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Sustainable Materials-Use For Durable Prosperity

In the current world economic model, vast quantities of materials are dug, cut, blasted, sheared, shredded, sawn, and extracted from the Earth's surface and below and then processed into products that are used for a fairly short time and then thrown away. This churning of the Earth's surface for material comforts, having started thousands of years ago, has been rapidly escalating, as the world's 6+ billion inhabitants compete for the ease and prosperity that these products provide. However, it simply cannot go on this way without laying waste to the planetary life-support systems that all inhabitants of Earth rely upon.

There is a simple and profound solution to this problem. If we start with the premise that all people have the right to strive for a better standard of living, then we have to ask the question as to how that is possible.

The answer is that we must stop the wasteful strip mining and discarding the Earth's resources. This can be accomplished with a change in the economic paradigm. The new "High-Miler" paradigm would include the following features:
  • Instead of stripping the earth of resources to create short-lived products, we start to recognize that true wealth is built by products that last for generations. Instead of throw-away products, manufactured with planned-obsolescence in mind, so that more products can be produced and sold by stripping the Earth, we design and build products with durability, functionality and maintainability that can last a life-time and more. Such products would be designed with modular components and quick disconnect fastening systems so that the companies producing them can shift from a materials-churning paradigm to a service, upgrade, and customize paradigm.
  • I call it the High-Miler approach. It would be founded on a shift from materials-intensive to innovation and labor-intensive systems for providing value in manufactured items. For instance cars that utilize modular designs would have all systems including frame, suspension, drive train, body panels, etc, made for quick disconnect and simple service and replacement. Replacement components would be periodically offered to yield better economy, serviceability, performance, styling and advanced technology. The old components would be recycled and used to supply the materials for the updated ones. Providing these updated components would become the new business plan for manufacturers. The better a job they do at providing value to their customers, the more loyal the customers will remain to the brand, forming relationships that could last for generations. Definitely good for business.
  • Housing, appliances, and transport are all good candidates for such a shift to sustainable practices. Houses that last for hundreds and even a thousand years have been demonstrated in Europe. Appliances such as refrigerators, washers and dryers, and many smaller appliances could be designed to yield economical repair, upgrading and customization. The same holds for transport systems that are engineered for economical repair, upgrading and improvement. Imagine if it only took 20 minutes labor to upgrade to a new engine or suspension. Unlike now where doing even the most moderate of repairs is so expensive that it is cheaper to buy another vehicle. Imagine if quick-change of body panels could yield an upgraded vehicle style in a few hours. These things are all easily achievable and must now be done.
  • Durable products are not only a store of the materials used in their manufacture but also store the energy that was used. We need to see that the house is a materials and energy bank. If we can dramatically increase the useful life of products, we can eliminate much of the negative consequences of acquiring the material and energy used to provide them. For example if a wooden house were engineered to last twice the length of time needed to regrow the timber used in it's construction, the use of that material would no longer be unsustainable. As it happens, I grew up in a house built in 1732, that is still in good shape and serving its present owners well.  The trees have long since regrown. Some houses owned by European friends are over 500 years old and having been upgraded with all the modern amenities, are a wonderful link to tradition and the past while at the same time being thoroughly up to date.
  • With this new paradigm the world would rapidly reduce the destructive effects of materials-churning manufacturing approaches and the world's resources would benefit many more people than the current modalities can ever achieve. Prosperity and the health of the planetary eco-system would no longer be in conflict. This is where we must go. The alternative is mass depopulation and an extinction crisis yielding unparalleled suffering. Our choice!