What are Renewable Resources?

Malcolm Tatum

Renewable resources are any type of resource that can be regenerated at a rate that is at least equal to the speed with which humanity can consume that resource. While considered capable of replenishment over time, resources of this type usually require some degree of planned and responsible cultivation and harvesting in order to ensure the resources are available for future generations. Wood, leather, and plant life are examples of renewable resources.

The planet's coal, oil and gas resources are not only limited, but also damage the environment.
The planet's coal, oil and gas resources are not only limited, but also damage the environment.

While many people assume that renewable and sustainable resources are the same, there is one key difference. Sustainable resources are those that can be utilized at will, with no worries about depleting the supply or having to cultivate the resources for future harvesting. Solar energy and wind energy are two examples of resources that are more accurately defined as sustainable.

Wind power is a renewable resource.
Wind power is a renewable resource.

In terms of renewable energy, a natural resource such as wood is a good example of a resource that can be used but must be replenished over time in order to make sure the supply is plentiful for future generations. This is one reason why many timber companies make it a point to plant new trees after the harvest of a line of trees has taken place. The idea is that by replacing the trees recently removed to make timber for construction and other wood products, that same land will be able to yield a similar amount of product after a period of twenty to thirty years.

Solar power is a renewable resource.
Solar power is a renewable resource.

Over time, the emphasis on the use of sustainable and renewable resources to augment or even replace the use of non-renewable resources has become a priority for many people. With resources such as fossil fuels limited in quantity, the cultivation of biofuels from plants has gained a great deal of attention. Over time, it is hoped that corn and similar resources can be used to produce sufficient fuel to replace the use of gasoline and other products currently produced using fossil fuels.

The development of other products from renewable resources is also an ongoing process. Alternative energy produced with the use of solar and wind energy may be able to eventually augment the efforts to use biofuels to operate vehicles and heat homes that currently rely on fossil fuels. From this perspective, the ongoing developments in green energy may help to support the responsible use of renewable resources by increasing the shelf life of harvested resources. This action would in turn mean that trees would be harvested less often, even if the demand for new housing remained constant.

Crops are a renewable resource as long as they can be replanted and harvested equal to the rate at which they are consumed.
Crops are a renewable resource as long as they can be replanted and harvested equal to the rate at which they are consumed.

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Discussion Comments


@ Georgesplane- The same goes for water as soil. I have a slightly different explanation for it though. Water and soil are not lost because the planet is a closed system, but they are degraded with use. Water turns from usable freshwater to unusable salt, or contaminated water. Relative to human uses water is only renewable to populations that can afford things like desalination plants, groundwater replenishment, and elaborate water purification systems. In developing nations, there is a shortage of potable water that often leaves residents to drink contaminated water. This is the reason an ailment as minor as diarrhea can be a killer, and is a leading cause of death in the developing world.


@ Georgesplane- Soil is not a renewable resource on its own. However, soil can be a renewable resource on a generational timescale. There are programs that are working on ways to restore soils in developing nations that are basing their techniques on those of ancient civilizations. Techniques of incorporating village waste management and soil management can help rebuild soil profiles in badly degraded areas. If people made a conscious effort to protect soils, then soils could be sustainable, but this would require a significant change in agriculture, and would surely meet stiff opposition from multinational agribusinesses.

If nothing changes, than soil is a finite resource since it takes millions of years’ worth of erosion, weathering and sedimentation to make a rich soil profile. Soil is currently being used up faster than the earth's natural systems can replenish them. The human population is just too big for the earth's natural systems to be able to keep up. Without a soil engineering solution, the soils carrying capacity will be overshot and other natural systems will have to compensate even more (increased deforestation for nutrient devoid soils).


I know that things like wind and solar energy are renewable resources, but are things like water and soil renewable resources? I have heard that they can be both when it comes to types of renewable resources, but I don't understand how this is so.

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