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Entropy, materials, and posterity

Geologische Rundschau

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DOI: 10.1007/BF01989599

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Abstract

Materials and energy are the interdependent feedstocks of economic systems, and thermodynamics is their moderator. It costs energy to transform the dispersed minerals of Earth's crust into ordered materials and structures. And it costs materials to collect and focus the energy to perform work - be it from solar, fossil fuel, nuclear, or other sources. The greater the dispersal of minerals sought, the more energy is required to collect them into ordered states. But available energy can be used once only. And the ordered materials of industrial economies become disordered with time. They may be partially reordered and recycled, but only at further costs in energy. Available energy everywhere degrades to bound states and order to disorder - for though entropy may be juggled it always increases. Yet industry is utterly dependent on low entropy states of matter and energy, while decreasing grades of ore require ever higher inputs of energy to convert them to metals, with ever increasing growth both of entropy and environmental hazard. Except as we may prize a thing for its intrinsic qualities - beauty, leisure, love, or gold - low-entropy is the only thing of real value. It is worth whatever the market will bear, and it becomes more valuable as entropy increases. It would be foolish of suppliers to sell it more cheaply or in larger amounts than their own enjoyment of life requires, whatever form it may take. For this reason, and because of physical constraints on the availability of all low-entropy states, the recent energy crises is only the first of a sequence of crises to be expected in energy and materials as long as current trends continue. The apportioning of low-entropy states in a modern industrial society is achieved more or less according to the theory of competitive markets. But the rational powers of this theory suffer as the world grows increasingly polarized into rich, over-industrialized nations with diminishing resource bases and poor, supplier nations with little industry. The theory also discounts posterity, the more so as population density and percapita rates of consumption continue to grow. A new social, economic, and ecologic norm that leads to population control, conservation, and an apportionment of low-entropy states across the generations is needed to assure to posterity the options that properly belong to it as an important but voiceless constituency of the collectivity we call mankind. ?? 1977 Ferdinand Enke Verlag Stuttgart.

Additional Publication Details

Publication type:
Article
Publication Subtype:
Journal Article
Title:
Entropy, materials, and posterity
Series title:
Geologische Rundschau
DOI:
10.1007/BF01989599
Volume
66
Issue:
1
Year Published:
1977
Language:
English
Publisher:
Springer-Verlag
Larger Work Type:
Article
Larger Work Subtype:
Journal Article
Larger Work Title:
Geologische Rundschau
First page:
678
Last page:
696