Sustainability and the Cosmic Soup


We are constantly reminded of the simple dogmas pertaining to conservation – re-use, recycling, changing to fluorescent light, reduction of meat consumption etc, and these messages really haven’t changed much in the last decade, except for its seriousness and sense of urgency following the recognition of unnatural global warming and its impact on the natural environment. And while there are many prescriptions on what can be done to reduce consumption both of energy and manufactured goods, it would serve well to understand better why it makes common sense from an entropy perspective. Firstly, our concept of product and energy life cycles mostly isn’t a cycle at all – it always has a distinct beginning and end, such as extraction through mining and drilling, with disposal into waste heaps, atmosphere, rivers and oceans as the ultimate fate. An entropic analysis focuses on the extending the usability of products and energy e.g. recycling of manufactured goods or other find other uses besides disposal; smart buildings that utilize ‘pinch point’ analysis to ensure maximum re-absorption of waste heat and vehicle design that stores energy from braking to be re-used in acceleration. The net effect: lower operating costs, lower environmental impact and increased sustainability. Secondly, we should learn from natural systems that consume and dispose at rates that ensure internal balance and synergistic hand-offs between elements (symbiosis); also that natural selection, adaptation and periodic re-generation ensures not only sustainability but constant improvement on its predecessor. From an economics point of view, for scarce resources the supply & demand balance will drive the substitution effect, while technological advances will result in smarter ways to extract minerals and fossil fuels profitably at progressively lower concentrations. But more importantly is the need for the discovery & implementation of disruptive technologies/industries that may completely obliterate dependence on some of these minerals altogether. This consumption, followed by 'deep engineering' and then re-invention needs to be a repetitive process. Hopefully, going forward, we are unified in purpose, smarter and more connected – that we don’t have to resort to primitive behaviors of fighting over scarce resources, because that is a negative sum game – everyone will lose, eventually.