Conservation is sustainable use and protection of natural resources including plants, animals, mineral deposits, soils, clean water, clean air, and fossil fuels such as coal, petroleum, and natural gas.
Renewable and Non-renewable Resources
A renewable resource is one that may be replaced over time by natural processes, such as fish populations or natural vegetation, or is inexhaustible, such as solar energy. The goal of renewable resource conservation is to ensure that such resources are not consumed faster than they are replaced.
Nonrenewable resources are those in limited supply that cannot be replaced or can be replaced only over extremely long periods of time. Nonrenewable resources include fossil fuels and mineral deposits, such as iron ore and gold ore. Conservation activities for nonrenewable resources focus on maintaining an adequate supply of these resources well into the future.
Types of Conservation
1. Biodiversity Conservation
Biodiversity, or biological diversity, denotes the number and variety of different organisms and ecosystems in a certain area. Preserving biodiversity is essential for ecosystems to respond flexibly to damage or change.
For example, a single-species corn crop may be quickly destroyed by a certain insect or disease, but if several different species of corn are planted in the field, some of them may resist the insect or disease and survive.
The same principle applies to natural areas, which adapt to natural environmental changes such as wildfire, drought, or disease because of the biodiversity that has evolved in the area over thousands, or even millions, of years.
Some trees, such as lodge pole pine, may even require fire to aid in reproduction. These trees produce cones that are opened by extreme heat. The fire opens the cones and the seeds are then released into the soil.
Humans benefit greatly from the many medicines, crops, and other products that biodiversity provides. It has been noted that as many as 40 percent of our modern pharmaceutical medicines are derived from plants or animals.
For instance, a small plant from Madagascar, the rosy periwinkle, produces substances that are effective in fighting two deadly cancers, Hodgkin’s disease and leukemia.
Unfortunately, human activities have greatly reduced biodiversity around the world. The 20th century encompasses one of the greatest waves of extinction, or elimination of species, to occur on the planet.
The greatest threat to biodiversity is loss of habitat as humans develop land for agriculture, grazing livestock, industry, and habitation. The most drastic damage has occurred in the tropical rain forests, which cover less than seven percent of the Earth’s surface but contain well over half of the planet’s biodiversity.
2. Forest Conservation
Forests provide many social, economic, and environmental benefits. In addition to timber and paper products, forests provide wildlife habitat and recreational opportunities, prevent soil erosion and flooding, help provide clean air and water, and contain tremendous biodiversity.
Forests are also an important defense against global climate change. Through the process of photosynthesis, forests produce life-giving oxygen and consume huge amounts of carbon dioxide, the atmospheric chemical most responsible for global warming.
By decreasing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, forests may reduce the effects of global warming.
However, huge areas of the richest forests in the world have been cleared for wood fuel, timber products, agriculture, and livestock. These forests are rapidly disappearing.
The tropical rain forests of the Brazilian Amazon River basin were cut down at an estimated rate of 14 million hectares (35 million acres) each year. The countries with the most tropical forests tend to be developing and fast becoming the overpopulated nations in the southern hemisphere.
Due to poor economies, people resort to clearing the forest and planting crops in order to survive. While there have been effective efforts to stop deforestation directly through boycotts of multinational corporations responsible for exploitative logging, the most effective conservation policies in these countries have been efforts to relieve poverty and expand access to education and health care.
In 2005 the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations issued a major report, titled “Global Forest Resources Assessment 2005,” on the status of the world’s forests.
Based on a five-year study, the report found that forested areas throughout the world were continuing to decline at a rate of about 7.3 million hectares (18 million acres) per year, an area equivalent in size to Panama or Sierra Leone.
However, the rate of decline had slowed in comparison with the period from 1990 to 2000, when the world lost about 8.9 million hectares (22 million acres) of forested area per year.
Africa and South America continued to have the largest net loss of forests, while forest loss also continued in North and Central America and the Pacific Islands. Only Europe and Asia showed a net gain in forested areas due to forest planting, landscape restoration, and expansion of natural forests.
China, in particular, reported a large-scale afforestation effort. In 2005 the world’s total forest area was just less than 4 billion hectares (10 billion acres).
3. Soil Conservation
Soil, a mixture of mineral, plant, and animal materials, is essential for most plant growth and is the basic resource for agricultural production. Soil-forming processes may take thousands of years, and are slowed by natural erosion forces such as wind and rain.
Humans have accelerated these erosion processes by developing the land and clearing away the vegetation that holds water and soil in place.
The rapid deforestation taking place in the tropics is especially damaging because the thin layer of soil that remains is fragile and quickly washes away when exposed to the heavy tropical rains.
Globally, agriculture accounts for 28 percent of the nearly 2 billion hectares (5 billion acres) of soil that have been degraded by human activities; overgrazing is responsible for 34 percent; and deforestation is responsible for 29 percent.
In addition to reducing deforestation and overgrazing, soil conservation involves reforming agricultural soil management methods.
Some of the most effective methods include strip-cropping, alternating strips of crop and uncultivated land to minimize erosion and water runoffs; contour farming, planting crops along the contours of sloping lands to minimize erosion and runoff; terracing, which also reduces erosion and runoffs on slopes; growing legumes, such as clover or soybeans, to restore essential nitrogen in the soil and minimizing tillage, or plowing, to reduce erosion.
4. Water Conservation
Clean freshwater resources are essential for drinking, bathing, cooking, irrigation, industry, and for plant and animal survival. Unfortunately, the global supply of freshwater is distributed unevenly.
Chronic water shortages exist in most of Africa and drought is common over much of the globe. The sources of most freshwater supplies groundwater (water located below the soil surface), reservoirs, and rivers are under severe and increasing environmental stress because of overuse, water pollution, and ecosystem degradation.
Over 95 percent of urban sewage in developing countries is discharged untreated into surface waters such as rivers and harbors.
About 65 percent of the global freshwater supply is used in agriculture and 25 percent is used in industry. Freshwater conservation therefore requires a reduction in wasteful practices like inefficient irrigation, reforms in agriculture and industry, and strict pollution controls worldwide.
In addition, water supplies can be increased through effective management of watersheds (areas that drain into one shared waterway).
By restoring natural vegetation to forests or fields, communities can increase the storage and filtering capacity of these watersheds and minimize wasteful flooding and erosion. Restoration and protection of wetlands is crucial to water conservation.
Like giant sponges, wetlands stabilize groundwater supplies by holding rainfall and discharging the water slowly, acting as natural flood-control reservoirs.
5. Energy Conservation
All human cultures require the production and use of energy that is, resources with the capacity to produce work or power. Energy is used for transportation, heating, cooling, cooking, lighting, and industrial production.
The world energy supply depends on many different resources including traditional fuels such as firewood and animal waste, which are significant energy sources in many developing countries.
Fossil fuels account for more than 90 percent of global energy production but are considered problematic resources. They are nonrenewable that is, they can be depleted, and their use causes air pollution.
In particular, coal plants have been one of the worst industrial polluters since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century. Moreover, mining or drilling for fossil fuels has caused extensive environmental damage.
There is a global need to increase energy conservation and the use of renewable energy resources.
Renewable alternatives such as waterpower (using the energy of moving water, such as rivers), solar energy (using the energy from the sun), wind energy (using the energy of the wind or air currents), and geothermal energy (using energy contained in hot- water deposits within the Earth’s crust) are efficient and practical but largely underutilized because of the ready availability of inexpensive, nonrenewable fossil fuels in industrial countries.
While some countries, such as France and Japan, depend heavily on nuclear energy (energy produced by atomic fission, or splitting of the atom), it is still not a major energy source. Excessive production costs, serious safety concerns, and problems with the handling of the dangerous radioactive wastes have virtually eliminated it as a viable energy source.
In addition to using alternative energy resources such as solar and wind power, energy conservation measures include improving energy efficiency. In the household, energy can be conserved by turning down thermostats, switching off unnecessary lights, insulating homes, and using less hot water.
In summary, natural resources are conserved for their biological, economic, and recreational values, as well as their natural beauty and importance to local cultures.
For example, tropical rain forests are protected for their important role in both global ecology and the economic livelihood of the local culture; a coral reef may be protected for its recreational value for scuba divers; and a scenic river may be protected for its natural beauty.
Conservation is sustainable use and protection of natural resources. A renewable resource is one that may be replaced over time by natural processes.
Nonrenewable resources are those in limited supply that cannot be replaced or can be replaced only over extremely long periods of time.
Preserving biodiversity is essential for ecosystems to respond flexibly to damage or change.
Humans benefit greatly from the many medicines, crops, and other products that biodiversity provides.
Forests provide many social, economic, and environmental benefits. Soil, a mixture of mineral, plant, and animal materials, is essential for most plant growth and is the basic resource for agricultural production.
Read Also : Factors Influencing Soil Moisture
Global supply of freshwater is distributed unevenly. There is a global need to increase energy conservation and the use of renewable energy resources.
Conservation education and the thoughtful use of resources is necessary in the developed countries to reduce natural-resource consumption.
Conservation of Natural Resources is done in order to protect natural resources from pollution. Some resources are so unique or valuable that they need to be protected from activities that would destroy or degrade them.
Conservation conflicts arise when natural-resource shortages develop in the face of steadily increasing demands from a growing human population.