I very much appreciate your review of Professor of Engineering Design Chris McMahon’s translation of Philippe Bihouix. You have drawn my attention to aspects of Philippe’s thought that I had not fully appreciated, even though I have read the book. I particularly appreciate your flagging: “Bihouix favours ‘a scenario of involuntary adaptation, that will be socially painful and will have a profound impact on our societies, but which will be gradual all the same”. Thanks also for your reference to Ann Ryan’s work. Both Philippe and Chris continue to push their useful thought further. Chris has drawn attention to continuing assessment of available resources for industrial societies. The work of Julian Allwood is a case in point focussing on the UK https://ukfires.org/professor-julian-allwood/. Engineers it seems need a broad scan of the horizon when they take on major work, although ‘the miners’ have tended to see it as a matter of more mining. Having said that, it is my experience – I am not an engineer – that especially young people engaged in all modern ‘technical’ jobs and education, are immersed in a world of innovative technological expansion and take for granted this is going to continue for their careers. I was in a private discussion recently when people who had worked in China or had long had contacts with Chinese education, rather sombrely commented that young people there had been so immersed in the political and cultural environment that they took it for granted. Well … indeed. A rather neglected and underused website at Ecosophic Isles is due a revamp but the private discussions continue actively enough. We originally got together because we had been following discussions developed round the essays and books of the American writer JM Greer. Although we are inevitably part of the Anglophone world, we guess there are differences this side of the Atlantic and that we have a different legacy and neighbourhood. Some of the work and Bihouix-related comment on industrial resources is available at the site https://ecosophic-isles.org/ best wishes Phil Harris
In July 2019 we reproduced the letter written by Professor Richard Herrington, Head of Earth Sciences at the National History Museum and other scientists to the UK Committee on Climate Change, explaining the resource challenges of reaching net zero emissions in the UK by 2050 (https://ecosophic-isles.org/2019/07/18/natural-history-museum-letter-to-uk-statutory-committee-on-climate-change-june-2019-copy/). We published the letter here because we were surprised by how little impact it seemed to have in the mainstream media. Some two years later, and following many more net zero commitments from government and organisations around the world, the resource implications of the plans hardly cause a murmur in popular discourse. If one searches Google for news items on Herrington’s work on the topic the only mainstream articles seem to be in the Guardian on deep-sea mining, and a BBC article from 24 May this year saying that moving to net zero “inevitably means more mining” (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-57234610). The latter based on an article Herrington published in Nature Reviews Materials that month (https://www.nature.com/articles/s41578-021-00325-9). Why is it, with so much written about the need to decarbonise by adopting renewable energy and electrifying everything, that the implications of such moves are discussed so little? What might we do to increase public awareness of the issues?
Our advice to those who may be interested in this topic is “listen to the engineers and geologists”, and in that regard there are some voices that are well worth listening to in addition to Herrington and his colleagues. First, Professor Julian Allwood and his team on the UK FIRES research project at the universities of Cambridge, Oxford, Nottingham, Bath and Imperial College London, have done detailed work on the resource implications of net zero, and advocate placing resource efficiency at the heart of the national industrial strategy. Their web site at https://ukfires.org is a great source of information. Second, Simon Michaux of the Geological Survey of Finland has been vociferous on the resource challenges, in particular in his ‘The Mining of Minerals and Limits to Growth’ report published earlier this year (https://tupa.gtk.fi/raportti/arkisto/16_2021.pdf). In a very interesting recent podcast he was interviewed by broadcaster Phil Dobbie and economist Steve Keen as part of their Debunking Economics series (https://debunking.podbean.com/e/266-the-mineral-supply-crisis-that-s-rarely-talked-about/). This is well worth a listen.