The USS Quad Damage

Wants and resources

Leigh Sales is a smart cookie, but she really should've argued more with her teachers in high school.

I wrote this in reply to Leigh Sales' article. I figured it’d be good to re-post it here (slightly altered):

“wants are unlimited but resources are limited�

I’ve read this argument many times, and it’s completely wrapped up in the day’s zeitgeist. You’re assuming, of course, that wants always consume resources, which is a flawed assumption.

Indeed, other than non-renewable energy (although, even “renewable” energy means energy from the Sun, which has a finite lifetime), we don’t really “consume” resources as such. We simply transform them. We mine the aluminium and turn it into the iPad shell, we gather glass and so on. In the end we’ll just throw the iPad away, thinking “man my wants exceed the resources on the planet”. The iPad hasn’t gone anywhere, it’s just in the bin (or land-fill). It will eventually get recycled in some way. In addition, while you’re using the iPad, you’re not “consuming” newspapers, which means that paper is free for other uses.

Indeed, all you can do is hoard materials for your lifetime. Once you’re dead it just falls back into the system. Some kid might want some grain to survive for a month, and you might say “no, that grain is for the cow I'll eat for dinner”, so sure, the kid might die of starvation. Alternately, by buying an iPad, you’re allowing someone else to eat the cow so the child may starve; but you get the idea, you’re just squeezing people out of having resources, and the end of the chain is obviously someone who can’t afford to feed themselves. However, if she lives long enough that you’ll die, you won’t be able to consume the cow, which lets her eat the grain.

So basically, the idea of consumption is as a cycle, not a thing which ends. Us engineers just need to figure out how to make products that are designed to be recycled (that is, consume less energy to be converted into other products). Other than that, the only thing you’re doing is causing people to starve to death by buying an iPad.