Consuming Resources

Types of resources

Resources can be grouped into three main categories:
- Renewable - Resources that can renew themselves without any human management (e.g. wind, sunlight)
- Non-renewable - Resources that can't be remade/renewed, there is only a fixed amount available (e.g. coal)
- Sustainable - Resources that can be managed so they renew themselves (e.g. wood) 
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The different types of resources are:
  • Energy
    • Uses: heating, cooking, transport, electricity, etc.
    • Examples: oil, coal, gas, water, sunlight
    • Category: non-renewable and renewable
  • Mineral
    • Uses: building, jewellery making, manufacture
    • Examples: iron ore, diamond, quartz, stone
    • Category: non-renewable
  • Physical
    • Uses: Energy
    • Examples: water, wind and sunlight
    • Category: renewable
  • Biological
    • Uses: food production, energy, manufacture
    • Examples: biofuels, wheat, timber, fish
    • Category: sustainable

Resource and supply use

The global supply and use of resources is not consistent across the world. There are inequalities and pressures on supply and consumption.
  • The regions that generally consume the most resources are Europe, the USA and Japan.
  • The regions that consume the least resources are Africa, South America and parts of Asia
  • Some of the richest regions have few natural resources (e.g. Japan) which some of the poorest regions are resource rich (e.g. Sudan)
  • The richest 20% of all humans consume over 86% of all global resources while the poorest 20% consume only 1.3% of all global resources
  • There is inequality within countries as well as between them (e.g. poor people in the USA and rich people in India.)

Oil supply and conumption

  • Oil is found is found in many countries around the world, but is consumed in every country around the world.
  • There are big differences in oil consumption between different developed countries, and generally developed countries consume more oil than developing countries.
  • As a country develops, the demand for oil and the amount of oil it consumes is likely to increase.
  • Governments and large companies pay for extraction, refining and transportation because they can make huge amounts of money selling it.
  • The USA has only 5% of the world's population but it uses 21% of the world's oil.
"Hydropower" by Peter Rood, is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Hydropower supply and consumption

  • 20% of the world's electricity is generated by Hydroelectric power (HEP) - supplying one billion people
  • 99% of Norway's electricity comes from HEP
  • Generally more developed countries invest in hydroelectric power stations.
  • Nepal has huge potential for HEP but only a tiny fraction has been developed
  • 150 countries generate and use their own HEP. The largest are the USA, Canada, Brazil and China.
  • Environmental factors can prevent development of suitable sites
  • Hydroelectric power can only be produced in situ, whilst oil can be transported to other places.
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Consumption theories

There are two different theories you need to know about how well the world can cope with current resource consumption. These are:

Malthusian Theory - Thomas Malthus

 Boserupian theory - Ester Boserup

He believed that
  • Population growth went up geometrically: 2, 4, 8, 16 etc. (2 people have 4 children, those 4 children have 8 children between them.
  • Food production went up arithmetically: 1, 2, 3, 4 etc. - because improvements happen slowly
  • This meant famines would occur to limit population size naturally.
  • The poor should realise that having lots of children was only making them poorer
She believed:
  • Population growth would force people to be inventive to overcome the problems of food shortages and they would find ways to increase food production
  • Population growth is a good thing and that it is essential to human progress

Managing Consumption

Trying to reduce our resource consumption is happening on a global scale, with local and national governments trying to reduce resource consumption to achieve sustainability.

Education - trying to change behaviour

  • Educating people can be done through advertising, schools and general public awareness
  • They can publicise simple messages to aim to reduce the use of non-renewables and to use them more efficiently e.g. walking not driving, turning off lights, turning taps off when brushing teeth, etc.Conservation - maintaining health of natural world

Conservation - maintaining health of natural world

  • This can be done through grants, quotas, programmes, laws, taxes
  • For example, grants and subsidies for renewable energy, reducing car tax for less polluting cars, grants
    By Calum Hutchinson (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
    for solar panels and insulating homes, quotas on fishing, etc.


  • Local councils can provide recycling centres at supermarkets so people can recycle when they go shopping - they don't have to go out of their way
  • Door-to-door recycling collection
  • Fines for companies and people who don't recycle

Potential of renewables

As well as managing resource consumption, there are other ways to achieve sustainability, this can be done by developing alternative and renewable resources or technological 'fixes' to solve resource shortages.
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Alternative and renewable resources

Examples of alternative and renewable resources include:
  • biomass and biofuels
  • solar power
  • wind power
  • geothermal power
  • tidal power
Unfortunately, there are some problems with these alternative resources:
  • non-renewables are often more efficient than renewables
  • renewables will not meet demand the non-renewables are capable of
  • renewables may not be suitable for all countries. e.g. solar power will not be suitable for countries which receive little or unreliable sunlight
  • the technology needed to harness the renewable energy is expensive
Useful Webpages:
The History of the Electric Vehicle (
Emerging Technologies (

Technological fixes

With problems arising from the decreasing amount of vital resources, technological advances mean that new alternatives can be produced.

For example, oil is running out, yet we depend on it greatly for our everyday lives. One possible solution is Hydrogen fuel cells which can be used to power cars. This is a good solution because:
    - there is plenty of hydrogen for us to use. Hydrogen can be found in water
    - its a good source of power. It only releases water when used so it releases no greenhouse gases
However, it also takes energy to produce and is four times as expensive as power from non-renewable sources.

Another problem we need to overcome is global warming. There are various technological ways which could help solve this problem such as scrubbing technology to take CO2 out of the atmosphere, mirrors in space to reflect solar energy from Earth to reduce temperature rises. Unfortunately, these technologies are very expensive and the possible side effects are currently unknown.