Live Simply that Others may Simply Live

By Dr. Indar Maharaj

What is Entropy

Things fall apart because it's the Law: the Second Law of Thermodynamics also referred to as the Law of Entropy . Everything disintegrate, degenerate, shatter, fracture, split, tear, break up, break down, break, rust, die, decay, wear out, rip, or move from a state of order to disorder; not unless new energy is infused for regular maintenance and rebuilding of its structure. Unless the force of entropy is understood, efforts to counter its insidious effects will remain weak at best. Therefore, knowledge of the Law has universal applicability that profoundly affects man's mundane affairs, including his well being as well as his ability to earn a living.

Although entropy can be simply defined, its implications for society and the environment are profound and not readily apparent. Entropy is an all-encompassing all-pervasive natural phenomenon dealing with the intrinsic workings of the universe and at least as pervasive and significant as other well-known phenomena such as gravity, time and electromagnetism. Considered this ultimate Natural Law, it explains why time moves from the dead past to the present; why sodium chloride becomes more dispersed in water and why money is easily dispersed.

In scientific terms, entropy refers to energy changes within a system and how far the equalization has progressed from a state of non-equilibrium to a state of equilibrium or maximum entropy. It is a measure of molecular disorder and energy spent during transformation from one energy state to another. Entropy measures the extent to which energy has lost its capacity to perform useful work. Energy per se manifests itself in different forms: namely, heat, mechanical, sound, light, chemical or electrical. Eventually all forms are irreversibly reduced to a lower quality more dispersed form of heat energy.

The first two Laws of Thermodynamics are closely interrelated. The first law asserts that the total energy content of the universe is constant: i.e. energy cannot be created or destroyed only transformed. The Second Law states that energy, the capacity to do work, flows from a state of higher concentration to one of lower concentration; from orderliness to randomness; that total entropy is constantly increasing and entropy always tends towards a maximum.

Unquestionably, the universe is composed of matter and energy. Since energy and matter are interchangeable, the inescapable conclusion is that the universe, including humans and other animals, is composed of energy. This is the raw material of the universe. Energy capable of doing work may be described as free, available, useful or concentrated.

Heat energy is randomized, dispersed and irretrievably useless energy. Because it has become so dispersed it is unavailable for producing work. Ultimately even solar energy becomes dispersed and unable to perform work. Hence entropy measures the extent of dispersal (randomization) of energy in the universe. When the energy concentration of a system is highest - available energy is maximum - its entropy is lowest. Available energy decreases every time work is performed while unavailable energy is accumulated in the form of pollution. It is manifested as dissipated heat energy and material wastes.
A direct correlation exists between human diseases and waste accumulation: greater the energy consumption, more the pollution, higher the incidence of diseases. According to Rifkin 60-80% of all cancers in the US are related to environmental factors. "The increased emissions of CO2, methane, CFC, and nitrous oxide…..are creating the context for a global medical crisis that is likely to devastate large numbers of our species." Rifkin used entropy as the measure of decay as reflected in the extent of pollution and garbage cluttering the cities.

Murphy's Laws are a humorous depiction of Entropy: "Anything that can go wrong will go wrong." A corollary version claims: "Left to themselves, things tend to go from bad to worse". In entropic terms, left to themselves things spontaneously move to more disordered states. Murphy's Laws are poignant reminders of the volatility of nature that often stymies man's efforts. They are manifestation of events triggered by this most fundamental of all natural laws - entropy.

Entropic Activities

A gasoline-powered combustion engine generates mechanical energy, heat and other exhaust fumes. The end products of combustion, however, cannot be recombined to form gasoline because the heat energy of the spent gasoline has achieved a higher and irreversible state of randomization. Combustion has changed a low-entropy resource into a high-entropy form. Energy transformation from one state to another is accompanied by a loss of usable energy. The amount of usable energy lost is known as entropy. Energy naturally flows from a hot to a cold body and not vice versa. Indeed all energy forms naturally flow from a higher to a lower concentration and ultimately equalize at a point where entropy has reached the maximum and free energy is no longer available.

For energy to do work, a difference must exist between energy at a high concentration and energy at a lower concentration. For example, when water at a higher level falls to a lower level its energy can be harnessed to generate mechanical work or electricity. At the lower level the water has no free energy. Its energy is now said to be randomized, dispersed or in the state of equilibrium and cannot be mobilized to perform work. This inability to perform useful work is seminal to the concept of entropy. The second law asserts that whenever work is done, the amount of usable energy declines generating unavailable energy and increasing entropy.

Money represents energy. It has a natural tendency to dissipate as any other natural resource, in compliance with the Second Law. As discussed (below), earning money requires the expenditure of energy.

Commercial production and associated consumption are entropic activities. Although the amount of production raw materials quantitatively equal material waste ultimately returned to the environment, a qualitative difference exists between both. Entropy is the measure of that qualitative difference.

Consequences of Entropy

Whether it is building a house or building wealth, the insidious effect of entropy opposes man's efforts. To erect a building, energy must be applied to randomized building materials to overcome the entropic forces needed to organize the materials into an ordered structure. In general, "entropy measures waste produced when work is done for improvement of the quality of human life: [whether it is] the struggle of the species in an ecosystem, the biological reactions of a living organism, even the politics of in a societal system" (Rifkin). Awareness of the adverse impact of entropy allows us the opportunity to take effective counteractive measures.

That entropy degrades the very fabric of society has prompted scientists to proclaim that as entropy increases in a society, " there is degeneration in its moral force, its spiritual stamina, the vigor of its character, the effectiveness of its character, the effectiveness of its religion and the sense of law and order."

Although technology has improved the materialistic quality of human life, it has increased global entropy resulting in increased waste production, traffic congestion, biological, physical and chemical pollution and environmental decay (Brooks and Wiley 1988, Prigogine 1980, Rifkin 1989). The latter is manifested in the proliferation of waste dumps, unproductive land and toxic dump sites. Natural flora is overrun with waste destroying entire species and threatening others with extinction. In brief, the air, ground water, soil, oceans and our food are all vectors of toxic pollutants. Their impact on human existence is direct. Aging, disease and organic decay are examples. Urban areas with higher waste generation than rural areas have higher incidences of suicides, schizophrenia, neuroses, crimes, cancer, heart diseases, bronchitis, and personality disorders. People are more hostile and selfish (Rifkin, 1989 pp170-1). These manifestations of environmental entropy must be viewed with a sense of alarm. Global warming is but another symptom of the entropy catastrophe. Its concerns needs be addressed now!

What is the solution? How to Minimize Entropy?

Preservation of life requires available energy. Indeed it takes energy to produce energy. But available energy stores are being rapidly exploited and used up. It is morally reprehensible to continue consuming energy at the current rates. To use as little as possible and conserve as much as possible for future generations should be the self-evident objective.

Left unchecked, entropy will eliminate all life forms by randomizing vital life-sustaining molecules. To enhance our well being and ensure this planet becomes more livable, no effort should be spared to combat the derivational forces of entropy. Life cannot exist without overcoming the daily entropic onslaught. To protect and improve the quality of human life external energy must be applied to overcome entropic effects. The extent to which this energy is applied, determines the degree of success.

We owe it to ourselves to combat personal entropy. Exercise, healthful diets and life styles have anti-entropic effects. Adoption of these measures serves to counterbalance personal entropy (Rikin, 1989). The results are of course better health, extended longevity and a healthier society.

On going efforts are needed to protect financial investments, including personal property. Economic investments fail, unless there is an infusion of additional energy aimed at increasing the odds of success. Like energy, money has the natural tendency to disperse; by contrast, wealth acquisition requires an infusion of energy. Strategic planning, arduous preparation, new capital infusion and increased manpower are some forms of energy inputs. Without this additional energy to plan, organize, strategize and tailor transactions to attainable goals, all business ventures will fall victim to entropy – they too will crumble. Concerted human effort ought to be directed to preserving personal property while acquiring greater wealth. On a broader scale such efforts could be channeled into preserving existing public buildings and maintaining current infrastructure without encroaching forested and wilderness areas.

Because human labor is more abundant than fossil fuel, this renewable resource should be substituted for fossil fuel wherever necessary. Martin O'Connor has asserted that "economic activity, intended to satisfy human needs runs against the general tendency of the universe to move toward a state of greater disorder, of higher entropy. Human labor runs against this tendency toward increasing disorder of the physical world. It sets into motion the energy sleeping within nature, converts 'wild' energy into 'domesticated,' useful energy. But to make this useful energy available, a certain amount of human energy must be expended, either in the form of energy stored in machines or in the form of living human labor."
Citing Amish models, several studies have indicated that labor-intensive agricultural practices are more productive than high-energy based mechanical farming . Human intervention will no doubt reduce reliance on imported non-renewable energy and curb green house gas emissions.

The concept of a perpetual motion machine is untenable. It violates both the First and Second Laws of Thermodynamics . Simply put, to get something for nothing is a myth. It is logical to deduce therefore, that white collar criminals, gangs, criminal enterprises, corrupt government officials and others whose iniquities are based on the premise of easy money without the commensurate effort are but delusional fools. Energy input in the form old-fashioned hard work is the prerequisite – an absolute must. The earth's energy resources cannot be plundered to serve the greed of a privileged few. The biographies of Conrad Black, Bernard Ebbers, Jefferey Skillings, Dennis Kozlowski, John Gotti, Al Capone, Pablo Escobar, John Dillinger and Jim Bakker, all testify vociferously in favor. Their activities have violated the Law and for that they must pay.

Apart from the general measures previously outlined, are more specific actions that can be taken individually to reduce entropy. Although the list is extensive, these are but a few trivial examples of energy conservation. The public at large must be educated on energy conservation methods. Without awareness the masses will continue to unknowingly squander precious resources that even they can ill afford. Awareness of the earth's peril would encourage individuals to turn off lights, water, radio, TV, computer etc. People should be taught to do with less: a bigger TV, house, cottage, car is not the answer but an assault on the integrity of the environment. Apart from business people, do we really all need cell-phones? Consumerism is not the answer. Obesity and cardiovascular disease have reached epidemic proportions. Consumers should walk more. The automobile should be the last resort. They are expensive, consume massive amounts of energy, pollute the planet and will soon "max out" the entropy credit card. The enormous energy expenditure required to manufacture a single automobile is itself mind-boggling. Moreover, their disposal contributes enormously to soil, air and water pollution.
Holidays does not necessarily mean long expensive trips. Spending time at home can be equally relaxing and rewarding with little energy expenditure.

Purchase of organic products protects the environment including the soil, water and fellow creatures from exposure to pesticides. It is estimated that 90% of all pesticides ends up in the soil and subsequently in the ground water (Rifkin 1989). The use of pesticides disrupts the food chain which disrupts the ecology. Wherever necessary it may be instructive to cultivate ones own organically grown vegetables. The Sierra Club of Canada estimates that more than 34 million kilograms of pesticides are used annually across Canada. These neurotoxins have been linked to memory loss, Parkinson's disease, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, prostate cancer and, learning disabilities in children.
Consumption of raw and green fruit and vegetables whenever practical conserves energy. Whole grains, fruit and vegetables have been amply demonstrated to be healthful foods; whereas meat consumption is economically unsound. According to the WorldWatch Institute , "reductions in meat consumption in industrial nations will ease the health care burden while improving public health; declining livestock herds will take pressure off pastures and agricultural lands. Lowering meat consumption will allow more efficient use of land and water resources, while at the same time making grain more affordable to the world's chronically hungry. Animals fed on grain, and those that rely on grazing need far more water than grain crops…..growing the crops necessary to feed farmed animals requires nearly half of the United States' water supply and 80% of its agricultural land. Additionally, animals raised for food in the U.S. consume more than 70% of its grain. Producing animal based food is typically much less efficient than the harvesting of grains, vegetables, legumes, seeds and fruits'.

Drink lots of water. Most studies have indicated that city water is as safe as or safer than bottled water. Water-works consume enormous amounts of energy for water distillation and/or filtration. Bottling, transportation, refrigeration and disposal of plastics are unnecessary entropic activities. Plasticizers such as diethyl phthalates used in the manufacture of consumer plastics are known carcinogens and often leach into the very products they are meant to protect. But there are benefits to water consumption. It not only hydrates but flushes out noxious metabolites form the body and side-steps the cravings for sugary pop drinks, coffee and tea. The health benefits are obvious. The benefit to the environment may be greater. Consider the energy required to manufacture, transport and dispose of cups, plastic stirrers, napkins, sweeteners, coffee makers, milk dispensers and refrigeration systems.
Barter. Re-use. Recycle. Garage sales help the individual reduce clutter while providing a service to the needy. Its much more energy efficient than recycling and more rewarding.
Visit the doctor only when necessary. According to Rifkin, 75-80% of medical conditions will clear up spontaneously or is untreatable by pharmaceuticals. Of the more than 4000 pharmaceuticals on the market legally, over half have no scientifically proven value. Adverse drug reactions result in over 50 million hospitalizations each year. A US congressional report indicated that in 1974 doctors perform 2.4 million unnecessary operations resulting in 12,000 deaths. In 1996, 108,000 Americans died in hospitals from adverse reactions to FDA-approved drugs properly administered by licensed medical professionals , . A report by the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) , indicate that the chances of patients receiving the wrong medication or wrong dose was about 1 in 10 in 2005.

It seems appropriate to close with Rifkin's views on entropy. ".....a low entropy society would view as an obscenity any economic policy that contributed to the destruction of another species. Every species must be preserved simply because it has an inherent and inalienable right to life by virtue of its existence.... The first law of ecology tells us that everything is connected to everything else…..any destruction of one part of nature will affect all other parts, including human beings...the notion of conquering nature is replaced by the idea of harmony with the environment.... Humans have a responsibility to preserve nature to the maximum extent possible, so that those yet to come,... may enjoy life in their own day....all the great teachers of traditional wisdom have embraced the values inherent to a low entropy life. Buddha, Jesus, Muhammed, the prophets of Israel, and the mahatmas of India all led exemplary lives of simplicity, voluntary poverty, and communal sharing. Their teaching expressed similar value for all of society. In our own century, Mohandas Gandhi generated an entire liberation movement base on a low entropy value system."

Consistent with the low entropy vision of Rifkin it should be noted that Gandhi was often quoted as saying, "Live simply that others may simply live'

1. Entropy indicates the degree to which a given quantity of thermal energy is available for doing useful work—the greater the entropy, the less available the energy. Consider a system composed of a hot body and a cold body, if the bodies are placed in contact, heat will flow from the hot body to the cold one
2. Thermodynamic equilibrium, the state of a thermodynamic system which is in thermal, mechanical, and chemical equilibrium
3. Jeremy Rifkin. 1989. Entropy: Into the Green House World. Bantam Books. New York.
4. Production is a process using energy to add order to matter.
5. Angrist. S and Hepler, L. 1967. In, Order and Chaos: Laws of Energy and Entropy. Basic Books Inc. New York.
6. Daly, H.E and Cobb J.B. 1989. FOR THE COMMON GOOD. Pp. 296. Beacon Press. Boston.
ISBN 0-89862-594-7 http://dieoff.org/page17.htm
8. Daly, H.E and Cobb Daly. 1989. FOR THE COMMON GOOD. Pp. 272. Beacon Press. Boston
9. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perpetual_motion
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11. "Worldwatch Institute, News July 2, 1998, United States Leads World Meat Stampede https://www.worldwatch.org/press/news/1998/07/02
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16. Jeremy Rifkin. 1989. Entropy: Into the Green House World. Bantam Books. New York.


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