Solar Villages and Farms: Part 7

The Bull In Our China Shop

It’s time to go green — properly — before it’s too late

Don’t worry. Of course you can keep your electric car and your microwave and TV. That’s what solar panels and batteries are for.

Sure, the materials for the panels and batteries have to be mined. And refined, and shipped, all that stuff. But that gets done somewhere else. No worries.

The main thing is to stay Green on a local level. That’s all you can do, and surely it’ll be enough. You can’t fix everything. That’s what governments are supposed to do.

As for the car and microwave comment, that is all tongue-in-cheek talk about externalities. Externalities are where economics and hard science (thermodynamics) come together and talk about the costs to other people and the planetary environment itself from our activities. When anything — any thing gets done by humans or their machines there is an overall increase in temperature, in disorder — everywhere.

So we have little choice but to talk about entropy. It obviously is and isn’t confusing. First, we need to examine the shortcomings of the thermodynamic laws that describe order, disorder, and entropy. Because centuries ago, when these laws were being discovered and put into writing, the world was a bigger place. But now, when we talk about burning excess methane at a natural gas facility or burning an Amazonian rain forest, we can say that our environment — the whole world — has increased in entropy, temperature, disorder. This is irreversible. This increased disorder is an economic externality, a cost of burning gas or forests.

Another good enough analogy for entropy is the bull in the china shop. The odds of the bull rearranging the china in a more orderly way versus the odds of a broken and shattered mess are pretty obvious. The mess is entropy — disorder. Economically it’s an externality — a cost incurred by allowing bulls to run free.

When the china shop owner arranged the china so nicely, she was creating order. The laws of thermodynamics say that therefore, she has exported entropy to the universe. And since our universe is the layer of life 14 miles thick, bounded above by the vacuum of space and below the oceans by the white hot lava of the lithosphere, it’s the same universe inhabited by the china shop owner. (Bear in mind that the Earth itself could care less about our predations. It sits there white-hot, 4,000 miles deep below our paltry 14 miles of living space.)

A Core Concept in Environmental Remediation

On our crowded and interconnected planet, the universe concerned is partly us! Yes, the rest of the swirling universe out there receives our entropy too — but we aren’t too concerned about some super-intelligent insect on Beetle-Juice getting irritated with us — there are limits to our concerns.

Essentially we need to go back to the origins of thermodynamics and readjust the wording around the concept of ‘universe.’

Because now the universe is us. So we really won’t change the laws; we’ll just change our point of view a bit.

We really needed to take this sideways journey if we’re going to honestly talk about our environmental problems and possible fixes.

Look at what this article explored in its first four paragraphs. The importance of “local” actions relates to entropy and externalities because everything that matters to us is essentially local.

Living in rural Panamá — non-extractive, non-capitalistic. Expat USA. Scientist, writer, researcher, teacher. STEM mentor +languages.