Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Is Earth gaining or losing MASS and why this matters...

Herman Daly "GETS IT"
The vast majority of economists are in fact 'psychic' economists only, and they  greatly resent attempts of rebel economists like Herman Daly to re-establish their discipline on a physical basis.

 So they claim that thermodyamic physical restraints on human activity on earth are totally irrelevant, as we are not living in an "isolated system" planet where the limits of the second law of thermodynamics would apply, but on an "open system" planet that annually gets a great deal of new solar energy and a 100,000 tons of cosmic dust.

But is this true ?

( Is anything that mainstream economists ever say about physicality  true ? In my experience, not usually. Useful members of a sub branch of the psychology department yes, but truly brain-dead hopeless in the physical sciences.)

We also lose much matter and energy annually : in particular, we lose about as much light molecules of gases like hydrogen and helium outbound into space as we gain in cosmic dust. We also lose a small amount annually of mass from being converted into energy via natural radioactivity, which affects every atom eventually.

Yes, every atom in the universe will spontaneously break down, if the universe lasts long enough. Uranium does it quite fast, but all elements do so, at increasingly slower rates.

And energy - thankfully - escapes the Earth annually in huge amounts : or we'd be a molten chunk of dead rock otherwise.

Eventually all that inbound solar energy that helped make the huge ancient redwoods escapes back into space, slightly raising the temperature of the space vacuum ever so slightly ( if its continuing expansion doesn't lower it right back again !)

But I will argue, being first and foremost a practical politician, not some dreamy-eyed academic scientist, that what we really care about - as voters and consumers (aka the guys who actually put the groceries on economists' and scientists' breakfast tables),is neither mass or energy but work.

Engineers usually "get it" right away , but most academic scientists struggle to understand the political difference.

Politically, its all about WORK , not the scientists' mass or energy

On the way to becoming finely dispersed (useless to humans) friction-dust pollution and thermal-noise pollution, concentrated forms of  mass and energy ( commercially large bodies of iron ore  and coal ore) can do very useful work for us, as industrial humans.

But once these ore bodies are gone (over the next two centuries) they will not be replaced, at least not in any world that humans can survive in.

A world such where ocean bacteria were able to concentrate enough widely dispersed iron atoms to create the vast beds of iron ore that we run our world upon will not be one for humans --- nor would the hot swampy world that led giant ferns growths becoming vast beds of coal our electrified world relies on to run its lights and Internet.

We will have to learn to survive on the immediate biological conversion of solar energy into plants and animals.

 And upon the use of  daily solar energy to do such things as to bake abundant clay into bricks : once again in a human world of rock and wood , with metals treated as precious and only used for their most valuable applications :  such as high grade steel reserved for blade edges, as in the days of old.

What about uranium and atomic energy ? Uranium is only useful to humans if found in those rare highly concentrated ore bodies : dispersed into random atoms all over the planet, per the second law of thermodynamics, they are as useless in terms of work as they are (nearly) indestructible in terms of mass.

To misquote Brian Mulroney : "its all about work,work,work !"

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