What we learned this week

  • Tim Jackson gave a great lecture on prosperity without growth at the 2010 Deakin lectures, and you can hear it online here.
  • In related and rather sad news, this week the government announced that they are withdrawing funding for the Sustainable Development Commission, the originators of prosperity without growth.


  1. Perhaps peak REM/Lithium is a more serious problem than the dreaded Peak Oil or even peak phosphorus?

    The BBC’s Costing the Earth programme on 20th May (http://tiny.cc/vrg9r) was illuminating. It was about something of which I had vaguely heard but no more. It seems that most “green” technologies, and especially electric cars, low energy light bulbs and windmills, depend entirely on rare earth metals (REMs) – (they’re rare because their oxides are rarely found in sufficient concentrations to allow for commercial mining and purification). Yet there are serious suggestions (http://tiny.cc/6arc1) that they might not be available to the West from as early as 2012. Apparently China has a monopoly of REMs and will need all it has (a dwindling resource anyway) to cope with its own increasing demand. Moreover, supplies of lithium (http://tiny.cc/h2n02), also essential for “green” technology (especially batteries), may also be under threat.

    It gets worse. We’re told that the mining of REMs can itself cause severe environmental damage – so perhaps that electric car is not so environmentally friendly after all: as is pointed out in the article mentioned above (second link), “all these wind turbines, solar panels, hybrid car batteries and fiber optics may seem green to the consumer, but behind them there’s a very dirty mining business that rapes the planet and pollutes the rivers in order to recover these “green” rare metals”.

    So thanks to the BBC I have learned that, as wind-turbines and electric cars depend on scarce and depleting commodities that are controlled by a single supplier and the production of which causes great harm to the environment, they are hardly renewable, sustainable – or green.

    Hmm – maybe, as nuclear energy is so unpopular, the only solution is Ol’ King Coal after all. Or back to the Stone Age.

    1. Lots of links, and wordpress got suspicious, that’s why it was pending. All good now.

      I think there’s a middle ground between the stone age and a nuclear age. The key is to use materials well, re-use and repair rather than keeping extracting metals for new stuff. If the prices keep going up, it will start to look ridiculous to have a new mobile phone every year, for example. And we’ll all have to use less energy, and that may mean less travel all round, rather than substituting electric cars and carrying on as before.

  2. Maybe – but unfortunately governments and most “green” pressure groups seem committed to, for example, wind-turbines, solar panels and electric cars, all of which need these rare and damaging materials. The worrying consequences include a threat to the medical use of Lithium (for bipolar disorder). And there’s little sign (none really) of much interest in using less energy and, for example, travelling less – especially in China, India and other “developing” economies (and who can blame them?). Rather more serious, I suggest, than being unable to get that iPhone.

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