Sand, iron, salt, oil, copper and lithium. The struggle for these tiny, magical materials has razed empires, demolished civilisations, fed our greed and our ingenuity for thousands of years. But the story is not over. We are often told we now live in a weightless world of information but in fact we dug more stuff out of the earth in 2017 than in all of human history before 1950. And it’s getting worse. To make one bar of gold, we now have to dig 5,000 tons of earth. For every tonne of fossil fuels, we extract six tonnes of other materials – from sand to stone to wood to metal. Even as we pare back our consumption of fossil fuels we have redoubled our consumption of everything else. Why? Because these ingredients build everything. They power our computers and phones, build our homes and offices, print our books and packaging.