Natural resources are materials created in nature that are used and usable by humans. They include natural substances (e.g., soil, water) and energy supplies (e.g., coal, gas) that serve to satisfy human needs and wants. Materials occurring in the environment thus are nothing more than ‘neutral matter’ until people recognise their presence, attach great importance to them, and develop means to capitalise on them. Then the natural materials fulfil a function.
Natural resources are a component of the environmental setting. The environmental setting embraces the totality of materials, features and processes of landscapes. These environmental settings give the regions of the world their own, quite specific and distinctive settings with different options concerning the transmutations of materials and energy. The materials, features and processes which are usable constitute the potential of the landscape. By utilising parts of this potential, humans give them a new function, a new purpose: they make them into a source of subsistence – into a natural resource.
According to Eric Walter Zimmermann, a German resource economist, “resources are not, they become.” In Zimmerman’s definition “resource” does not refer to a thing but to a function which a thing may perform to an operation in which it may take part; only human “appraisal” turns the “neutral stuff” of the earth into resources. What are resources today may not be tomorrow, and vice versa.
Since this concept of natural resources was criticised as too anthropocentric, today many interpret resources much more broadly than in this functional or utilitarian sense. “In that context, resources are the abiotic, biotic and cultural attributes on, in or above the Earth”
Natural resources can be classified in various ways. A commonly used one is the classification of natural resources according to their exhaustibility and regenerative power. Non-renewable resources are differentiated from renewable resources.
(Source: Freie University, Berlin, Department of Earth Sciences – ‘Natural Resources‘ Geo Learning – E-Learning in the Environmental and Geosciences)
Included in this section: Critical raw materials, images, infographics, metals, miscellaneous, research, resources, secondary resources and urban mining.