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  A concept used to denote sources of human satisfaction, wealth or strength. Labour, entrepreneurial skills, investment funds, fixed capital assets, technology, knowledge, social stability and cultural and physical attributes may be referred to as the resources of a country (or household, corporation, region and even the world — e.g. attempts under the rubric of sustainable development to represent the Amazon rainforest as a global resource). Resources may be used for both desirable and undesirable means, e.g. to wage war.

In a resource management context, the term is usually restricted to natural resources, which are substances, organisms and properties of the physical environment that are valued for their perceived ability to satisfy human needs and wants. People, acting through culture, evaluate nature and decide that certain of its elements are \'resources\' while others may be either disregarded or perceived as a pest, weed or danger. This perceived resource set alters markedly over time and space to reflect variations in knowledge, technology, social structures, economic conditions and political systems. The expansion of the resource base to include more elements of nature, e.g. through ecotourism, causes concern among many environmentalists who believe humans should \'tread lightly\' on the earth. The notion of \'resource\' is human centred, and assumes that nature is available to satisfy human wants and needs (see ecology; environmentalism). Viewing the entire world as resources for human consumption is known as \'resourcism\'.

The question of whether there are limits to growth is based on the perception of available resources and the relative importance given to specific resources: for example, Julian Simon (1994) emphasizes the importance of human ingenuity whereas Meadows et al. (1992) stress the finite aspect of resources (materials and energy) in throughput (i.e. the extraction, production, consumption and the disposal of wastes into nature\'s sinks, e.g. air, water). Meadows et al. (1992) saw the extraction of resources and the disposal of wastes so as not to deplete our resource base, as important problems that could not simply be overcome by the application of new technology. This represents a change in their position: previously they, and other authors such as Paul Ehrlich, had suggested that human beings would overexploit important resources, thereby leading to shortages and increased resource prices. However, these claims ignored the political economy of global trade (see Zacher, 1993; cf. globalization). Wealthy countries can ensure a supply of cheap resources from developing countries that are burdened with debt, and are competing on international markets with each other, thereby driving down prices. These authors also underestimated technological changes to identify and extract previously unknown, or unrecoverable, resources, and ignored the secrecy aspect of corporations not willing to release knowledge about the full extent of their \'resource reserves\'.

In many ways, resources are increasingly being managed for sustainable development through a process of conservation. This may involve reducing use, but more often involves reusing or recycling products to reduce both material and energy consumption. Given the laws of thermodynamics and particularly the second law (the entropy law), infinite recycling is impossible; the act of recycling also uses some additional energy and materials. There will continue to be a demand for resources to satisfy human needs and wants, but the distribution of resources, access to resources and the pattern of resource use are highly contingent upon social processes. Current resource use patterns are an issue in environmental justice. It is apparent that there are not enough material resources in the world for everybody to have the same material standard of living as is currently enjoyed by people in developed countries. Many authors (including the World Resources Institute, 1994) have suggested that changes must take place in the wealthier countries if we are to have sustainable development in the world.

However, there are also changing conceptions of what is a resource. This includes the patenting of biodiversity, mainly from countries in the developing world, by corporations from countries in the developed world, in an act that Shiva (1997) has labelled \'biopiracy\'. This raises questions of whose resource is it, who will have access to it, at what price, and how will resource exploitation be avoided? As Shiva (1997) notes, the structures promoting international trade are increasingly making it an infringement to deny transnational corporations access to these materials (i.e. there is the enclosure of the global commons by private property rights: cf. tragedy of the commons). The management of resources that have suddenly become (potentially) economically valuable in the wealthy countries calls into question the implementation of conservation and sustainable development. (PM)

References Meadows, D.H., Meadows, D.L. and Randers, J. 1992: Beyond the limits: global collapse or a sustainable future. London: Earthscan. Shiva, V. 1997: Biopiracy: the plunder of nature and knowledge.Toronto: Between the Lines. Simon, J. 1994: More people, greater wealth, more resources, healthier environment. Economic Affairs 14 3: 22-9. World Resources Institute 1994: World resources 1994-95. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press. Zacher, M., ed., 1993: The international political economy of natural resources, 2 vols. Aldershot and Brookfield, Vermont: Edward Elgar Publishing Limited.

Suggested Reading Emel, J. and Bridge, G. 1995: The earth as input: resources. In R. Johnston, P. Taylor and M. Watts, eds, Geographies of global change: remapping the world in the late twentieth century. Oxford and Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 318-32. Rees, J. 1991: Natural resources: allocation, economics and policy, 2nd edn. London and New York: Routledge.



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