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If you thought that this page would be about future transporter technologies capable of beaming people down to alien planets then sadly you will be disappointed! "Dematerialization" simply refers to making products and human activities less material so that they consume less physical resources. In the face of increasing resource depletion, it is also critical than we all learn to consume physical resources more frugally in the years and decades ahead.
Our Options for Consuming Less Stuff
The total or relative dematerialization of products and human activities may be achieved in three basic ways.
Firstly, by embracing the Second Digital Revolution, we can exploit the increasing range of opportunities to replace physical things with digital substitutes. Already this is starting to happen, with a great many people now downloading or streaming music, video, software and books from the Internet, rather than purchasing (and transporting) physical media. In addition to saving natural resources, our transition to digital products is also starting to help in the battle against climate change. Indeed, according to a white paper from Intel called Advancing Global Sustainability Through Technology, reading the news on a computing device produces 32 to 140 times less carbon dioxide than consuming a physical newspaper.
Our second dematerialization option is to develop and adopt new manufacturing and distribution processes that produce less waste. One major possibility here is for many future products to me made using 3D printing. Because 3D printers additively build items by starting with nothing and adding layer after layer of material (as opposed to starting with a solid raw material and removing bits from it), their use in product production can significantly reduce manufacturing waste. Already the SAVINGS Project has managed to achive up to 90 per cent materials savings by using 3D printers to make some aerospace, medical and engineering parts. In the future, 3D printing could also allow spare parts and entire products to be stored and transported digitally, so again allowing physical resources to be saved.
The two aforementined possibilities for dematerialization may potentially allow us to go on living much as we do now, with little impact on overall levels of economic activity. For a short period this may also be OK. But in time, we will almost certainly need to embrace the most obvious means of dematerialization -- and that is simply to consume things less and value things more. Since the middle of the last century, much of the human race has become addicted to the plague of mass consumerism. But, as long as we all reside on one, small planet with finite and depleting natural resources, this craze for contant and often needless consumption will eventually have to come to an end.
This topic is discussed in more depth in my book Seven Ways to Fix the World.
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Dematerialization means making things less material
so that they consume fewer physical resources.
Read more in this book