8.2 Resource use in society

Significant ideas:

  • The renewability of natural capital has implications for its sustainable use.
  • The status and economic value of natural capital is dynamic.

Knowledge and understanding:

  1. Renewable natural capital can be generated and/or replaced as fast as it is being used. It includes living species and ecosystems that use solar energy and photosynthesis, as well as non-living items, such as groundwater and the ozone layer.
  2. Non-renewable natural capital is either irreplaceable or can only be replaced over geological timescales; for example, fossil fuels, soil and minerals.
  3. Renewable natural capital can be utilized sustainably or unsustainably. If renewable natural capital is used beyond its natural income this use becomes unsustainable.
  4. The impacts of extraction, transport and processing of a renewable natural capital may cause damage, making this natural capital unsustainable.
  5. Natural capital provides goods (such as tangible products) and services (such as climate regulation) that have value. This value may be aesthetic, cultural, economic, environmental, ethical, intrinsic, social, spiritual or technological.
  6. The concept of a natural capital is dynamic. Whether or not something has the status of natural capital, and the marketable value of that capital varies regionally and over time and is influenced by cultural, social, economic, environmental, technological and political factors. Examples include cork, uranium and lithium.

Applications and skills:

  • Outline an example of how renewable and non-renewable natural capital has been mismanaged.
  • Explain the dynamic nature of the concept of natural capital.


  • There are marked cultural differences in attitudes to the management of natural capital.

Theory of knowledge:

  • As resources become scarce, we have to make decisions about how to use them—to what extent should potential damage to the environment limit our pursuit of knowledge?


  • Environmental values systems (1.1)
  • Sustainability (1.4)