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Students will explore the connection between individual behavior and resource use, learn the difference between renewable and nonrenewable resources, and identify careers related to natural resource management by playing an active, futuristic game in which teams have to collect limited resources from "Planet Zorcon."
*These materials are included in the Planet Zorcon Kit, which is available for purchase from agclassroomstore.com.
inexhaustible resources: natural resources that can last forever regardless of human activities
nonrenewable resources: limited natural resources that cannot be replaced or reproduced (within a generation)
renewable resources: natural resources that can be replaced by human efforts are considered renewable, although the supply of these resources can be reduced without proper management
The things we use every day come from the earth. Nearly all of our daily activities use some kind of resource that is grown on a farm, harvested from the wild, mined, or extracted from deep below the soil. You may awaken in the morning on sheets made of cotton, under a blanket made of wool or synthetic polyester. Cotton is grown on a farm, wool comes from sheep raised on a farm, and synthetic polyester, like most plastics, is made from petroleum, which is extracted from the earth. The soap you use in the shower might contain cottonseed oil, while the tile, metal, and glass are made from mined materials. Wallpaper can be adhered to the wall using wheat paste, and paint contains compounds from trees. The linoleum on the floor is made from soybean oil, the wood flooring came from trees, and the nails holding it together are made from materials that were mined from the earth. The electricity powering the lights may come from water running through a hydroelectric dam or from coal burned at a power plant. It’s difficult to imagine what our lives would be like without the natural resources that provide us with electricity, materials for the everyday items we use, and food to nourish our bodies.
It can be an eye-opening experience to consider the resources that one uses in a single day, especially considering that some resources are nonrenewable. Nonrenewable resources cannot be replaced within a generation, so once they are gone, we have to make do without them. Fossil fuels and soil are two important nonrenewable resources. Both are formed very slowly by natural processes and both play central roles in our lives. While the act of using fossil fuels depletes the supply, this is not necessarily the case with soils, which can be managed for long-term use. Erosion destroys topsoil, but good management can prevent erosion.
Soil that is managed well can support many years of cropping. Crops are a renewable resource because they can be managed for replenish themselves regularly. For example, a tree farm can be managed so that some trees are ready for harvest each year. After trees are cut down to be turned into paper or lumber, more trees are planted that will renew the supply several years in the future. Crops like wheat and corn are planted and harvested within a single growing season, so they can be used up and then renewed each year.
Some resources are considered inexhaustible, meaning that human activities will not affect the supply; they can last forever. Sunlight, water, and air are examples of inexhaustible resources. People cannot destroy these resources or create more of them, but we can affect their quality. Pollution can render air unbreathable and water undrinkable. Because we depend on natural resources to survive, it is important that we use them carefully. There are many careers in the field of natural resource management that seek to maintain the quality and productivity of earth’s resources.
Whether a resource is nonrenewable, renewable, or inexhaustible it needs to be managed to the best of our knowledge to maintain the sustainability of the resources we need to survive. The tragedy of the commons is a term used in social science to describe a situation in a shared-resource system where individual users act independently according to their own self-interest and behave contrary to the common good of all users. The result depletes or spoils the resource.
Complete this section of the lesson one class period BEFORE you want to start the lesson.
Activity 1: Seeing is Believing
Activity 2: Trip to Planet Zorcon
NOTE: This is a very busy activity! Be sure to have plenty of space, and conduct this activity where students will not disrupt other classes. Review the directions carefully and note the preparation time that is required.
Discuss the activity covering the following topics:
The future of our planet depends on human behaviors that we can control and our reaction to things we can’t control, such as the weather and earthquakes. If no action is taken to manage how we use natural resources, nonrenewable resources can be exhausted, the quality of inexhaustible resources can be damaged, and the ability to replenish renewable resources can be lost. Managing natural resource use requires managing human behavior, which is a complex endeavor.
Activity 3: Careers in Natural Resources
Concept Elaboration and Evaluation
We welcome your feedback! Please take a minute to tell us how to make this lesson better or to give us a few gold stars!
Use the activities from the lesson Corn an A-maizing Plant: Food, Fuel, and Plastic to further explore the connections between agriculture and natural resource use.
Dig deeper into the concept of the Tragedy of the Commons by listening to the NPR podcast, The Bottom of the Well. Discuss the possibility of water wells drying up in residential areas or on farms that provide our food. Discuss agricultural water requirements to produce our food supply. Look at the chart showing The Amount of Water Needed to Grow These Crops. Relate what students learn from the podcast to Planet Zorcon.
The original lesson plan was adapted from What will tomorrow bring? from the International Office of Water Education, Utah State University. The lesson was updated in 2020 by the National Center for Agricultural Literacy.
Debra Spielmaker, Geoff Smith, and Andrea Gardner
Utah Agriculture in the Classroom and National Center for Agricultural Literacy