What Are Resources?

An increasing global population needs more resources but most resources are limited and exploitation has consequences.

The demand for resources

A shopper in Greenwich, London

A shopper in Greenwich, London


When people use something, it becomes a resource. At the most basic level, we need uncontaminated food and water supplies, shelter, clothing and good health. Resources are also required to make all the things that we use in our daily lives.

People in MEDCs need lots of resources to sustain their high levels of consumption. Whereas people in LEDCs sometimes have limited access to basic resources such as food and water. People in LEDCs also often have rich natural resources, such as large forests and deep deposits of valuable metals and minerals. To help them out of poverty, LEDCs can extract and sell resources to MEDCs.

This system creates a dependency that has serious implications for the environment. The more resources that MEDCs buy from LEDCs, the more money there is for LEDCs to improve living standards, but the greater the impact on the environment.

A water pump in Lulimba, DR Congo

A water pump in Lulimba, DR Congo

 There is an increasing demand for goods and services from a growing global population, especially those in MEDCs. The world’s resources are being used up more quickly. The consumption of resources is spread unequally between MEDCs, who use more resources, and LEDCs, who use less.

Consequences of resource exploitation

Socioeconomic consequences

  • Higher energy prices as sources are depleted, eg increase in petrol prices and domestic fuel bills in the UK. This can have the result of leaving the elderly and those on low incomes in fuel poverty.
  • The gap between rich and poor becomes more evident.
  • Funding needed for research into alternative energy, and increased costs for exploration and extraction of existing energy sources.

Environmental consequences

Cooling towers in York

Cooling towers in York


  • Increased carbon emissions cause global warming with consequences including climate change and sea levels rising due to melting ice caps.
  • Air pollution from factories as countries industrialise and exploit resources. The economic miracle in China is exploiting resources at a rapid rate and making Chinese cities, such as Beijing, some of the most polluted in the world.
  • Ecosystems such as rainforests are under threat from exploitation as countries (eg Brazil) exploit their resources for development.

Political consequences

  • Global agreements such as the Kyoto Protocol to reduce carbon emissions, and a need for international cooperation.
  • Loss of public support for governments from as domestic fuel bills and petrol prices rise. People are forced to change their lifestyle, which is unpopular.

Sustainable use of resources

A recycling point in Eastbourne, Sussex

A recycling point in Eastbourne, Sussex


The world’s natural resources have conflicting demands upon them and can be difficult to manage.

Conflicting demands for resources

  • The environment should be preserved.
  • Resources need to be retained for future generations to enjoy.
  • Humans need to continue to make and do the things that allow them to live comfortably.
  • LEDCs need to develop through exploiting their resources.
  • There should be a better balance between the consumption of those resources between LEDCs and MEDCs.
Wind Turbines on Ovenden Moor, West Yorkshire

Wind Turbines on Ovenden Moor, West Yorkshire


To conserve natural resources for future generations, sustainable management of the natural environment is necessary. Alternative resources might be developed in order to ease the strain on finite resources. However, alternative resources can be expensive and take time to develop. Existing resources could be used more efficiently, to prevent finite resources being used up so quickly.

Ways to limit the damage caused by humans to the environment include:

Tents at a music festival in Gloucestershire

Tents at a music festival in Gloucestershire


  • Sustainable resource management can help ensure that the use of resources does not cause an imbalance in the environment. Increasingly, sustainable practices are being encouraged to preserve animal and plant life for the benefit of future generations. An example of sustainable development is eco-tourism. Tourists are able to enjoy areas of natural beauty without requiring over-development that might harm the environment.
  • Recycling resources reduces waste. Used cans, bottles, paper and cardboard can be recycled and reduces the need to use extra resources.
  • Limiting carbon emissions generated from industrial and domestic use of fuels can assist in reducing pollution levels and limit environmental problems such as global warming and acid rain. Some nations, including the UK, signed the Kyoto Protocol to say they will try to reduce carbon emissions.
  • Resource substitution is another sustainable way in which resources can be managed. Renewable resources can be used instead of finite resources. Electric power can be produced with a renewable energy resource such as tidal, wind or solar power instead of fossil fuels.

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