Managing Our Natural Resources, 6e, Camp - 4

4

UNIt I

Introduction

For the purposes of this book, we will use the ecological approach. Natural
resources can be defined as all those things that have not been created by humans
with which people come into contact and that can be used to perform any useful
function. This includes all energy forms that can be harnessed by human ingenuity. It includes objects, creatures, and materials that can be moved, shaped, built
upon, built with, or manipulated for any useful purpose. It includes those things
that inspire, relax, or strengthen humans as individuals or groups.
Clearly, this approach covers too many areas for any single book to deal with
in detail, so we must limit our discussion. We will look at only those natural
resources used on a large scale and in an organized way. These include our soil,
water, fish and wildlife, forests, metals and minerals, fossil fuels, other major
energy sources, and recreational resources.
This leads us to a working definition of natural resources: Natural resources
are objects, materials (including soil, water, and air), creatures, or energy that are
found in nature and that can be used by humans.

Usefulness Changes
This is a difficult concept, but the potential of an item to "be used by humans"
is not constant. Usefulness changes over time and from one place or society to
another. Many factors affect our definition of usefulness. Religion affects Hindu
attitudes toward cattle, for instance. Custom affects most Western attitudes
toward dogs as a food source. Technology and science affect our use of outer space
as a communication medium.
In particular, the usefulness of many resources changes over time as our science and technology improve. For instance, the natural resources humans have
used to provide light have changed many times. For thousands of years, humans
burned wood to provide light at night. Later, people learned that wood torches
could be dipped into animal fat and made to burn longer, and so fat from animals
became a source of light. Still later, people learned that whale oil could be used
to burn in lamps, and whales became a natural resource used to produce light.
Over a century ago, we learned that petroleum could be refined to produce
products that could be burned to produce light, and a new natural resource was
born. We learned to capture natural gas and use that to generate light. In the twentieth century, falling water and nuclear energy (among other things) were harnessed
to produce electricity to provide light. None of these resources was new. Animal
fat, whale oil, petroleum, natural gas, falling water, and nuclear energy have existed
all along, but their usefulness has changed because developments in our technology
have meant that we could use resources that have existed all along in new ways.
Many of the things we consider to be resources today were not resources at all
in earlier times. Nuclear energy, gasoline, most metal alloys, electricity from falling water, deep groundwater-these and many more-were not natural resources
when the first Native Americans settled in this land, or even later when the first
permanent European settlers came to America. They were not natural resources
because they were not useful to humans.
Our situation changed too. When the first permanent English settlement in
America was established in 1607 on the James River in what is now Virginia, the
settlers faced many problems. One of the most serious was the number of trees.
Certainly, a few trees were needed for building and to be used as fuel for heating and
cooking, but once those needs were met, forests were a liability to settlers. The forests
seemed to be dark and endless. In that sense, forests were a hindrance rather than a
natural resource. The same situation remained true for the many years that followed,
during which European settlers made their way across the continent (Figure 1-1).



Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Managing Our Natural Resources, 6e, Camp

Contents
Managing Our Natural Resources, 6e, Camp - Cover1
Managing Our Natural Resources, 6e, Camp - Cover2
Managing Our Natural Resources, 6e, Camp - i
Managing Our Natural Resources, 6e, Camp - ii
Managing Our Natural Resources, 6e, Camp - iii
Managing Our Natural Resources, 6e, Camp - iv
Managing Our Natural Resources, 6e, Camp - v
Managing Our Natural Resources, 6e, Camp - Contents
Managing Our Natural Resources, 6e, Camp - vii
Managing Our Natural Resources, 6e, Camp - viii
Managing Our Natural Resources, 6e, Camp - ix
Managing Our Natural Resources, 6e, Camp - x
Managing Our Natural Resources, 6e, Camp - xi
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Managing Our Natural Resources, 6e, Camp - Cover4
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