The laws of thermodynamics are physical laws whose relevance extend beyond the study of engines and heat plants. We can restate the first law of thermodynamics (conservation of energy) as ‘the quantity of matter is constant and finite’. Matter changes both in nature and as it moves through the economic system; and as it does so, its intrinsic properties change rendering it less useful and usable, thus requiring more and more resources to make it useful again. This last sentence is a form of the second law of thermodynamics. Very useful (low entropy) goods, such as iron ore and fossil fuels, eventually produce less useful (high entropy) matter, such as piles of junk cars in scrap-metal yards and greenhouse gases, as they move through the economic system. In our current western life-style, we are all contributing to the generation of vast piles of junk; we are hooked on it; we are all ‘junkies’.
In the paragraph above, I have plagiarised the 2009 report entitled ‘The New Sustainable Frontier’ mentioned in the previous posting on this blog [http://www.gsa.gov/graphics/ogp/2009_New_Sustainable_Frontier_Complete_Guide.pdf ]. However, similar ideas were expressed by Handscombe and Patterson in their 2004 book entitled the ‘Entropy Vector’ [http://www.worldscientific.com/worldscibooks/10.1142/5365 ]. They paraphrased the first and second laws of thermodynamics as ‘you can’t have something nothing’ and ‘you can’t have it just anyway you like it’.