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Most resources are finite and we cannot produce an unlimited number of different goods and services

Indeed by supplying more for an ever-growing and richer population we are in danger of destroying the natural resources of the planet.

Our ecological footprint affects the sustainability of economies and has huge implications for future living standards. Environmental pressure groups such as Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace seek to highlight the permanent damage to the stock of natural resources and the dangers from rapid development and the effects of global warming.

The Worldwide Fund for Nature has claimed that the natural world is being degraded "at a rate unprecedented in human history" and has warned that if demand continues at the current rate, two planets will be needed to meet global demand by 2050. Resources are being consumed faster than the planet can replace them

One issue is the threat posed by the shortage of water as the world's demand for household and commercial use continues to grow each year. Experts predict that half the world's population will be affected by water shortages in just 20 years' time. During the 20th century the world population increased fourfold, but the amount of freshwater that it used increased nine times over. Already 2.8 billion people live in areas of high water stress. For more on this issue visit the World Health Organisation's special web site on water scarcity.

At the heart of improving resource sustainability is the idea of de-coupling – trying to increase the efficiency with which resources are used and breaking the link between increasing demands and damaging resource depletion.

Why solar power is spreading so fast in Africa

Renewable resources are commodities such as solar energy, oxygen, biomass, fish stocks or forestry that is inexhaustible or replaceable over time providing that the rate of extraction of the resource is less than the natural rate at which the resource renews itself. (This is important!)

This is a key issue in environmental economics, for example the over-extraction of fish stocks, and the global risks of permanent water shortages resulting

Finite resources cannot be renewed. For example with plastics, crude oil, coal, natural gas and other items produced from fossil fuels, no mechanisms exist at present to replenish them.

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