Termodinamic of Sustainability

Remember when you used to sleep in physics class? Well, from the second law of thermodynamics comes a very interesting concept: Entropy. “The total entropy of any isolated thermodynamic system tends to increase over time, approaching a maximum value.” In other words, as time goes by, the efficiency of the system reduces, since the loses are cumulative.

You might say that, in fact, new technologies bring up efficiency, but that’s not really how it works. Entropy is general accumulation, and for that to happen, we would have to, eventually, obtain efficiencies higher than 100%. As this is not possible (the law above doesn’t let me lie), we need to continue feeding the system with more energy. No, it is not a simple concept. It took me a long time to understand it. Continue reading and maybe I will manage to explain it with more clarity.

The big thing about entropy is that the Nobel Prize winner Georgescu-Roegen did something that caused frisson amongst other economists, who promptly rejected it. He applied the concept to the economic systems. So far, the everybody thought (and still do. Just study the subject and you’ll see) that economic systems are self reliant. You take one natural resource, “transform” it into money and money generates more money and so on, indefinitely. And theoretically it would be possible to revert the process at the end, re-feeding this system. But things don’t actually work out that way. Even if it was possible to recycle 100% of the aluminum of one can – what would save 95% of the energy necessary to produce one can from the beginning – we would still have to inject 5% of energy in the system, not to mention all the other processes involved. That is, as we transform natural resources in products, and exchange them for money, these products become residues. And these residues will keep accumulating. Eventually, natural resources will end and we won’t have anything to turn into products.

Oh, my head hurts. All this explanation was done in order to indicate one article that was published at the Fapesp Agency a couple of months ago. Considering I’m not a specialist on this, I’ll post part of the original article, and let it speak for itself. But be careful: there is no turning back on knowledge.

By Fábio Castro
FAPESP Agency – The Romanian mathematic and economist Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen (1906-1994) was known for introducing the concept of entropy to the Economy, borrowed from thermodynamics. By showing that traditional economic conceptions where mistaken by extreme mechanicism, the author was one of the founders of the so called “Ecological Economy”.

A study done at the University of São Paulo (USP) shows that Georgescu-Roegen’s ideas, ignored for a long time by the Academy, can be fundamental to the recent debate about sustainable growth and about the problems related to energy and environment.

It’s worth reading. It continues, in Portuguese, on this link>>


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