UCC scientist warns of the severe consequences of excessive consumerism

UCC scientist warns of the severe consequences of excessive consumerism
Material science expert Dr Eoin Flynn.

Not-so-smart-phones, inadequate medical equipment, unsafe cars and less robust buildings could be real-life consequences of the world’s excessive consumerism habits, according to a Cork-based environmental scientist.

Dr Eoin Flynn, who is an expert in material science and w runs Sustainable Materials Laboratory in UCC’s Environmental Research Centre, said there are a number of vital materials that are being used at unsustainable levels and are now facing extinction.

The environmental scientist said that elements needed for smartphones, medical equipment, safe buildings and cars are depleting at a ferociously fast rate that will cause them to run out in the not-so-distant future. As well as this vital medical tools, such as an MRI machine, may become useless if certain chemicals run out, as predicted.

Among the many elements, metallic and non metallic, that are at risk of running out through overuse are oil, which is used to make plastic, helium, which is needed for working MRI machines, phosphorous, which is essential for crop fertilisers and a vast number of the non radioactive elements of the periodic table, most of which are vital for modern smartphones.

Dr Flynn said at current usage levels there are somewhere between 250-350 years of aluminium remaining, copper reserves are expected to be depleted in 38 years, gold in just 18 years, nickel in 30, 20 for silver, 15 for tin, and titanium about 200 years.

As well as this, phosphorous is listed as a critical raw material, with significant threat to supply, by the EU since 2014 and in a 2017 study, sand was highlighted as becoming a scarcity.

Dr Flynn said the answer to our depleting resources is moderation and restraint.

“Take responsibility," he said. "Notice where you are consuming more than necessary, and stop doing so. 

"Do not unnecessarily consume everything.

“That will give us the time needed for the necessary technologies to develop that can completely solve these problems. All that is required of us is a little restraint.”

See pages 10 and 11 for day one of our series on the environment. 

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