4. Resources in British Columbia

What are Resources?

Traditionally a resource was defined as a product of biological, ecological or geological processes (natural resources) that satisfies human wants. Resources are part of an ecosystem and one where it is important to maintain biodiversity and the Earth’s life-support systems (Costanzia et al., 1997). In more modern times the concept resources has come to refer to processes of capitalism and specifically to notions of development and state formation (Gregory et al., 2009).

Resources are now in the hands of governments or powerful corporations and the manner in which these resources are managed affects all humans as well as the physical environment.

Economic vs Ecological Views

There are three fundamental differences between economic and ecological views on resources:

  1. An economic resource is human-centred and the ecological resource definition is nature-centred.
  2. An economic view includes desire along with necessity, whereas the biological view is about basic biological needs.
  3. Economic systems are based on markets of currency exchanged for goods and services, whereas biological systems are based on natural processes of growth, maintenance and reproduction.

Natural resources therefore need be differentiated from human-made resources, such as money, factories, information, labour and computers. Many humans use natural resources without considering the broader consequences of their use. For example every time you get in a car and drive you are using oil that pollutes the atmosphere through the exhaust gases released. When we turn on our gas central heating in the winter we are adding to the level of CO2 in the atmosphere. Consider also how oil and gas have a role in international economic and political relations. What is the role of Saudi Arabia or Qatar given the world’s wider dependence on their oil and gas?

Any substance found in Earth’s biosphere is simply another part of nature and is of no importance or value economically — that is, until society has a use for it.

When does a substance become a natural resource?

  1. When cultural value is given to the substance, as people desire and accept the use of the natural resource. Think of the cultural value and importance for people in BC to own and drive their own car. Do you own a car? Would you like to own a car?
  2. When it benefits technology and a society is able to process or extract the natural resource for use. Did you know that the original cars by Henry Ford were designed to run on batteries but when the technology to process petroleum was invented it quickly became a much cheaper alternative.
  3. When it benefits the economic system and a society can affect or define the price and availability of a natural resource. For example, corporations are now “fracking” (hydraulic fracturing) in the tar sands of Alberta as they have the money to do so. In contrast, consider conditions in some Global South countries where power cuts are common occurrences because the government cannot afford to pay suppliers for the necessary oil.