Adding Waste to the Environment
Population, consumption and technology create an impact on the environment by way of two major types of human activity. First, we use resources. We occupy or pre-empt the use of space, and so modify or remove entirely the habitats of many wild species. We extract resources - growing food, catching fish, mining minerals, pumping groundwater or oil. This affects the stock of resources available for humans and for other species in the future.
Resources fall into two main categories: Renewable resources like water or fish are replenished naturally. Non-renewable resources like oil or iron ore have a limited stock that is not replenished, except on geological timescales of millions of years.
Second, we dump wastes - not just those that consumers throw away, but all the waste solids, liquids and gases that are generated from raw material to final product. These affect the state of land, groundwater, rivers, oceans, atmosphere and climate.
Resources have traditionally been the main focus of concern about the impact of population and consumption on the environment. Frequent warnings were issued that we faced massive famines, or that we would "run out" of essential fuels and minerals. More recently it has become apparent that more serious, more immediate and more intractable problems lie in the global threats that derive from our wastes.