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The Arrow of Time

The Arrow of Time

Photo by Brandon Molitwenik on Unsplash

The circular economy and an endless recycling of materials is an absurd proposal, and not only from a technical perspective; the very idea of a “sustainable” high tech society is in a direct conflict with the laws of physics. 

After reviewing the technical reasons behind energy & resource cannibalism, as well as their combined effect on our prosperity, now I invite you to put on an even wider angle lens. Without further ado, let me introduce the subject matter of today’s post: entropy‘Wait, entro-what?! What does this mumbo-jumbo has to do with our dreams of a green economy centered around the endless recycling of products?’ Let me explain.

In general entropy is a measure of disorder or randomness. A sophisticated object like a computer chip, or a living organism like a flowering plant, has very low entropy (or minimal chaos) to it, while the same microchip left to disintegrate in the bottom of a landfill, or that plant thrown out to the compost heap, on the other hand, displays an increasingly higher and higher level of entropy.

The same is true for energy. Enriched uranium and petroleum are both sources of concentrated, high density energy, unlike diluted, lukewarm waste heat emanating from an engine, or dissipated through a cooling tower. You see, by using energy we are not destroying it, we simply harness its capacity to work. We take a concentrated low entropy energy source, utilize it to our purpose, and let it dissipate as heat. In this process energy becomes ever more diluted and dispersed, and thus its entropy increases. The more of our high grade energy has been transformed into waste heat in a system, the higher the level of entropy rises.

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Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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