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“ It is genuinely possible to create a sustainable industrial society. A clear course must be set, however, to achieve this as well as extensive joint efforts made by all those active in politics, science and the economy.”

A plea for a sustainable industrial society.
Guest commentary by Prof. Martin Faulstich.

Our task for the coming century will be to transform our current ‘resource-hungry’ industrial society into a sustainable industrial society that handles our resources in a just way that goes beyond country borders and generations. We have, in principle, been aware of the elements needed to achieve this aim – sufficiency, efficiency and substitution – for a long time now.

 

The question of sufficiency, i.e. with what material outlay we wish to achieve happiness and satisfaction, has certainly been suppressed for too long. The discussion, however, about the limits to growth shows that this subject is back on the agenda.

 

And what about efficiency? The increases in efficiency that we have achieved over the last few decades thanks to the certainly impressive work carried out by engineers have already been nullified through increased consumption. Greater efforts must, without a doubt, be made in this area.

 

Looking at energy supply, the German Advisory Council on the Environment (SRU) has shown that it is certainly possible for Germany as part of the European Union to be supplied with reliable and affordable electricity purely from renewable sources by 2050.

 

Now, a modern industrial society does not only need electricity, heat and mobility for final consumers but also a large number of metals and minerals which are hard or practically impossible to substitute. Supplies of many common metals such as lead, zinc, copper, tungsten and nickel have a static lifetime of only a few decades. Furthermore, our high-tech industry is dependent on many critical raw materials such as tantalum, niobium, platinum, neodymium and indium.

 

Many of these raw materials are in the hands of just a few countries and a few companies thus clearly restricting free market mechanisms. When, in the future, natural reserves have been exhausted and even the old disposal sites have been removed, the industrial society of the future will have to rely on a comprehensive recycling sector that is based for the most part on secondary raw materials.

Prof. Dr.-Ing. Martin Faulstich

Prof. Martin Faulstich is Professor of Resource and Energy Technology at the Technical University in Munich and a founding director of the Straubing Centre of Science, a Bavarian joint facility focusing on renewable energy and renewable raw materials. In addition, Prof. Faulstich is Chairman of the Board of the ATZ Development Centre for Energy, Raw Materials and Materials in Sulzbach-Rosenberg. As Chairman of the German Advisory Council on the Environment (SRU), Prof. Faulstich acts as an adviser to the German Government.




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