) In some of regions, programs recently have been established either to involve local communities who have a greater incentive to manage for long-term production more directly in resource management decisions or to return to them resource ownership rights. (4) Efforts are under way to manage resources on a regional or...