Friday, September 12, 2008

Renewable R's

When a “renewable resource” is consumed by people in a given year, it's consumption will not diminish the overall amount of resources available during that year. There are at least three ways this could happen.

The first way is for the resource to be replenished from some external source. Solar energy is “renewable” because the Sun is constantly emitting light, which replaces the light previously absorbed by us and other species. Wind is renewable because it is (usually) replaced by more wind. Members of other species are renewable if they reproduce themselves faster than we kill them.

The second way is for it to be replaced by us so it can be consumed again. A trivial example is a sand castle, which exists for a short time in its artificial form and then dissolves into its original state. Most of what we consume, however, assumes a different and often unusable form when we are done (“waste”); if we started consuming our waste, the original resources would become effectively renewable because we would not be depleting our supply of raw resources.

The third way is to slow down how fast we consume resources. By increasing durability and efficiency (collectively known as “reliability”), we can get many years of use out of what we produce, reducing the need to use new resources for the same purpose. Insulating our homes, sealing water leaks, and using materials that last long are all examples of this.

Utilizing the “renewable R's” of replenishment, replacement, and reliability, we can go far toward reducing our load on the resources we depend on without diminishing consumption and population.

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