Exploitation of Natural Resources - Conflicts and Compromises 

4.5        Discuss conflicts arising from the exploitation of natural resources. Suggest compromise actions, which would allow for both use of the resource and the maintenance of a high degree of ecological integrity.  For example, reference could be made to one of the following: - forest clearance, development of marinas, impact of tourism on coastal resources, over- fishing. 

List of Topics

Definition of natural resource

Types of natural resources

Exploitation of natural resources

-         Trends and problems

-         Root Causes

Conflicts arising from natural resource exploitation

Resource Usage

-         Forests

-         Freshwater

-         Marine environments

Online Resources


Definition of Natural Resource

A feature or component of the natural environment that is of value in serving human needs, e.g. soil, water, wildlife, etc. Some natural resources have an economic value (e.g. timber) while others have a 'non-economic' value (e.g. scenic beauty) 1.  

Types of Natural Resources

Natural resources can be divided into several categories:

(1) Nature’s Goods

These are the traditional “extractable” resources, e.g.

- Fossil fuels: oil, coal, natural gas

- Metallic ores: iron, copper, silver, gold etc.

- Biological supplies: timber, fisheries, wild game, natural rubber 

(2) Nature’s Services

These are essential services provided by nature for the continued, sustainable health and well-being of our environment.  These are typically considered “renewable” resources, e.g.

- Soils for production

- Water and the hydrology cycle

- Air and purification of air

- Global carbon cycle

- Stratospheric ozone shield 

(3) Natural Amenities

These are non-essential (?) services provided by nature; may be considered “quality-of-life” services, e.g.

            - Recreation

            - Aesthetics 2 

Exploitation of natural resources

Exploitation of natural resources is an essential condition of the human existence. Throughout history, humans have manipulated natural resources to produce the materials they needed to sustain growing human populations. This refers primarily to food production, but many other entities from the natural environment have been extracted.  Often the exploitation of nature has been done in a non-sustainable way, which is causing an increasing concern, as a non-sustainable exploitation of natural resource ultimately threatens the human existence. 3, 4 

Some trends and problems with exploitation of natural resources

-         Species extinctions

-         Land Resources:          

·        Deforestation

·        Destruction of wetlands

·        Desertification

·        Soil erosion

·        Declining oil and mineral supplies

-         Marine Resources:       

·        Coastal degradation

·        Overfishing

-         Freshwater Resources:

·        Groundwater contamination and depletion

·        Surface water shortages

-         Atmospheric Resources:

·        Ozone Depletion 

Root Causes

a.       Overpopulation

b.      Inefficiency in resource utilisation

c.       Overconsumption

d.      Poverty

e.       Ineffective Structures (Human Institutions, Regulations and Attitudes)  

a.      Overpopulation

If you look at Figure 2, you can see how the human population has grown over time. For centuries our numbers grew relatively little, but then began an upward climb about 1700.  This increase was nothing however compared to the rise that occurred beginning about 1950.  Improved sanitation, better medical care, and increases in the food supply came together to produce the rate of growth you see.  The Earth’s human population did not pass the 1 billion mark until 1804; it then took 123 years to double to 2 million (in 1927), then 48 years to double to 4 billion (in 1974), and has now exceeded 6 billion.  The earth’s population is projected to grow from its present 6.2 billion to between 8.5 and 11 billion by the end of the twenty-first century.   

Figure 2:  Human Population Increases through the Centuries (from Krogh, 2000)


What impact is this population increase having on the quality of the Earth’s environment?


With respect to the environment, many scientists would argue that there is no greater single environmental threat than the continued growth of the human population.  The basis for this argument is that population affects so many environmental issues: the use of natural resources, the amount of waste that is pumped into the environment daily, the reduction of species habitat, the decimation of species through hunting and fishing.  Look at almost any environmental problem and you’re likely to find human population growth playing a part in it. 5 


Note that overpopulation is not simply too many people, but rather, more people than the earth’s resources can support.6  Overpopulation may be defined as excessive population of an area to the point of overcrowding, depletion of natural resources, or environmental deterioration.7 

Although techniques for birth control are highly effective and well known in the more developed countries, they are unknown, unavailable, or unacceptable to those people having the most rapid rate of population growth - the ones who also live in the most precarious balance with their environment. This does not mean that the prospects for controlling population increase are poor; actually, they are better than at any time in the past. But more education is needed to encourage people to limit the size of families, and the prospects for economic and environmental betterment for those who have fewer children must be made more obvious.


Other experts argue that it is not population per se, but rather the use of resources per person that is of most pressing concern.  For instance, the United States used less water in 1995 than it did in 1980, even though the U.S. population grew by 16 percent during the period.5   

The use of resources per person is much higher in the more developed countries than in the less developed countries.5  For instance, the high per capita residential water use rates in North America (around 400 litres per person a day) and Europe (about 200 litres) has declined somewhat in recent years, in response to higher prices and environmental awareness. But in many Sub-Saharan countries the average per capita use rates are undesirably low (10–20 litres per person a day) and need to be increased. 8 

Given this, a concern for environmentalists is the strain that economic development will put on the Earth’s environment irrespective of human population growth. 5 

b.      Inefficiency in Resource Utilisation

More than 300 million Africans still lack access to safe drinking water and 14 countries on the continent suffer from water scarcity.  Out of 55 countries in the world with domestic water use below 50 litres per person per day (the minimum requirement set by the World Health Organization), 35 are in Africa.  

Meanwhile, Africa has seemingly abundant water resources that are not being efficiently utilised. With 17 large rivers and more than 160 major lakes, Africa only uses about 4 per cent of its total annual renewable water resources for agriculture, industry and domestic purposes. The challenge is getting water to where it is needed most, affordably and efficiently. Currently, about 50 per cent of urban water is wasted, as is 75 per cent of irrigation water. 9 

In many larger cities of Asia and Latin America the total water produced by utilities is very high, from 200–600 litres per person a day, but up to 70% is lost to leaks. 8 

c.       Overconsumption

In the U.S. today, there are more private vehicles on the road than people licensed to drive them; indeed, about one-quarter of the world's cars are found on U.S. roads. New houses in the U.S. were 38 percent bigger in 2000 than in 1975, despite having fewer people in each household on average.   Such consumption patterns help explain why, with only 4.5 percent of the world's population, the U.S. accounts for some 25 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions widely understood to contribute to global warming. The average U.S. citizen currently consumes five times more energy than the average global citizen, ten times more than the average Chinese, and 20 times more than the average Indian, according to the 30th annual edition of Worldwatch Institute's 'State of the World' released in January, 2004.  

U.S. consumption styles have not only spread to other industrialized nations, they have succeeded in penetrating much of the developing world as well.  In China alone, 240 million people have joined the ranks of the "consumer class,'' accounting for about five percent of the estimated 1.7 billion people worldwide who have adopted the diets, transportation systems, and lifestyles pioneered in the U.S. and quickly taken up by other industrialized nations during the last century, according to the 245-page report. By contrast, some 2.8 billion people live on less than US$2 a day, 1.1 billion of whom lack access to safe drinking water. 10 

Many people think that the world could be on the edge of an environmental breakdown due to the overconsumption and misuse of natural resources.   

One recent study, 'Beyond the Limits', uses computer modelling to try to predict what the likely effects of our current life-style will be. As a basis for their research the authors took current figures on rates of growth for population, resource use and pollution. They then constructed a computer model and fed in figures for estimated levels of non-renewable resources, land available for growing, the ability of the Earth to absorb pollution, and other limiting factors. Also in the programme was information regarding the way all these factors interact, for example the time delays before effects of pollution occur. The programme was then run several times with differing conditions or 'scenarios' imposed. 

The Scenarios

What follows is vastly simplified, but illustrates the point. In scenario 1, which assumes that everything in the world goes on as is, collapse (i.e. sudden, uncontrolled decline in population and output) occurs, largely because of loss of non-renewable resources.  

So, in scenario 2, it is assumed that there are much larger quantities of non-renewable resources. In scenario 2, the primary factor causing collapse is not resources running out, but pollution, which massively decreases land fertility.  

So, in scenario 3 it is assumed that pollution abatement technology makes a successful decrease in pollution levels; but this time population grows until it is too high to be fed.  

In scenario 4 technologies to increase land yield of food is assumed however land erosion causes a collapse. And so on...  

The only scenario in which collapse does not occur is one in which there are:

-         Limits to both material production and population, and

-         Technologies increasing efficiency of resource use, decreasing pollution, controlling erosion and increasing land yields.  

While scientists can never predict exactly what will happen in the future, they can usefully show us the likely consequences of our actions and the general direction in which the planet is heading. We can then draw conclusions and take actions based on their findings.6 

d.      Poverty and Other Socioeconomic Problems

Conventional thinking on poverty and environment includes assumptions that are increasingly being called into question:

-          Poverty needs to be eradicated in developing countries before they can turn their attention to environmental protection; and

-         Poverty and environment are linked in a "downward spiral" in which poor people forced to overuse environmental resources for their daily survival are further impoverished by the degradation of these resources. Population growth and economic change are also seen to contribute to this process. 

In addition, many of the environmental problems that have been identified in the international arena as the world’s most pressing are not those that affect poor people in developing countries most severely. For example, lack of sanitation and clean water (rather than issues that preoccupy developed countries, such as ozone depletion and global warming) – are arguably the worst environmental problems in the developing world. 

Many donors and policy-makers (especially since the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, UNCED) have begun to embrace more localized, community-based approaches to natural resource management and sustainable development. This approach is informed by an understanding that the various groups in a society often experience environmental problems in very different ways.  

They are also advocating an alternative, approach to understanding the relationship between poverty and the environment, which shifts the emphasis from questions of resource availability to those of access, control and management.  This means increasingly searching for ways in which policy interventions can achieve objectives to promote poverty eradication and sound environmental management, thus creating "win-win" situations for poor people and the environments in which they live 6. 

In a Jamaican context, socioeconomic problems regarding poverty and crime are major concerns.  With a murder rate among the highest in the world (see Crime Graph - Murders per Capita), the environmental issues are often put lower on the list of pressing issues to be dealt with. 

e.      Ineffective Structures (Human Institutions, Regulations and Attitudes)

Considering the potential of new technology and the accompanying advances in science, it is possible to foresee a world in which a relatively stable human population can live at a high level of material affluence, with wild nature continuing to exist in abundance and relatively undisturbed lands available for human enjoyment. But this optimistic point of view is not supported by existing world conditions.  

Because knowledge now available is more than adequate to solve most of the world's major environmental problems, the problems are not those of science and technology but of the arrangements and functioning of human institutions and of the attitudes of individuals.  

Thus, while research in science continues in all the universities and other schools of the world, tropical forests and coral reefs are being devastated in ways that suggest that the science of these natural objects are still unknown. Although the techniques for managing livestock have reached a high level of sophistication, overexploitation continues around most of the world's major pasturelands, deserts and oceans, and animals die of hunger, people suffer from deprivation, and the deserts spread. Obviously, the knowledge available does not reach or influence the behaviour of most of the people on our planet. 

A key point is the failure of most societies to exercise adequate controls over land, water, and other resource use. Effective means for controlling land use do not exist in most countries; laws and regulations that permit governments to exercise such control, when existent, often cannot be enforced because of strong public resentment and resistance. Although it is essential that lands and all other resources be used with a view to preserving their future productivity, this view often conflicts with present needs or demands of the resource users. The solution to this conflict is not within the scope of science or technology; instead, it is a question of attitudes and values and these are more difficult to change than laws or regulations. 6  

-     The “frontier mentality” – There are many resources and they are all for me

-     Corporate greed 

For many people an environmental crisis of this complexity and scope is not only the result of certain economic, political, and social factors. It is also a moral crisis which, in order to be addressed, will require broader philosophical and religious understandings of ourselves as creatures of nature, embedded in life cycles and dependent on ecosystems. Religions may need to be reexamined in light of the current environmental crisis. This is because religions help to shape our attitudes toward nature in both conscious and unconscious ways. Religions provide basic interpretive stories of who we are, what nature is, where we have come from, and where we are going. Religions also suggest how we should treat other humans and how we should relate to nature. These values make up the ethical orientation of a society. 6 

How does development change the environment?

How can natural resources be managed sustainably? 

Cost of resource use to ecosystems

a) Environmental cost of extraction of raw materials: - disruption to environment, pollution
b) Environmental cost of transformation of raw materials into useable end product: - pollution
c) Environmental cost of disposal after use: - waste, pollution 2 





Ecosystem Preservation

Strategies for conservation of biodiversity and the genetic resource

Sustainable harvesting of wild plant and animal species,

Protected areas, national parks, wildlife reserves, gene banks


Conservation strategies and legislation


International organizations e.g.  UNEP, IUCN, WWF, CITES

Local environmental organizations e.g.  NEPA, JET, JCDT, EFJ

Population Management

Strategies for managing population growth


Family planning, improved health and education, national policies



Strategies for managing the urban and rural environments


Planning, environmental improvement, community participation



Strategies for overcoming world inequalities


Improved trade and aid conditions, governmental and non-governmental aid, food aid



Managing tourism

National Parks, ecotourism

Land Resources Management

Strategies for soil conservation

Tree planting, terracing, contouring, windbreaks, community participation



Sustainable forest management techniques


Agroforestry, mixed tree planting, reforestation, sustainable harvesting of hardwoods, fuel/fire wood planting



Alternatives to deforestation



more efficient use of timber, recycling (paper/timber), alternative materials to timber; alternative materials for “yam sticks”


   Constraints in Resource Management

1.      To date, resources have been exploited under customary systems and have appeared to be limitless.  In the new context of resource depletion and population pressures, new attitudes need to be developed, to allow for sustainable use of our natural resources.

      While problems and issues are well recognised and there is some increase in community concern over sustainable resource use in many countries, in most cases, unfortunately, there is no perceived need to address the problems and issues involved and no sense of urgency to find and implement solutions.  The values of natural resource stocks are not quantified in economic terms.  At the grassroots community level, many resources are still perceived as “free” and “without limit.”  There is a lack of public awareness, of the potential scarcity of the resources involved.  Partly resulting from this lack of knowledge or awareness, and hence lack of pressure, resources are being liquidated for immediate economic gain rather than being managed sustainably. 

3.      A second and difficult constraint in developing and maintaining sustainable natural resource management techniques is the limitation of manpower to enforce environmental laws and regulations. 

4.      Lack of funding to tackle unsustainability.   

5.      Financial and social pressures.  Population concentration and economic pressures may make resource management more difficult. 11 

Possible Actions for Natural Resource Management

Management is not about the provision of a ready-made list of solutions.  Rather it is about the creation of a framework or environment, which enables the assessment of issues.  This requires close consultation with the local population, and the development (and continual revision or improvement) of effective strategies and plans to maintain the balance between resource usage and conservation. 

The practice of sustainable resource management should take place mostly at the local community level by those using the resources, rather than by officials who may have little or no direct involvement with the community. 

Often local communities have not been involved or consulted in the resource planning process.  In future, opportunities must be provided for local or village communities to develop/acquire knowledge and appreciation of the benefits of conserving and managing resources, and to evaluate for themselves the relative costs and benefits of different uses. 

The most important factor determining whether individuals or communities will manage natural resources sustainably is whether or not they perceive that it is in their interest to do so.  This also applies to landowners, who should also be closely involved in discussions on more sustainable management.  

·        Addressing each resource

Conservation of land, fresh water, air & marine resources 

·        Means of Implementing Actions  

(1)   Involving resource owners

Action both at national and regional level is essential to involve those who have a stake in resources, in the research, planning, and management process.  Actions could involve the following:

·        Ensuring that local communities, are well represented in national planning bodies or at least kept informed of, and invited to contribute to the planning process

·        Seeking comments and inputs from local communities on draft strategies and programmes

·        Creating a mechanism by which communities can assess their own performance and share experience and knowledge with others 

(2)   Raising awareness and promoting knowledge

Programmes need to be implemented and maintained to fully inform communities about the value of resources.  Actions could involve the following:

·        Utilising the media to promote awareness of benefits and costs, using professional communicators sensitive to local communities

·        Integrating environmental education into school curricula- especially primary schools 

(3)   Institutional Arrangements

·        National Leadership

Sustainable management of natural resources is essentially a local and national responsibility, since the issues and actions to be taken are addressed in each country.   

Commitment of the wider community to national programmes is granted only when the government uses resources sustainably and applies good governance.  Good governance implies that actions and initiatives are made known in advance to the general public, that different social groups be represented at national and local decision-making.  If government bodies are perceived as wasteful or irresponsible in their use of the resources, communities will naturally adopt a similar attitude. 11

 ·        National Coordination

In Jamaica, the national body responsible for overseeing the country’s natural resources is the National Environmental and Planning Agency (NEPA).  NEPA is an agency of the Ministry of Land and Environment which became operational on April 1, 2004.

 The objectives of NEPA include: promoting sustainable development by ensuring protection of the environment and compliance to relevant legislation, increasing understanding of the environment, planning and development issues and encouraging extensive participation amongst citizens. 12

Jamaican Environmental Issues - Online Resources:

Environmental Priorities - Forestry, Agriculture and Watershed Management



Environmentalists knock PNP's record - JAMAICAOBSERVER.COM



The well-to-do rape the hills too - JAMAICAOBSERVER.COM



New committee tackles Rio Grande watershed problems - JAMAICAOBSERVER.COM



Small islands drowning in sewage, garbage, says UN study - JAMAICAOBSERVER.COM



Coral reefs saves the Caribbean billions of dollars — report - JAMAICAOBSERVER.COM



Jamaica Gleaner - Big plans for fishing industry - Saturday | May 22, 2004



Sustainable Development – General Online Resources:

Bringing Coastal Dead Zones Back to Life by Robert Howarth 



Ecotourism and Its Impact on Forest Conservation
by Margaret (Meg) Lowman http://www.actionbioscience.org/environment/lowman.html


Population and the Environment: The Global Challenge
by Don Hinrichsen and Bryant Robey



Protecting Virgin Landscapes: A Georgian Perspective
by Nika Beruchashvili

Nutrients in Rural Waterways




1.  European Environment Agency EEA - Glossary - water resources



2.  Fredlund, Glen Geography 416-350: Conservation of Natural Resources



3.  Exploitation of Natural Resources http://www.msue.msu.edu/msue/imp/modsr/03229570.html 

4.  Free Definition http://www.free-definition.com/Exploit-(natural-resources).html 

5.  Krogh, David, 2000. Biology: a guide to the natural world Prentice Hall, Inc.  

6.  Biodiversity Web Roots of Biodiversity loss http://www.biodiversity.nl/structures.htm 

7.  The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Ed. http://dictionary.reference.com/ 

8.  World Water Council http://www.worldwatercouncil.org/Vision/Documents/Chapter2.pdf 

9.  Gumisai Mutume, 2004 Rough road to sustainable development (From Africa Renewal, Vol.18 #2)



10.  The World Revolution Global Overconsumption Unsustainable, Threatens People and Planet



11.  Sustainable Development Department, Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations(FAO)

 A Programme for Sustainable Development in the South Pacific



12.  National Environmental and Planning Agency

 About NEPA  http://www.nepa.gov.jm/about/aboutnepa.htm