Economic Geography - "Natural" Resources – What Are They?

Topics: Wind power, Fossil fuel, Renewable energy Pages: 7 (2687 words) Published: May 8, 2006
The website defines natural resources as materials that occur in nature and are essential or useful to humans, such as water, air, land, forests, fish and wildlife, topsoil, fossil fuels and minerals. Thorough out civilization, the use of these resources has been the major factor in the continuation of the expansion of human life as we know it.

From the use of these resources by our ancestors hundreds of years ago, mankind has now advanced to a stage where the harnessing, collection, and detection of natural resources has become a main focus because of our over usage. Especially the use of fossil fuels, the impact of energy production on the environment has intensified with industrialization and the growth of vehicle traffic in the United States. Throughout the 19th century and well into the 20th, coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel, drove the Industrial Revolution and left its mark as a heavy cloud that darkened the skies over the industrial centers of the Midwest and Northeast. Development of the gasoline-driven, internal-combustion engine and the mass production of Henry Ford's Model T in the early 1900s marked the beginning of the ascent of oil as the main source of energy in the United States. Although oil is less polluting than coal, the increase in oil consumption that accompanied the rise in auto traffic more than made up for the difference. By the 1960s, smog caused by auto exhaust combined with coal-fired industrial emissions to foul the air in many American cities. Today the focus of natural resources have changed, they have now become a focus for energy, the collection and sale of that energy from the countries that have, to the ones that don't. In the early 1970s, a series of energy crises awakened the country to its growing dependence on foreign oil. In response, lawmakers created federal subsidies to help develop and promote solar, geothermal and other renewable energy sources. The goal was not only to develop more domestic energy sources but also to reduce the air pollution resulting from fossil fuel use. Today, however, oil and gas prices have fallen, foreign oil supplies appear reliable and renewables - despite the subsidies - have failed to capture much of the energy market. Instead of relying exclusively on coal, nuclear power or natural gas - the traditional fuels used to generate electricity in the United States - many power companies now are expanding their fuel "portfolios" to include so-called renewable energy sources, such as hydropower, biomass, wind and solar. Unlike supplies of fossil fuels, which are depleted by use, renewables are virtually inexhaustible. Coal and oil use are especially harmful. Coal-burning utilities and factories spew sulfur dioxide and other pollutants that cause acid rain and pollute the air for hundreds of miles downwind. Gasoline and other oil derivatives used mainly to fuel cars and other modes of transportation emit air pollutants and account for much of the carbon dioxide emissions implicated in global warming. A heavier reliance on renewable energy sources would help solve both problems associated with fossil fuels. While some regions are better endowed with renewables than others, the country has considerable supplies of sun, wind, rivers, underground steam, ocean currents and biomass - plants and waste that can be burned to generate heat and electricity. The United States could certainly reduce its dependence on foreign energy if it relied more on renewable sources. Renewable energy offers several advantages over conventional energy. Unlike fossil fuels, renewables are virtually inexhaustible. [1] Renewables also are widely available domestically. But renewables are not without their drawbacks. Solar and wind farms cannot generate much electricity on cloudy or still days. As intermittent energy sources, they require vast systems to store the energy they produce, or must rely on the rest of the electrical system for backup. And despite federal...

References: [1] Renewable Energy, Congressional Digest, August-September 1997, pp. 195-197.
[2] Daniel P. Beard, "Dams Aren 't Forever," The New York Times, Oct. 6, 1997.
[3] Renewable Energy Annual 1996, Energy Information Administration, March 1997.
[4] Williams and Bateman, op. cit., pp. 35-39.
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