Natural resources are often the primary stock of resources that drives economies and life around the planet. Natural resource conservation, and management theories and practices, are important to sustainability policy because they ensure that the systems that rely on natural resources can continue forward into the future. Natural resources suffer from depletion and discharges, so policies that reduce the amount of resource extraction also help reduce pollution as well. To avoid moving into a bleak post-industrial age it is critical that humans lessen the detrimental impacts to the environment through conservation and management practices (McKinney, et al. 2019, 2). Sustainable policies typically have a core focus on natural resource conservation since those resources are vital to sustaining life on this planet and are critical to ensuring quality of life for future generations is maintained.
Natural Resources Thresholds
Environmental impact can be simplified by quantifying the consumption or pollution per person times the population (McKinney, et al. 2019, 14). With a population that is increasing by nearly 77 million people per year, it is critical to reduce natural resource consumption and pollution to avoid unsustainable outcomes (McKinney, et al. 2019, 28). Ecological overshoot, an estimation of the world’s ecological deficit, was reached in 1970 and has continued to worsen since then. Currently, an estimated 1.7 Earths are needed to provide the resources used today and absorb the pollution humans create (Global Footprint Network 2021). This indicates a great need for consumption and reduction practices and policies to ensure that the increasing populations will be able to meet their needs in the future.
Figure 1. Earth Overshoot Day History
Source: (Global Footprint Network 2021).
Additionally, a primary concern for this ever-increasing human population is the availability of food. Nearly 800 million people are already suffering from chronic undernourishment globally, with the majority of those living in developing countries. Food distribution inequities that stem from political and social problems are exacerbated by global climate change that is altering weather patterns that lead to droughts and floods (McKinney, et al. 2019, 348-349). As populations continues to increase, and climate change impacts expand, food availability will only become a larger concern for humans in the future and will limit the quality of life and population growth.
Global Species Preservation
Similarly, non-human species are also facing extreme challenges globally as well. With limited food, water, and habitat resources due to human activity and global climate change, species richness and biodiversity will decrease as extinctions increase. Habitat conservation and species recovery from breeding and reintroduction can help, but unless policies address the core elements that drive ecosystem service and habitat loss that takes place, the extinction rate will likely continue (McKinney, et al. 2019, 290-314). Currently, Earth is considered to be undergoing a sixth mass extinction event, called the Holocene or Anthropocene extinction, that is a result of human activity and is estimated to be 1,000 times higher than natural background rates and expected future rates are 10,000 times higher than those natural background rates (De Vos, et al. 2014). Policies and practices to preserve species biodiversity can provide ethical, aesthetic, emotional, economic, environmental services, and evolutionary value so should be an important element to sustainable policies (McKinney, et al. 2019, 317).
Like the additional values that biodiversity can provide, human life should be measured by more than economic value. Instead of defining growth and progress by gross domestic product (GDP), Bhutan’s innovative way of creating the Index of Gross Domestic Happiness offers up an interesting alternative (Hart 2010, 208). Instead of portraying progress as only wealth, luxury, ease, and glamour, it is important to highlight the side effects that a focus on only those elements can bring like pollution, stress, drug addiction, and homelessness. Instead, it would be much better to focus on growing happiness, security (food, housing, safety, etc.), contentment, and education for example (Hart 2010, 205-206). With population growth causing issues with natural resource depletion and discharges, habitat and food limitations, and the decrease of biodiversity, sustainable policies and practices that consider the often overlooked and under-served human populations and ecosystem services will be critical to ensuring the quality of life for future generations can be maintained.
Author: Logan Callen
De Vos, Jurriaan M., Lucas N. Joppa, John L. Gittleman, Patrick R. Stephens, and Stuart L. Pimm. 2014. “Estimating the Normal Background Rate of Species Extinction.” Conservation Biology 29 (2): 452–462. doi:10.1111/cobi.12380.
Global Footprint Network. 2021. “Ecological Footprint.” Global Footprint Network. Accessed October 26, 2021. https://www.footprintnetwork.org/our-work/ecological-footprint/.
Hart, Stuart L. 2010. Capitalism at the Crossroads. 3rd ed. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall.
McKinney, Michael L., Robert M. Schoch, Logan Yonavjak, and Grant A. Mincy. 2019. Environmental Science: Systems and Solutions. 6th ed. Burlington, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning.