Resources

A REsoURCE is any item or substance that is in scarce supply and has some value. Resources are normally considered to be physical items, such as oil and natural gas. However, it is also possible to consider humans resources, since they are finite in number and are perishable under current technological conditions. Resources, when used in the context of computer or virtual environments, meanwhile, are inherently intangible in nature, although the hardware that produces them is not.

It is customary, when considering resources, to distinguish between those that are renewable and those that are nonrenewable. Resources such as oil are consumed in use and are, therefore, nonrenewable. However, in a number of other cases, it is possible to recreate or recycle some resources either in the original form or, at least, some components of the original. Glass and plastic bottles may, to some extent, be recycled into different forms and so value is created from spent resources that appear to be valueless. Considerable effort has been expended in determining which resources may be recycled or recreated in this way and, in some countries, it has led to significant social change as people become accustomed to considering the issues involved and sorting out recyclable household waste. The process is mirrored at the industrial level, too, especially when economic incentives are provided to encourage this behavior.

Improved technology has also provided two other means of increasing the stock of resources, or at least minimizing their depletion. The first is to employ more commonly occurring resources for more rare ones. This substitution may be seen in the prevalence of plastic bags, which are dispensed with alacrity at many retail outlets. More recently, the negative impact of those plastic bags has prompted the search for other materials that would be more environmentally friendly (more biodegradable). The process of beneficiation, on the other hand, is one in which technology enables the gathering or exploitation of resources which were previously considered to be too difficult or expensive to obtain. The search for coal deeper underground or in mines located underwater is an example of this, while the continuing demand for oil and the ability to extract it means that sources previously ignored have become of considerable strategic importance.

For example, water is considered a renewable resource, because once used, it can be returned to the circulatory system that returns it to use via evaporation and precipitation. However, the modern world has seen a growth in populations and demand for water, together with climate change, that has demonstrated the extent to which water resources are in fact insufficient for future use, given current trends for demand. It is possible to characterize the Middle Eastern wars between Israel and neighbors as the result of fighting for scarce water resources, while the conflict in Darfur in Sudan has been characterized as resulting from nomadic movements of people searching for water.

moral authority to use and deplete resources

Most human societies have developed with a religious basis that justifies mankind's prerogative to use the resources of the Earth for its own benefit. Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, for example, have similar roots in a tradition that states a divine provenance for the world and the entire universe and the passing of responsibility to shepherding the world to humanity. Certain variations in scripture explain dietary rules for the different religions, and these have led to different uses of the land and the resources of the world. The same is true of those now rare religions that are believed to offer stewardship of the world to one specific group of people. The animism of the Mongols, for example, in common with that of certain other steppe peoples, was used to help justify the destruction of resources, including people, not immediately wanted or needed by khans and other leaders.

Buddhism stresses the endless cycle of birth, rebirth, and suffering in which souls are reincarnated in a variety of forms through the ages. Since souls could inhabit not only animate but inanimate objects, then it benefits people to take care of those items appropriately. They may be used in moderation, but not abused and used excessively. Other religious beliefs also confer upon humanity the right to use natural resources, but with certain limitations. The same is true of some moral creeds that have an environmental basis. Proponents of the Gaia hypothesis, for example, hold the resources of the Earth to be central to the successful existence of nature; consequently, husbanding of those resources is a central part of the successful functioning of society.

Belief systems based on nonreligious bases have not always been so favorable to the environment. Communism, for example, appropriates the resources of the Earth for the betterment of society, and has little to say about conservation of those resources. The impact on the environment by the Russian and Chinese Communist parties has been among the most severe in the world. Similar levels of exploitation of resources, such as pollution and overlogging, for example, are also witnessed when private-sector, free-market interests have been able to gain access to resources. The Tragedy of the Commons by William Foster Lloyd framed the potential problem of a laissez-faire approach to the management of nature. The presence of democracy in a country, accompanied by fair and transparent policing of the laws, is one of the best means of ensuring that overexploitation of resources does not take place. The Indian economist Amartya Sen, who observed that no famine had ever occurred in a functioning democracy, originally noted this concept.

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