“It’s materials, stupid!”, could perhaps have been a better title for this book. While the functioning of the earth system is mainly based on huge quantities of solar energy, the earth itself, being an island in the vast ocean of space, has a finite amount of natural resources. We need these precious resources to harvest that solar energy and its derivatives (wind, hydropower, and fossil fuels). Unlike energy, which has a high economic value, resources are being depleted if not squandered at an exponential rate, requiring ever-increasing amounts of energy to yield and process, because of decreasing ore grades. The results are a plethora of nasty side effects, not the least of which is climate change.
Our climate crisis is caused by burning and exhausting fossil fuels, which are themselves used to extract and exhaust a limited stock of materials, all for the sake of our insatiable desire for consumption. As people, we can change our habits and adapt; the earth cannot. That’s the hard truth we have to face, and the central question of this book: how do we reconcile our infinite need to consume with the earth’s finite resources?
It is not impossible to establish and maintain a balance, but it requires us to make dramatic choices in terms of our demands and desires, and to adapt to a fair share globally. It is absolutely necessary to refrain from growth and the current financial economy as a structuring principle, because it is based on the creation of debt, in money as well as in natural resources.
Ronald Rovers has been active in international energy and materials research‑related to the built environment for many years. He has been affiliated with Wageningen University, Zuyd University UAS, and recently the TU Eindhoven. He has his own research office, RiBuilT. A well-known speaker, writer, and futurethinker, he organized the First World Conference Sustainable Building in 2000.
People v. resources is the English language translation of Rovers’ book Gebroken kringlopen.
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