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Conservation of Resources: Responsibility & Action

Instructor: David Wood

David has taught Honors Physics, AP Physics, IB Physics and general science courses. He has a Masters in Education, and a Bachelors in Physics.

Learn about why it is important to conserve resources on the planet Earth. Whose responsibility is it? How can we take action? In this lesson, learn about aspects of conserving resources individually, locally, and internationally.

Conservation of Resources

We live on a planet that is a treasure trove surrounded by empty cosmos. While we don't know how many planets like Earth are out there, we do know there are none particularly close by. Even getting to the nearest star would take hundreds or thousands of years. Our planet contains liquid water, oxygen, a moderate temperature that doesn't vary dangerously, and a variety of environments. We have forests, swamps, deserts, mountains, grasslands, and enormous oceans. Our planet contains abundant resources. But it doesn't contain unlimited resources. We only have so much freshwater available to us, and only have so much coal, oil, and gas to burn. There are only so many trees that we can cut down before we run out and only so many metals we can extract.

Our planet contains many amazing resources
Our planet contains many amazing resources

Living on such a planet, it's an inescapable truth that we need to conserve the resources that we have available to us. If we selfishly take everything we can as quickly as we can, the human race will eventually cease to exist. Thankfully, some resources are renewable. For example, we can keep taking energy from the sun to create electricity for as long as the sun still shines. And water will keep evaporating from our huge oceans forever, even if they can be hard to get that water to where it is needed. Trees even grow continually (if rather slowly), and can be planted in huge numbers. So, the conservation of resources isn't just about using less, it is also about using our resources smartly.

The energy resources of the sun are not likely to run out anytime soon
The energy resources of the sun are not likely to run out anytime soon

If we don't, we end up with problems. For example, there are many places in the world dealing with water shortages. In California, water shortages are a yearly problem, and even despite importing huge amounts of water from out-of-state, it always seems to be a struggle. In parts of Africa, it can be a matter of life and death.

In parts of Tanzania, the only way to get water is to dig a hole in the ground. Such places are highly sensitive to drought.
 Tanzania drought.

This problem is only getting worse thanks to climate change causing dry areas of the world to get even drier. Through climate change, the Earth is getting warmer because of the greenhouse gases that humans have released into the atmosphere. We've cut down trees and burned them, releasing even more greenhouse gases. This heating of the planet makes issues of water supply even worse, and the more resources we use the worse the issue gets.

So, if the matter is this serious, how do we properly conserve resources into the future? And whose responsibility is it?

Responsibility for Conservation

Because of the role of Western countries causing much of the climate change we seen so far, many developing countries do not believe the responsibility should fall heavily on them. After all, why should Brazil not cut down the rainforests, when Europeans cut down the vast majority of the forest that once existed on their continent? And why should China not burn coal and pump greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, when developed countries did exactly that during their industrial revolutions? This is what built the luxurious life that Western countries enjoy!

The problem with this view, as fair as it may seem, is that climate change is irreversible and action is needed worldwide for the process to be stopped. Putting the burden on developing countries might not be fair, but something has to be done to conserve our resources and prevent further damage to the environment. If we don't, droughts will get worse, whole countries will be under water, and rainforests will be lost (causing even more climate change).

Deforestation of the rainforests is a real problem
Deforestation of the rainforests is a real problem

This planet belongs to all of us, and so the responsibility lies with all of us.

Taking Action

The only chance that we have for success when it comes to conserving our resources and protecting what we have on earth is if action is taken on every level. Governments need to take action, whether they represent developed or developing countries (though developed countries can help fund developing countries to make it easier for them to make changes). The most likely way that this could be implemented would be through an international agreement, ideally one that is legally binding. That way, countries that don't comply can have consequences applied to them.

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