Cave! - I'm a scientist, not a political theorist; my theory of value may be incomplete and/or wrong; feel free to provide counter-examples.
: : Correct. So can you have 'wealth' without material?
: No, but you can have material without wealth. Its the transformation that counts. Think of it using marxist terminology 'use-value'. What use is a pile of iron ore? What use is a steel plough? I think you can see the point.
: : What use is gold if you have no food?
: Another good point - wealth is contextual, whats useful or valuable to you today may not be tomorrow - hence transfomations are the key.
Yes, but without the material to transform, the transformation itself is useless; thus, ultimately, value is at least partially predicated on physical resources.
What use has a steel plough over a pile of iron ore if digging the iron ore out of the ground has rendered the soil unfarmable?
The only use a steel plough has is that it enables you to produce a physical substance - food. If the production of the steel plough itself damages your ability to produce food, then the labour you have spent on the plough is wasted; and thus the 'wealth' added to the iron (in the form of labour) could be described as 'negative wealth'.
If you use labour to produce something desirable that actually reduces the absolute capacity of the Earth to support life, are you deserving of any reward for your labours?
Take a Furby. The benefits of a Furby are nebulous and subjective; the environmental costs are very clear. Why should people be paid for their labour, if their labour is making Furbies?
To a child; a Furby has strong positive value; to an environmentalist, strong negative value.
: : And I would rather live on a planet with 50% loss of material than on a completely polluted world useless for life but full of PCs, cars, fridges and factories.
: But as a socialist who defers to the judgement of society you must recognise that al those things have been considered valuable by your 'comrades'. Who are you to impose upon them? At least I hope you are not suggesting an elite should rule over the masses 'for their own good'?
As an anarchist, I recognize that everyone has the same rights to water, food and air; myself as much as anyone else. If someone is doing something that will lead to the tragedy of the commons, then it is in my self-interest to point this out to them; and it is in their self-interest to modify their behaviour.
: :You have to find a middle way between complete purity and complete corruption; because we have already lost 50% of the material (in a form that is of use to us.)
: Have we? 50%? How did you arrive at that conclusion?
Ack; it's something I dug up a while back; I think it was in the World Problems and Global Issues database. I'll try and find it for you, but the site is absolutely bloody huge; I found the stat by chance one day.
(Looking through it, I found another interesting little statistic; the increase in global resource consumption between 1988 and 1989 was higher than the total global resource consumption in the 1930s...)
: This is a good point, just as SDF's 'carrying capacity' is. But do you consider this ceiling / capacity to be immovable? Its been moved upwards to allow 6 billion to live, why is it now in our lives reaching its 'real' limit when it never did for Malthus, or the predictors of the 60's and 70's?
Because we are now using it at a level and scale of efficiency that doesn't give it time to replenish.
Consider the collapse in fish numbers as an example; when the surface dwelling fish became scarce, people started developing deeper and more efficient nets - to catch the smaller and deeper fish to maintain the supply to fit demand; but the ever-higher level of consumption has resulted in the population collapse of fish like Atlantic cod.
You either have to say "hey! there are some really small fry we haven't caught yet" and modify your nets accordingly - but this will result in the total extermination of the cod; or you get out of the cod business.
And the fish business is self-renewing; mineral resources aren't; once you've burnt fossil fuel you are left with CO2 and water and not much else; and the reverse process is so energetically endothermal as to be not even worth bothering with; we use the fossil-fuel --> gases reaction precisely because it is comparatively exothermic.
We are using the Earth's mineral reserves at a level high enough to exhaust most of them; and render those that are left prohibitively expensive to extract.
And this isn't sustainable.