Second Law of Thermodynamics

Sustainable growth is nonsense. Human activity growth leads to more waste generation.
The Second Law of Thermodynamics (1) states that any activity increases disorder somewhere. This technical concept of disorder is what it is called waste in the popular jargon. Waste, as far as we know, is an unavoidable byproduct of any activity.
Living creatures are good examples. In order to remain in an ordered state internally they must move their metabolic waste out and leave it somewhere else – by urinating, defecating or even just breathing.
Examples of the Second Law of Thermodynamics can be found in daily human activities as well: a building cannot be built without debris; an omelet cannot be cooked without a broken eggshell, a car cannot be driven without creating exhaust, a home cannot be lived in without a garbage dump, even a sandwich cannot be eaten without producing some breadcrumbs.

In other words, any change, any alteration, any transformation of the world generates waste: you do something, you mess something up somewhere.

But there’s more to this story…

People often overlook an additional key element in the Second Law of Thermodynamics: waste could be avoided only under theoretically infinitely slow processes. In reality this cannot be achieved. Furthermore, the corollary of this proposition is terrifying in a world where faster is better.

The faster the process, the more waste is generated per unit of production

The faster you peel a potato, the more good stuff is lost in the peelings. The faster you drive a car, the more gas emissions are produced per mile. The faster you paint a wall, the more drops end messing up the floor. Did you ever notice all the waste is generated at fast-food restaurants? A faster process not only produces more waste because the production rate is higher, but also because the process itself is more wasteful.

Economic growth is the mantra repeated by many as the way to improve human development. Sustainable growth is their motto. Nonsense. As we have seen, any increase in activity will generate more waste. As a matter of fact, spurred by global economic growth, solid waste levels are expected to double by 2025.

Growth and waste, waste and growth, both concepts are inexorably entangled together. We are prisoners of the Second Law of Thermodynamics. We are in a big messy mess unless we learn to make do with less.

(1)   This law was stated for the first time by the French scientist M. Carnot, in 1824. The law rules over all chemical reactions or physical phenomena within the known universe.


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