The Roots of Progress

There are no natural resources

April 15, 2017

One observation from my reading so far: everything that nature gives us is in a highly inconvenient form.

For one, everything we need is mixed up with a lot of stuff that we don’t. Metal comes to us in ore, oxidized and mixed with rock, which needs to be smelted. Kernels of grain are nutritious, but they’re encased in hard, fibrous, indigestible material and need to be threshed out. Cotton can be made into cloth, but first you must remove the seeds, straighten the fibers, etc. Antibiotic penicillin is secreted by molds, but to be a usable medicine it need to be extracted from the “mold juice.” A lot of industrial processes are separating, distilling, and purifying materials.

For another, nothing is found exactly where or when you need it. Deposits of clay used for bricks may not be near the fertile field where a farmer wants to build his house. Rivers flow where they want, and the wind blows at whim. Naturally growing fruits, vegetables and roots are scattered randomly throughout fields and forests, inconvenient for harvesting. The grain may not grow near the mill, nor the cotton near the loom.

So a lot of industrial processes come down to: extracting useful materials from the environment, making them into the form or the products we want, moving them to the place where we want them, and making them available on demand.

There are no “natural” resources. Everything nature gives us is wrong somehow. Through effort and ingenuity we make natural materials and energy into what we need.

(Note: I’m not the first to make a similar point.)