The Thermodynamics of Civilization

“From what I’ve learned over the last number of months, I’ve concluded that very few people are actually digging down to what I consider to be true root causes of the planetary predicament. The only such researcher I’ve been able to identify for sure is Tim Garrett at the University of Utah, in his recent series of papers treating civilization as a thermodynamic heat engine. But as an academic, even Garrett can’t (or at least doesn’t) take the speculative leap from the way civilization works to why it works that way. Fortunately, I’m not quite so constrained.

“My developing view is that a little-known and unacknowledged implication of the Second Law of Thermodynamics (let’s call it “2LoT” for short) makes the existing structure of civilization essentially a foregone conclusion – not in detail of course, but when considered as a probabilistic whole, as befits a thermodynamic interpretation. This aspect of 2LoT implies that life arises spontaneously and inevitably in response to energy gradients in open systems – given that all the other necessary physical conditions are present, of course. In pursuit of their own survival, living organisms then develop ever-greater complexity in order to become more efficient at dissipating those energy gradients (or to put it another way, in order to access the energy they need to prosper).

“In this view, life on Earth is not simply a lucky fluke, but instead was absolutely inevitable. Where the right conditions exist, the Second Law seems to guarantee that life will appear. The probability is not vanishingly small, but instead is 100%.”

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Why the ‘We’re All Responsible’ Line is a Climate Change Cop-Out


We live in a society in which responsibility for everything is being offloaded onto the individual.”

But it wasn’t “average” North Americans who knowingly spread climate misinformation, funded climate denying organizations, leased record amounts of land to oil and gas companies, invested in highways over public transit, created and maintained subsidies to fossil fuel companies and promoted the construction of pipelines and export facilities that will neutralize any emissions reductions made in other sectors.

But the “we” rhetoric  conveniently ignores the incredible access that oil and gas companies have to government via ongoing lobbying efforts.

For instance, since the Liberals were elected in October, Suncor has met with federal officials 54 times, including three times with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Imperial Oil and Shell Canada have contributed an additional 37 and 38 meetings, respectively.

To meet the 2020 target of 25 per cent carbon emissions below 1990 levels, the richest quintile of Canadians would need to cut 51 per cent of emissions, while the lowest only 12 per cent.

In other words, while we’re all indeed consumers of fossil fuels, “owning up to our responsibility” will look very different depending on where we fall on the income spectrum.

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Human Lives Are Not More Important Than Animal Lives

“Humans have created a fantasy world called anthropocentrism, the idea that all of reality, all of nature exists only for humanity, that we are the only species that matters and human rights take priority over the rights of all other species.

“In other words we look upon ourselves as divinely created superior beings when in reality we are simply overly conceited arrogant, ecologically ignorant, naked apes who have become divine legends in our own limited minds.”

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