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CEnv Blog | Why acting on climate change means we have to de-materialise

A Cranfield University Blog by Professor Mark Jolly CEnv, Professor and Director of Manufacturing

Too much of the debate around climate change and sustainability is fixed on CO2 emissions and renewable energy.
What’s talked about far less, but is equally as fundamental to dealing with the climate emergency — maybe because it’s more problematic, more uncomfortable for all of us as consumers — is our need to de-materialise. In other words, not depending on having so much stuff.

We have to start valuing the things we have and, most of all, start to appreciate the materials involved and how things are actually made. A typical electronic device, one we all have in our homes and rely on, would have needed around four elements from the Periodic Table in the pre-digital age. Now it’s more like 40. Many of those elements will be scarce in term of production levels and have been stripped from multiple natural resources. Often the materials will also have come from nations where working conditions are poor and there are wider problems of conflict and civil unrest. And it’s not just the materials, manufacturing processes mean the use of vast supplies of energy and water. Even the production of data, every single byte of a Tweet, text message or Zoom call, involves the consumption of more energy.

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