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What is a Resource?

AS, A-Level, IB
AQA, Edexcel, OCR, IB, Eduqas, WJEC

Last updated 30 Jul 2017

Whilst definitions can vary, a resource is something which human society attaches value to due to its usefulness. This means that what is considered a resource can change over time: oil, for example, was not considered such a valuable resource until the late 19th century onwards. Within the broad definition of resources will be food and water resources, energy resources and mineral resources.

Natural resources are normally categorised into two types:

Stock resources (non-renewable)

These resources have taken millions of years to form and so they are finite (can be exhausted), which is why we call them non-renewable – they are not going to be replenished in the near future. (Whilst new coal or gas may be created over millions of years, this is not useful on a human timescale). Some stock resources may have their exploitable life extended, while others are consumed in a single use, such as fossil fuels; metals, such as copper and steel may be recyclable and re-used. Examples of stock resources include fossil fuels (coal, oil, gas) as well as minerals such as gold, copper, tin, uranium etc.

Flow resources (renewable)

In contrast to stock resources, flow resources are renewed within a short timescale, either through natural physical systems or biotic reproduction. Some flow resources require careful management by human society in order to ensure their continuous availability, such as fish stocks or forests. These are known as critical flow resources. If these are exploited too intensively such that they can no longer be renewed, then they become stock (non-renewable) resources. For instance, overfishing can become unsustainable, leading to the fish population no longer being able to reproduce at a rate required to maintain fish stocks into the future. Other flow resources do not depend on human management, such as solar energy, wind or tides. Examples of flow resources include fish stocks, forests, fresh water, wind, solar energy and tidal range.

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