the age of low tech

Monday, August 11, 2014

Just ordered this book and very impatient to read it.
Philippe Bihouix (an engineer specializing in metals) describes so clearly the core problem with our consumption right now. Here is a summary:


Sorting our trash in the right bins does not redeem our current consumption level.  
Why? Because the idea that we'll reach a circular economy of total recycling is nothing but a myth.
- First because of dispersive use: we don't know how to salvage metals that are used in their chemical form (in colorings, inks, plastic additives). 
- Second because of downgraded use: thousands of metallic alloys get blended together during recycling, therefore can only be reused in lower quality steels. 

The highest you go on the hi-tech scale, the more you are consuming rare ressources. All these metals are used in a partially dispersive way. On most metals we are between 0 and 5% of recycling capability - not true for 'great' metals such as copper, aluminum, but on the other precious ressources we are moving towards absolute dispersion, with the ultimate phase being nano-technologies. Hi-tech goods (smartphones, computers) as well as the technologies used in renewable energy production (windmills, solar panels, hydogen powered-car) are of great concern. 

This doesn't mean we should stop recycling and go back to fossil fuels.
But we need to aknowledge that the technical solutions currently offered to us are simply beyond realistic implementation, and that we'll only get out of this through the bottom, i.e. by embracing low-tech.

Which would look something like this: reviewing and editing our needs, so that we choose the reduction of our material consumption, rather than wait until it happens against our will. Then, filling these needs with objects which prevent recycling waste: objects more simple, more monomaterial, easily disassemblable and reassemblable, more modular, more reparable, with all that this implies at a societal level.

The thesis of the book is that we are capable of reaching a level of comfort and civilization which is technically sustainable. Not going back to the stone age necessarily, but maybe to the medieval age - with the dentist.


So great to find somebody who can articulate and document a situation that you've personally been trying and struggling to express for a while. 
Hopefully this will be translated in english soon.

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