The 6 materials that shape our world

As the great Madonna once said, we are living in a material world. The materials that really matter, however, are not the diamonds and money that the pop star sang about. In fact, our civilization is shaped by just six humble materials: sand, salt, iron, copper, oil, and lithium.

Supply and Demand

Following these six essential substances through history as they wind their way through economies all over the world is very educational. It can also be disturbing. The sheer scale of resource exploitation is staggering. For thousands of years, people have gone to extreme lengths for precious metals and other special resources. Perhaps worse, our pursuit of environmental goals will require even more extraction as we build more electric cars and solar panels.

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