The Earth provides us with a range of both finite and renewable resources.
Finite resources are resources that, once used, cannot be replaced; they include such things as mineral oil, coal, uranium and minerals such as iron (for steel) or bauxite (for aluminium). Renewable resources are resources that are continually being renewed by Earth's geological and biological processes; they include such things as water, air, food and timber.
Finite resources cannot be used sustainably. There is a limited, fixed, quantity of them, and they don't regenerate once they are used. Finite resources will eventually run out, and the people of the future won't have those resources or the functions that they give to us.
The closest we can come to using a finite resource sustainably is to use it as efficiently as possible, to recycle it, and to find a replacement for it in the job it does for us before we run out of it. If we can't eventually find a renewable replacement for that finite resource, then the people of the future cannot have the function that resource gives us.
Renewable resources won't necessarily be renewed; they must be allowed to renew themselves. Renewable resources can be used sustainably by ensuring that the rate that we use then is less than the rate at which they can regenerate, and that we protect the systems that regenerate them. For example, if we continually cut too many trees out of a forest too quickly the forest will not be able to grow new trees quickly enough to make up the loss and will be destroyed, so that we will not be able to get any more trees from it at all.
To sustain the Earth's ability to provide us with what we need, we must use renewable resources sustainably and ensure the efficient use and eventual replacement of finite resources.
A sustainable Earth (the only sort there is for us in the long run) is able to provide only a limited amount of the resources and natural services that underpin our lives and still be sustained. If we don’t live within those limits by using resources sustainably we simply won’t be sustained.
Sustainability means what it says: without sustainability we will not be sustained!
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