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Substance Use: The Miraculous Story of Humanity’s Building Blocks

Why we need a greater understanding of the substances that underpin our lives

There are six crucial substances in human history: sand, iron, salt, oil, copper and lithium. They took us from the Dark Ages to the present day. They build our homes and offices, power our computers and phones, and create life-saving medicines. But most of us take them completely for granted.

In his search for the origins of these vital substances, Sky News Economics Editor Ed Conway has travelled the globe – from the sweltering darkness of the deepest copper mine in Europe to the eerie green pools where lithium originates – to uncover a secret world we rarely see. In June 2023 he came to Intelligence Squared to tell their story and the little-known companies that turn raw materials into products of astonishing complexity.

As we wrestle with climate change, energy crises and the threat of new global conflict, Conway argues that we need a greater understanding of the substances that underpin our lives.




Ed Conway

Economics Editor of Sky News

Economics and Data Editor of Sky News and a regular columnist for The Times and The Sunday Times. He has won numerous awards for his television and newspaper journalism, among them the 2018 Wincott Foundation Journalist of the Year Award. He is the author of the critically acclaimed book on Bretton Woods, The Summit: The Biggest Battle of the Second World War and his new book is Material World: A Substantial Story of Our Past and Future.   

Chair TBC