the resources of Earth

The biosphere of Earth is a vast and complex web of interactions between all of its living things and the non-living parts of Earth itself. The individual life-forms, species, ecosystems, and the material of Earth all have uncountable connections to each other as they use, and are used by, each other.


Plants use energy from the sun, water, carbon-dioxide from the air, and minerals from Earth to make themselves, herbivorous animals consume plants to make their own bodies, and carnivorous animals eat these and other animals to make their bodies. The waste from all of these living things, and their bodies when they die, are returned to be reused in this complex, recycling web.


Just as living things are made from the non-living substances of Earth, so, in many ways, the non-living Earth is made from living things: many living things when they die become non-living things such as chalk, coal, and mineral oil. The life processes of living things also create the non-living substances of Earth, forming such things as phosphates, iron ore, and the oxygen and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.


Living things affect the geological form of Earth. Plants protect the surface of Earth, reducing erosion and may change the course and form of rivers and coastlines. Animals may cause erosion by the way that they move on or through the ground. The soil on the surface of Earth is as much a product of the macroscopic and microscopic animals and plants that live in it and on it, as it is a product of the non-living mineral part of Earth.


All these exchanges amount to exchanges of resources. From the point of view of any individual living thing, it gets the resources that it needs from its interactions within the biosphere of Earth, and gives back other resources, in the forms of its waste, and itself when it dies.


These exchanges of resources between the components of Earth's biosphere mean that nothing is completely separate from anything else in this complex and pervasive system.


Hundreds-of-thousands of generations of humans and billions of generations of our ancestral pre-human life-forms, going back to the emergence of life three-and-a-half billion years ago, have been part of this web of interactions in the biosphere, receiving and providing balanced levels of resources from and to this system. We, modern humanity, have gone on to expand our part of this web of interactions by expanding our ecological exchanges through the industry that forms the basis of our modern economies.


The resources that we humans now require of Earth for our part of this web of interactions are wide ranging and voluminous; they include oxygen from the air both for our own breathing and to run our machines; water for our own bodies, for food growing, and to supply our industries; a vast range of minerals from Earth; energy sources such as oil, coal, gas, sunlight, wind, nuclear material, and geothermal heat; and biological resources as plants and animals for our food, clothing and building materials.


As well as the natural things that we humans have always returned to Earth's biosphere as our part of this web of interactions, we now also create many chemicals that don't occur naturally, such as herbicides and pesticides, chlorofluorocarbons, and solid stable waste such as plastics. We also create many otherwise naturally occurring materials in unnaturally large quantities; such as carbon-dioxide, sulphur-dioxide, animal faeces and waste body material, and nitrogen compounds from fertiliser.


Many of these things that we release into the air and the water and onto the land are not absorbed or processed as resources by other parts of the web of interactions, or we produce them in such quantities that they overwhelm them.

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