A long-haul to a sustainable world economy

Keith Hudson from Bath, England in his daily newsletter commenting on the recent article in the New Scientist by David Cohen, “We are using up minerals at an alarming rate. How long before
they run out?”

Careful studies by several academic teams around the world suggest that several critical materials needed by the modern electronic age are already in short supply. Key resources that are almost at vanishing point already are Gallium, Germanium and Rhodium. Other crucial materials and their anticipated lifetimes are as follows: Antimony (15 – 20 years)
Hafnium (about 10 years), Indium (5 – 10 years), Platinum (about 15 years), Silver (15 – 2-0 years), Tantalum (20 – 30 years), Uranium (30 -40 years), Zinc (20 – 30 years)

Thus the irony is that the new, “post-industrial” electronic age is even more vulnerable to key resource shortages than the more old-fashioned, industrial, “metal-bashing” technologies ever were. For example, there seems to be no way that computerisation can grow as intensively in the future as it has in the past because of shortages of critical materials such as germanium. Nuclear power seems stymied by shortages of uranium. As to widespread solar technology by means of solar cells and electronic circuitry changing sunlight into electricity this will be stillborn.

Whether one is considering countries which are trying to industrialise, or those developed countries which are fast changing to an electronic-based service economy, any sensible person reading the full article in the current New Scientist (“Earth Audit”) cannot fail to be convinced that not only our present way of life (for the fortunate one-third) nor the contemplated future life (for all) is at all possible without a fantastic reduction in world population and a new, and totally different, way of life.

There remains just one more possibility. This will comprise the bacterial production of hydrogen (for direct propulsion and also electricity generation) and also organic variants of consumer products which presently rely on metals and other energy-intensive materials. This will be done by technologies supervised by DNA — the most sophisticated control technology ever discovered. We only need to cite spider silk which is stronger than steel or the still-remaining versatility of wood or the still-superior uses of natural fibres for clothes to prove our case. There is almost nothing presently made that cannot also be made by organic methods — and could perform just as well — as is now made by “modern” energy-intensive technologies.

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