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Making the Modern World: Materials and Dematerialization Making the Modern World: Materials and Dematerialization by Vaclav Smil
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“the world now consumes in one year nearly as much steel as it did during the first post-World War II decade, and (even more incredibly) more cement than it consumed during the first half of the twentieth century.”
Vaclav Smil, Making the Modern World: Materials and Dematerialization
“we create the modern world's material wealth with no more than a quarter of all energy we use.”
Vaclav Smil, Making the Modern World: Materials and Dematerialization
“What is the actual link between material consumption and objective and subjective quality of life once the basic needs for food, clothes, shelter, and mobility are well satisfied? Going from material misery to modest material comfort will make many things in life better but, obviously, the link is not an endless escalator. But if so, where is the saturation point? Can such a level actually be quantified in a meaningful way? These questions must be asked even if there are no easy answers, mainly because of the situation that is the very opposite of the material poverty outlined at the beginning of this section: too many people live in the condition of material excess and this does not endow them with a higher physical quality of life than that enjoyed by moderate consumers and it does not make them exceptionally happy. At the most fundamental level, the question is about the very nature of modern economies. All but a tiny minority of economists (those of ecological persuasion) see the constant expansion of output as the fundamental goal. And not just any expansion: economies should preferably grow at annual rates in excess of 2%, better yet 3%. This is the only model, the only paradigm, and the only precept, as the economists in command of modern societies cannot envisage a system that would deliberately grow at a minimum rate, even less so one that would experience zero growth, and the idea of a carefully managed decline appears to them to be outright unimaginable. The pursuit of endless growth is, obviously, an unsustainable strategy (Binswanger, 2009), and the post-2008 experience has shown how dysfunctional modern economies become as soon as the growth becomes negligible, ceases temporarily or when there is even a slight decline: rising unemployment, falling labor participation, growing income inequality, and soaring budget deficits.”
Vaclav Smil, Making the Modern World: Materials and Dematerialization
“Peter Menzel's Material World: A Global Family Portrait”
Vaclav Smil, Making the Modern World: Materials and Dematerialization
“Opportunities for enhanced recycling remain great even in the case of paper and aluminum cans, the two materials whose recycling rates are the highest in all affluent countries (Japan's paper recycling may be the exception as it is already about as complete as is practical). Perhaps most notably, until 2008 paper was still the largest discarded material going into US landfills (almost 21% of the total mass, compared to nearly 17% for plastics), and although by 2010 it had fallen to just below plastic's share (16.2 vs 17.3%) the total mass of buried paper was still nearly 27 Mt/year (USEPA, 2011a): that is more than the annual production of all paper and paperboard in the same year in Germany (FAO, 2013). And while the mass of paper landfilled in the USA in 2010 was half of the total in 1990 (26.7 vs 52.5 Mt), during the same two decades the mass of discarded plastics rose by 70% and the total of buried polymers, 28.5 Mt, was greater than the combined annual production in Germany and France (Plastics Europe, 2012). Or another comparison: a destitute waste collector may spend a day collecting a mass of 1 kg of plastic shopping bags when rummaging the open garbage tips of Asia's megacities, while the USA buries nearly 80 000 t of plastic in its landfills every day. While in the USA only about 8% of discarded plastics were recovered in 2010 (with the rate ranging from 23% for PET (polyethylene terephthalate) bottles to less than1% for PP (polypropylene) waste), the EU's goal for 2020 is full diversion of plastic waste from landfills (EPRO, 2011). This would require a 50% increase of the 2010 recovery rate of 66%, roughly split between recycling and incineration for energy recovery. And, of course, waste recovery is not synonymous with recycling as significant shares of collected materials are not reused but landfilled (after volume reduction by shredding or compression).”
Vaclav Smil, Making the Modern World: Materials and Dematerialization
“Romania was the greatest exception with GDP up strongly by about 55% but with the country's material consumption expanding 2.5 times during the decade, a clear case of rising inefficiency of material use and increasing dependence of economic growth on higher material inputs.”
Vaclav Smil, Making the Modern World: Materials and Dematerialization
“Later studies estimated that at least 6.4 Mt of plastic litter enters the oceans every year; that some 8 million pieces are discarded every day; that the floating plastic debris averages more than 13 000 pieces per km2 of ocean surface; and that some 60% of all marine litter stems from shoreline activities”
Vaclav Smil, Making the Modern World: Materials and Dematerialization