How Are We Using Natural Resources?

Explain how getting and using resources, urban growth and waste disposal can increase natural change and impact the quality of life. The use of resources at local, state, regional, national, and global levels have affected the quality of life in terms of energy production, global warming, depletion of resources and exponential population growth.

Resource Use

Natural resources must be used for many reasons. When you wake up in the morning, you benefit from natural resources that power the alarm clock, lights, refrigerator and water heater. Getting to school, you use natural resources in the fuel used for the train, bus, car, or if you walk, the manufacturing of your shoes! Natural resources were used to make the streets, buildings, stoplights, telephone poles and sewer systems. More resources are used within the school to keep the heat on (or the air conditioner) and to provide students with pens, pencils and paper.

Nuclear power plant

The most important natural resources are the ones that give us usable energy. At every step along the way of anything we do, energy is used. Even if it’s energy that we provide, we still need food in order to provide that energy; food needs to be grown, transported and prepared, which all requires energy. Energy is produced at power plants that can use a variety of fuels: diesel, wood, natural gas, oil, coal, nuclear fuel, the sun (solar), naturally running water (hydroelectric), wind, or even heated water from inside the Earth. That energy is transformed into electricity, which is then often transformed into other forms of energy. Sometimes, the energy is used directly, such as on cars and buses; the engine of a car is actually a small power plant!

All natural energy resources can be grouped as either renewable or non-renewable. Renewable resources are resources like solar power, hydroelectric power or wind power, because they are constantly being produced. These resources only run out when the sun runs out of fuel – not for another few billion years. Non-renewable resources take longer to make more of than they take to use: for example, it takes just minutes to use up a gallon of gasoline, but it takes the Earth millions of years to turn fossils into oil which is transformed into gasoline. The most famous of the non-renewable resources are fossil fuels, such as coal, oil and natural gas.

Wind turbine at the Science Center

Once we use up fossil fuels, nuclear fuels and other forms of energy, we have to do something with the waste that is left behind. There are more natural resources than the ones that produce energy; the water that we and other organisms drink, the land that all living things live in and on, and the air that we all breathe are considered natural resources (or natural capital). When we use anything up, there is always waste involved. Sometimes that waste is heat, sometimes it’s carbon dioxide, but more often than not, it’s simply known as “trash.” It’s very convenient to think that when you are done drinking a soda pop, you can just throw the bottle away and it’s gone. The truth is very different. If you recycle the empty bottle, it gets trucked to a recycling center where it gets chopped up into very small pieces that are used to make new plastic items.

On the other hand, if you just throw it into the trash, then it usually gets trucked to a landfill. A landfill is a big, plastic-lined hole in the ground where trash is stored. When it gets full, a plastic cover is placed on the top, and the garbage is sealed up. Soil is usually placed on top of that landfill in order to hide the trash, but it’s still there. Sometimes, the plastic doesn’t even make it into the landfill, and instead gets carried out to a river, lake or stream. Eventually, all water leads to an ocean, so the plastic bottle could end up in the ocean, where it gets broken down into small pieces. Fish and other animals (like birds) eat the small pieces of plastic (that are often too small to see).

Coal power plant near Cleveland

As our population grows, more and more trash is being thrown away, polluting our water, air and land. But pollution isn’t the only problem: when there are more people, then more resources are needed. More people need more land, more energy and more clean water. Urban growth refers to patterns that cities follow when they get bigger. Cities interrupt ecosystems because they are bright, noisy and big. Even an average-sized city like Cleveland is visible at night for dozens of miles around because of light pollution. Streetlights, highways, and tall buildings all contribute to a glow that changes the behavior of birds, insects and even some mammals.

Due to light pollution, what the U.S. looks like from space

Urban centers (cities) are the center of our highest growing populations of humans. In fact, human population is growing so quickly, it is considered to be at an exponential growth rate. This means that human population isn’t just growing; this means that every year, the population grows faster. There are about 6 billion people on Earth, and if current growth rates continue, we will have 9 billion people on Earth by 2050, or by the time that you are in your 50’s! Imagine if all of our problems, including global warming, were multiplied by one and a half times. There is already evidence that the average temperature of Earth is increasing due to an increase in carbon dioxide and other gases that we put into the atmosphere. What would happen if that not only kept happening, but happened at a much faster rate?

1. What is a landfill?
2. What is the difference between renewable and non-renewable resources?
3. How is the sun involved in all renewable resources?
Put it together
4. Using a chart, about when did human population start to have an exponential growth rate?
5. Why do you think the human population stayed at about the same level for 11,000 years?
Think about it
6. Using the chart that shows power plants in the Cleveland area, answer the following:
a) Does Cleveland use renewable energy sources?
b) What is the total energy production in the Cleveland area?
c) How have energy needs changed since these plants were built? Specifically, what has changed?
d) Suggest a solution to Cleveland's energy production problems by choosing three power plants to replace with new, alternative energies. Use the following information to help you choose which power plants can replace the ones that you want to get rid of:
Unit TypeCapacity (megawatts)
Wind Turbine2
Solar Panels (per square acre)10
Hydroelectric Dam (for Cuyahoga River)40

7. Is evolution happening right now?
8. What are the five kingdoms of living things?
9. What happens when non-native species are introduced into particular ecosystems?
10. Find the nutrition labels for at least two foods or beverages. What are at least three corn products that you've used or eaten? In what form was each one in?
Finite Resources

From your own experiences or others’ experiences, identify one resource that we use which is non-renewable (has a limit, or is finite). Respond in complete sentences:

  1. What is it, and why is it non-renewable?
  2. What are the consequences of its continued usage?
  3. What could people do in order to avoid using this resource? What can you do to help?
  4. Ask someone in the class for their response, and write at least one paragraph about what could be done to prevent this resource’s usage.
Human Influences

For your assigned human influence, use the website to help you answer the questions. You will make a two-minute presentation on the human influence for the entire class. Make sure to find at least two more interesting facts (to you!) about the topic.

Air Pollution:

  1. Where can you see air pollution?
  2. Why is air pollution aggravated?
  3. What are three of the major pollutants in air – and how are they produced?
  4. What can you do to reduce air pollution?

Water Pollution:

  1. What are three examples of conventional water pollution?
  2. Why is conventional water pollution harmful?
  3. What is an example of non-conventional water pollution?
  4. What can you do to reduce water pollution?


  1. How much garbage do Americans produce and why is this a problem?
  2. What approaches to dealing with solid waste do NOT work?
  3. Why is sewage treatment difficult?
  4. What can you do to reduce garbage problems?

Hydroelectric Power:

  1. What is hydroelectric power and how widely used is it?
  2. What is the negative environmental impact of hydroelectric power?
  3. Where in the world will hydroelectic power be and how much will it cost?
  4. What can you do to reduce your electricity consumption?

Invasive Species:

  1. What is the definition of an invasive species?
  2. What are three ways that invasive species are introduced?
  3. What is an example of an invasive species?
  4. What can you do to reduce the impact of invasive species?


  1. What is DDT used for?
  2. Why is DDT a concern in the environment?
  3. Why is DDT a concern in humans?
  4. What can you do to reduce the impact of DDT?


  1. What are CFCs and where are they used?
  2. What is the negative impact of CFCs on the environment?
  3. What has been done to reduce the impact of CFCs?
  4. What can you do to reduce the impact of aerosols?

Coral Reefs:

  1. Where are coral reefs?
  2. Why are coral reefs important?
  3. Why are coral reefs being destroyed?
  4. What could be the impact of destroying coral reefs?


  1. What is happening to Monteverde’s (Costa Rica) harlequin frogs?
  2. Why are amphibians more susceptible to pollution?
  3. Why is a fungus killing the harlequin frogs?
  4. What can we do to stop amphibians from dying?