Going into the future, I think we'll have to be very inventive about our usage of natural resources. Fewer rich sources of energy and resources will be out there, so we'll have to find inventive ways of using what we have and extracting what we need from lesser grades of material.
Also, it will get harder and harder to clean up big environmental messes.
Recently, I heard this axiom:
"Pollution is resource in the wrong place"
I have no idea who said that, but it's very wise. So wise in fact, that I have a feeling this might be the next big thing.
Here's a few way I see it put into practice.
Butte, MT Open Pit Mine. An abandoned copper mine builds up water contaminated with all sorts of nasty chemicals and metals. It became one of the largest (by size) Superfund sites in the US. Right now, though, the mine has reopened using new methods to leach metals out of the water and clean it up (also making a profit off the extracted metals). Extremophile bacteria also helped clean up "The Pit." Researchers studying these bacteria have invented new cancer drugs from them.
Another example of beneficial use of "waste" resources is beneficial use of dredge material for coastal restoration in Southeast Louisiana. Rebuild the wetlands while maintaining the port.
Fly Ash has been in the news because of the spill. Fly ash is what's leftover when you burn coal for oil. The TVA spill happened because it was being stored in big ponds that just got bigger and bigger and bigger. Well, fly ash does have an actual use. It's been used as a cement substitute in concrete mixes. It was first used as such in the Hoover Dam. The manufacture of cement is extraordinarily energy intensive and has a HUGE carbon footprint.
Also related to fly ash is the huge amounts of entrained thorium that could be used in thorium-fuel nuclear reactors. A very interesting and very promising emerging technology. The science behind thorium power is very interesting, there have been multiple successful test reactors, and I plan on doing a post about it soon.
Here's to "waste not, want not" for future energy and resource sources.