Natural Resources, Use of

Natural Resources, Use of


the totality of human actions affecting the earth’s geographic mantle; a general concept, in contrast to specialized ones such as “water use,” “land use,” and “forest use.”

The use of natural resources may be rational or irrational. The goals of rational use include ensuring the conditions for human survival and obtaining material benefits. Also among the goals of rational use of natural resources are maximum utilization of every natural territorial complex and the prevention or maximum reduction of possible harmful consequences of production processes or other types of human activity. In addition, the rational use of natural resources is directed at maintaining and enhancing the productivity and attractiveness of nature, as well as at maintaining and regulating the economic exploitation of natural resources. Irrational use is manifested in the lowering of the quality of natural resources, in the squandering and exhaustion of resources, in the undermining of the restorative or generative powers of nature, and in the pollution of the environment and the decline of its healthful and aesthetic qualities.

The main elements constituting rational use of natural resources (protection, utilization, and transformation) vary, depending on the type of natural resource. In the utilization of virtually inexhaustible resources, such as solar, geothermal, and tidal energy, rationality is measured primarily in terms of the lowest developmental outlays and the highest efficiency of extractive industries and installations. In the case of exhaustible and therefore nonrenewable resources, such as minerals, the important factors include comprehensiveness and economy in extraction, as well as reduction of waste. The conservation of resources that are replaced as they are used is directed at maintaining productivity and turnover. In exploiting these resources it is necessary to ensure that they are extracted economically and comprehensively, with minimal waste. It is also necessary to see that measures are taken to prevent damage to related types of resources.

Man’s effect on nature has changed fundamentally in the course of the historical development of society. In the early stages of its development society was the passive consumer of natural resources. With the growth of the productive forces and changes in socioeconomic formations, the influence of society on nature increased. Large irrigation systems were built under the slaveholding system and under feudalism. The capitalist system, with its spontaneous economy, pursuit of profits, and private ownership of many of the sources of natural wealth, sharply limits the possibilities for the rational use of natural resources. With its planned economy and state control over natural resources, the socialist system provides the best conditions for the rational use of resources. Among the many examples of improvements in the natural environment attributable to consideration of all the possible consequences of certain transformations of nature, the most outstanding are the achievements of irrigation, the increased abundance and variety of animal life, and the planting of shelterbelts.

The use of natural resources is closely related to ecology, sociology, economics, and particularly, the technology of various industries, as well as to physical and economic geography.


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