Redefining Concepts around Natural Resources and the Environment

CEESP News - by Mahdi Kolahi, Faculty of Natural Resources and Environment, Ferdowsi University of Mashhad, Mashhad, Iran

When studying or working in natural resources or environmental fields, it is always a question how to call, for example, nature, natural things, and the environment! To what extent a thing is a 'natural resource', a 'natural feature', or an environmental one. There is often a vague construction between concepts of natural resources and the environment.

Redefining Concepts of Natural Resources and the Environment

Figure 1 represents interlinks among the Earth, Nature & Natural Area; Natural Habitats; Natural Sites, Features & Landscapes; Natural Resources; and Human Environment

We use words to simply transfer explicit or implicit meanings. By using different names when calling those fields, different social constructions come up. What this note is going to emphasis or to reveal are the interconnections between nature and human environments. For it, Figure 1 represents interlinks among the Earth, Nature & Natural Area; Natural Habitats; Natural Sites, Features & Landscapes; Natural Resources; and Human Environment.

Oxford Dictionary defines Natural Area as “a geographical area the distinguishing characteristics of which have arisen naturally and without planning”, Natural Resources as “materials or substances occurring in nature which can be exploited for economic gain”, and Habitat as “the natural home or environment of an animal, plant, or other organism”.

We call forests and ranges, for example, as natural resources. In this case, we largely consider them as timbers and forages resources, respectively. But they are habitats for many other living and non-living creatures. On the other hand, when forests and ranges are called resources, we teach new generation or write public that they are “resources”, or in our current behaviors, as sources, and thereby they have to be exploited or to be extracted! But how about lives of other creatures in those areas?

Environmental ethics forces us to consider forests and ranges as natural habitats. With that, human will learn firstly that those areas are habitats, home of “others”, and need respects. Therefore, they mostly have to be considered as habitats instead of timber or forages resources. In result, forests and ranges are not natural resources - but they have some products and services that are kind of natural resources. In other words, forest, ranges, deserts, watersheds, wetlands, seas, rivers, etc. have to be emphasized and to be considered primarily as natural habitats, not as natural resources.

Because of many factors - especially overpopulations, global warning and technology, nowadays, human environment predominantly is being amplified. It has taken other areas, has also affected on, has changed and has shrunken them. Therefore, Figure 1 also reveals importance of areas of other spheres to be free from human interference and encroachment.

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