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The other side of the global crisis: entropy and the collapse of civilizations

The other side of the global crisis: entropy and the collapse of civilizations

When we discuss the impending crisis of our civilisation, we mainly look at the resources our economy need in a growing quantity. And we explain why the Diminishing Returns of resource exploitation pose a growing burden on the possibility of a further growing of the global economy. It is a very interesting topic, indeed, but here I suggest to turn 180 degrees around and take a look at the “other side;” that is to what happens where the used resources are discarded.

Eventually, our society (as any other society in history) is a dissipative structure. It means that it exist only because it is able to dissipate energy in order to stock information inside itself. And there is a positive feedback: more energy permits to implement more complexity; and more complexity needs, but it also permits a larger energy flow. This, I think, is a crucial point: at the very end, wealth is information stocked inside the socio-economic system in different forms (such livestock, infrastructures, agrarian facilities, machines, buildings, books, the web and so on). Human population is peculiar because it is a large part of the information stocked inside the society system. So, from a thermodynamic point of view, it is the key part of “wealth”, while from an economic point of view people can be seen as the denominator of the global wealth.

The accumulation of information inside a system is possible only by an increment of entropy outside the same system. This is usual with all the dissipative structures, but our civilisation is unique in its dimension. Today about 97% of the terrestrial vertebrate biomass is composed of humans and of their symbionts and we use about the 50% of the primary production (400 TW?), plus a little less than 20 TW we have from fossil fuels and other inorganic sources.

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