word "work", both in its physical context and in its economic context,
refers to the creation of a state of order in a system. Life itself is a highly
ordered state that is sustained by work. It is claimed that this insight has important
ethical implications for mankind in our present stage of history since it leads
to the conclusion that all true work is eco-friendly, and work that is not eco-friendly
A Brief History of the Concept of Work
While the physical or mechanical concept of work is a
straightforward and textbook matter , as is to be expected in a positive science,
the economic concept of work has been subjected to varied treatments in the history
For the vast majority of humanity throughout history,
and even now in village society in the developing world, as can be seen by any
traveller who spends time in a village, work exists as an unquestioned part of
life, simply as a means of obtaining food, shelter, warmth, and therefore happiness.
It is usually carried out in a social context, and is often made both more efficient
and more congenial by the accompaniment of song, chat, and laughter.
labour was not highly regarded in classical Greece and Rome, probably because
it was carried out by slaves. St Paul in his letter to the Thessalonians, advises
that "if a man will not work, neither let him eat" . St Augustine generally
advised that his monks should do their work well as an offering to God. The Protestant
Reformers also emphasised the importance of conscientious work as a way of worship.
Max Weber characterised the Reformation view as the "Protestant work ethic"
, and saw it as the forerunner of capitalism. However, an ethic of hard work is
to be found in non-protestant cultures, notably in East Asia. Marx' view of work
centred on the alienation experienced by the worker as his product was appropriated
by the factory owner. Free market capitalism views work solely in terms of its
ability to be financially profitable. The concept of "Wage Slavery"
is a charge made against the "work ethic": the worker, although free
in the eyes of the law, it to all practical purposes bound to keep working in
uncongenial conditions to produce meaningless articles. As a reaction to wage
slavery and the perceived joylessness of the work ethic, a counter culture, exemplified
by "The Idler" a British journal founded in 1993, has formed around
the notion that work is an unpleasant and unwanted experience.
these concepts of work pre-date the era of ecological consciousness. We now understand
that the human economy is nested in a physical and biological eco-system whose
stability and health we are endangering as a result of the way in which we carry
out economic activity. It is reasonable and timely therefore to re-evaluate the
idea of work in its relation to physical, biological and economic realities.
Work and the Second Law of Thermodynamics
physics, work is defined as force applied through a distance. If work is applied
to lifting a mass M through a vertical distance, a state of increased order is
created, with a distinction created between the present position of the mass M,
and its previous, and potentially future, position. In thermodynamic terms, the
entropy in the system comprising mass M and its supporting environment has been
reduced through the application of work, because entropy can simply be conceived
of as the antonym of order.
Mechanical work in this way opposes the working
of the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which has been formulated
in many ways, but means essentially that temperature differences
between systems in contact with each other tend to even out
and that work can be obtained from these non-equilibrium differences,
but that loss of heat occurs, in the form of entropy, when work
For non-physicists, it is enough to know that
disorder in any system tends to increase as time goes on if
the system is left to its own devices. Most male students can
observe a symbolic functioning of the Second Law of Thermodynamics
by taking a look at the state of their flat as disorder increases
with the passage of time, assuming that no work (in this case,
tidying activity, the ordering the placement of garments and
used food dishes) has been done.
classical example of the Second Law of Thermodynamics is that of a hot body left
in a cool room. Initially there is a high degree of order because of the distinction
between the hot body and its environment. In time, the hot body cools, and the
room warms up, until body and room achieve thermal equilibrium. There is then
no temperature difference between body and room, the entropy of the system is
increased, and order (from a thermal point of view) is lost.
to the example of our mass M, if it has been hauled up by a rope, and is still
hanging by the rope, the molecules forming the rope will gradually lose their
relative (orderly) positions that give the rope its properties of tensile strength,
so the rope will, in time, fail, and the mass M will fall to its original position,
releasing the previous work as noise, heat, and the rearrangement of molecular
structures. The order and distinction that we created between mass M and the other
masses lying around on the original level where mass M was sited will now have
The case may be put that some work may result
in an increase in entropy. For instance, the application of force onto a the base
of a house made of toy bricks may result in the destruction of the pile. In terms
of the total system, however, more work has been done in creating the house of
bricks in the first place, and the extra destructive force is a lesser component
of the original effort that brings the structure into being. We shall return to
the question of demolition work later.
Physical work therefore results in the creation
of order or organisation. It can be viewed as a temporary obstruction
of the Second Law of Thermodynamics. This is the key concept
of this paper, which intends to show that biological life and
economic work share this same characteristic of opposing the
workings of the Second Law.
Physicists object to the use of the terms Second
Law of Thermodynamics or of "Entropy" in anything
but a strictly physical or even thermodynamic context, which
they are perfectly entitled to do. Despite that ringfencing
of the term, it is still reasonable to use the terms in an analogical
way in considering order in post-physical disciplines.
Concept of Order
The etymology of "Order" is
of interest. The word has a similar sound in several different languages.
· Dutch: volgorde
· French: ordre
· Italian: ordine
· Polish: porzadek
· Swedish: ordning
· Portuguese: ordem
· Slovene: ureditev
has a remarkable number of meanings, but the primary meaning is that of a command
to be obeyed. The far reaching authority of the Roman Empire is perhaps the reason
that it is carried into so many languages, since it was the Romans themselves
who were giving the orders.
The word "order" has use in describing
social groups, especially religious. The motif of command and authority is present
again here, together with a sense of arrangement, organisation, discipline and
The word appears in biological science. In the taxonomy of species;
"order" is one of the ranks into which living things are placed, a distinguishing
pattern of common anatomical features lying between a class and a family.
more abstract meaning of order is easier to understand as the opposite of disorder
and chaos. Order means organisation, arrangement, disposition, pattern or sequence.
There is a normative tone to it as in "things were in good order", and
in modern usage, "He was well out of order when he said that".
of the effects of order is to increase the efficiency of human acts in time and
space. A well-ordered work sequence will be completed in shorter time, and with
less probability of error, than one carried out chaotically. A well-ordered container
can hold more items than one in which things are placed at random.
Art is a
special case of ordering elements, classically in such a way that all the parts
work together to produce a harmonious whole. However, artists value their freedom
to evolve and break out of the prevailing mould to such an extent that there is
almost a continual state of revolution in the field of art, as the younger generation
rejects the modes of the previous generation.
It is possible to have too much order. Obsessive-Compulsive
Disorder (OCD) is a psychiatric condition where individuals exert excessive control
on one aspect of their thought or behaviour, resulting in a distressingly tense
state of being where development and change can be effectively blocked for months
or years. Repetitive thoughts intrude into the mind, and behaviour is often dominated
by repetitive, ritualised actions usually representing attempts to wash away a
sense of guilt resulting from tension between the normal human state of being
with all its faults and imperfections and some ideal of perfectly ordered behaviour.
The excessive order leads to a ritualised, impoverished life which is closed to
the diversity offered by the social and physical environment. In seeking absolute
control over their experience, individuals with this condition paradoxically lose
control of their thoughts, and experience the thoughts (obsessions) and actions
(compulsions) mentioned above. In seeking absolute, human-controlled order, we
lose real, life-process order.
In the social sphere it is also
possible to have an excess of order. Religious rituals can be viewed as socialised
obsessions. Some may find them helpful, perhaps by reflecting and therefore relieving
the need for devotees to entertain private obsessions, but others may find the
rituals and attendant rules oppressive, and react against them.
the sphere of politics, authoritarian, fascist and totalitarian governments may
attempt to impose an excessively strict control within their state. Just as in
the individual condition of obsession, the attempt to attain total order leads
to disorder. Fascism leads to a state of social tension which leads in turn to
dissent, rebellion and eventually revolution. There is an increase in order as
conceived by the ruling party, but since it is based on a partial view of the
realities of social ecology, the order is illusory and ultimately will be swept
aside as human reality reasserts itself.
organisation in the sense of an appropriate degree of human control of the environment,
has to be balanced with acceptance of events occurring within nature which transcend
the control of any one human. Tolerance of change, and adaptation to new conditions
is of the essence in the pursuit of individual and social happiness. This balance
appears in many classical teachings. Buddhism for instance emphasises the importance
of the Middle Way between the extremes of self-indulgence and self-mortification.
At a vernacular level is the English prayer, "Lord give me patience to accept
the conditions that I cannot change, the courage to change conditions that I can
change, and the wisdom to know the difference".
Work of Life
Life is a category of self-sustaining ordered
complexity that obstructs or transcends, for the period of time that the life
form exists, the operation of the Second Law.
view, it has been argued that the Second Law only applies to closed systems, and
that Earth is an open system since it has an energy income from the sun. However,
at a physical level, this openness to abundant radiant energy from the sun should
mean merely that the planet is physically warmer than it would otherwise have
been. The sun is necessary for most forms of life on earth (although a few life
forms derive their energy from non-solar sources), but it is only necessary in
that it adds a component (along with water, minerals and amino acids) to the mix
necessary for the building of life-forms; solar energy is not of itself the cause
of the organisational process that is taking place in the life form. A (possibly
indefinable) operant exists that enables these elements to be assembled into the
ordered web of self sustaining and self-replicating entities that we refer to
collectively as Life. The Life-operation depends on a combination of analysis
(setting distinctions) and also of synthesis (putting certain elements together
in an orderly way), just as thought consists of an interplay of analysis and synthesis.
Although the term "biological thermodynamics" has
been used by Haynie in the study of biological systems , in his study it is the
specific energy transformations within the cell are under study, rather than the
emergent phenomenon of life itself.
The primary act of order
or distinction in life is formation of the cell membrane that sets a boundary
between the interior and exterior. Within the cell interior, highly ordered information
systems (DNA and RNA) encode the plans necessary to generate the proteins that
will order the processes which will enable the cell to move, respond, digest,
respire, excrete and reproduce.
Although each individual cell
eventually falls prey to disorganisation when it dies, and its constituent parts
return to the physical environment, eventually to be relatively evenly distributed
in accordance with the Second Law, its informational order continues in its progeny.
The only victory that the Second Law can claim is that ultimately it will overcome
life on earth in five billion years when the sun expands into a Red Giant and
takes our home planet back into itself.
The expenditure of
energy (which is defined in physics as the ability to do work) is necessary for
all the processes of life. Physical work is a necessary element of life, in that
biological organisms must expend energy, that is, must perform physical work,
in order to maintain their constituent parts in the distinct state of organisation
that characterises life. It can be said that life is the result of a continuous,
diverse and well-ordered process of physical work, since the cell is continually
using energy to move forces through distances. Movement is continuous within a
living cell (as opposed to seeds and spores, where movement - apart from the movement
of atoms constituting the code molecules - ceases until physical conditions come
about that will allow movement to restart). Ingestion involves moving materials
from outside the cell to the interior. Respiration involves a highly complex chain
of molecular manipulations designed to release energy in small, manageable packets
that can be utilised by the cell to realise its "objectives". Excretion
involves moving unwanted or toxic materials out of the cell. Reproduction involves
copying and moving the nucleic acids at the heart of the cell into daughter cells.
life-forms there are many domains, kingdoms, phyla/divisions, classes, orders,
families, genera, species and sub-species, each with its own characteristics.
These distinctions are determined by and interplay of genetic coding and ecological
influences. There is a wide span of differing complexity from single-celled organisms
through to the cetaceans and primates. All share the core informational code of
DNA and/or RNA, and, with the exception of viruses, life forms show a cell structure
with membrane, cytoplasm and nucleus.
With time, and left
to its own devices, life tends to generate increasing levels of complexity, as
species form sub-species in adaptation to the ever-changing environment. Mutations
form, mostly useless or even maladaptive (satisfying the Second Law), but sometimes
useful and enabling a new sub-species with a particular advantage in a particular
environment to emerge. Here again, life is defying the Second Law in becoming
more complex and ordered, not less, with the passing of time. However, there is
a trade-off taking place; organisms which are more highly adapted have less potential
for further adaptations. Their positive attributes may also carry certain weaknesses.
The fact that they have gone so far out on an evolutionary limb may mean that
if challenged by an environmental change, they will be unable to change further,
resulting a risk of their extinction. The implication of this is that there is
a greater potentiality in archaic DNA, and that evolution is to some extent an
unfolding and dissipation of that potential. This is, on the surface of it, a
rather perplexing fact. It may be that the interplay of random genetic mutation
and natural selection are sufficient to account for this increasing complexity.
has created a rich profusion of highly organised and interdependent entities within
the physical environment offered by our home planet, but the effect that human
actions are having on Earth's biotic system is to diminish that complexity. In
the last few hundred years, the world has experienced many extinctions due to
massive changes in habitats , , brought about through the work of one highly developed
species - homo "sapiens".
According to a 1998 survey
of 400 biologists conducted by New York's American Museum of Natural History,
nearly 70 percent of biologists believe that we are currently in the early stages
of a human-caused mass extinction, known as the Holocene extinction event. In
that survey, the same proportion of respondents agreed with the prediction that
up to 20 percent of all living species could become extinct within 30 years (by
2028). Biologist E.O. Wilson estimated in 2002 that if current rates of human
destruction of the biosphere continue, one-half of all species of life on earth
will be extinct in 100 years. (Wikipedia, Extinction)
mass extinctions, and reducing the biodiversity of the planet, the human economy
is lessening the level of order and organisation in the environment on which it
ultimately depends. In doing so, we humans are necessarily diminishing our own
health in all its aspects - individual, social and psychological. Something is
wrong with the way humans are working in the world. Something is wrong with our
economic system, that is, with the way that we carry out our work.
All animals have to work at keeping alive. We
have seen above that microscopic energetic processes keep the cell alive, but
animals also have to carry out work in a macroscopic, mechanical sense. Herbivores
have to find their source of food, and have to pull it into their stomach, massage
and treat it with enzymes to make it available to energise their cells. All the
time they are working on pumping air in and out of their lungs. Carnivores have
to expend energy in order to identify, stalk, chase, kill and eat their prey.
Life is always expending energy in order to keep its head above the waters of
the Second Law.
Humans have to work to live in the same way,
but we take work further than our fellow animals. We have been, quite rightly,
applying our prodigious powers of cognition and tool-making to adapting to varied
and changing environments, and to defending ourselves against the discomfort of
thirst, hunger, cold, exposure and illness. To manage thirst, we work to supply
ourselves with piped water. To get food security, we dig earth, sow seed, tend
and harvest crops and store food. Against cold we use fire, against exposure we
build shelters, and to guard against the commonest deadly illness, gastroenteritis,
we try to dispose of our faecal waste in such a way that it does not get back
into our water or food. These are the primary actions that humans take, the basic
building blocks of the primary level of the economy. The interesting thing is
that each of these actions involves simple mechanical work, in the sense of force
moving through distance, and each of them involves the creation of order, in the
sense of useful arrangement or organisation. The making of distinctions is found
everywhere: faeces should not go into drinking water; houses are not random piles
of sticks; the fireplace needs to be respected and set aside, and the gatherer
need to be able to distinguish between the fruit is that is edible and that which
Although these forms of primary work (that is,
work aimed at satisfying our need for water, food, shelter, warmth and health)
are termed "manual labour", they all involve a great deal of thought,
imagination, reasoning and planning. There is a continuum between manual labour,
where the bulk of the activity is directed towards making physical changes in
the environment, and work of the intellect, where the bulk of the changes are
made in the imagination, and the physical work is less. The absolute minimum of
physical work is effected by the person in whom is invested the ultimate authority,
the President or Prime Minister who brings about change (or hopes to bring about
change) simply by applying his or her signature to a document.
primary work, the economy of the hunter-gathering tribe, or the "subsistence
farmer" takes place in order to maintain life. Primary economic work and
physical work share the same essential quality, the creation of a state of increased
order. The question arises, is the creation or order implicit in all forms of
All economies are founded on the same primary
function of organising the provision of water, food, shelter and hygiene within
the environment, but more complex modern societies have further layers: the secondary
layer is that of distribution, exchange and transport, a tertiary layer of services
and administration, and a quaternary layer of financial services.
later functions all require a high degree of ordering. Distribution that leaves
all the goods on one doorstep, or in an inaccessible location, is not effective
distribution: it is of the essence of distribution that it must be fair and accurately
placed. Exchange and trade requires a complex set of rules. Transport requires
that the traveller is able to distinguish between the right and the wrong way
The third level of the economy, services and administration,
are essentially about good order and organisation.
and final level of the economy, finance, also require correct order, as anyone
who has watched an accountant work their magic on pages of figures can testify.
The accountant knows how to place the records of financial transactions into an
order that will have meaning for the tax inspector.
is implicit in the service economy . The physician knows how to disentangle the
patients jumble of symptoms into a clear pattern that leads to a final diagnosis.
What is a mysterious set of experiences to the "lay" person becomes
ordered into a tidy set of data, and finally into a meaningful and hopefully positive
outcome. Although the doctor may not do any physical work apart from manipulate
the pen or keyboard as she takes notes, and possibly in lifting the patient's
leg or pressing the stomach in search of signs, the final signature on the prescription
is the authority that may set the situation on a course of health - and health,
as an expression of Life, is an expression of good order.
it is the case that the whole field of the work economy from subsistence to finance
is in the creation of order in the environment, we have not yet covered the whole
economy, since there is more to economics than paid work. The work of the home
maker/parent, although not usually formally paid, involves a huge amount of re-ordering.
The young child is an entropy engine, creating disorder wherever s/he goes. Parenting
involves teaching the child to distinguish between delight and danger, toy and
tool, food and faeces, and eventually teaching the child to tidy up the toys when
play is over.
If work goes with the grain of life, it is to
be expected that work will be good for us. This is indeed the case: work has been
shown to have a beneficial impact on the health of individuals and also of society.
Surprisingly, work has been rated close to the top of the list of activities which
bring happiness . This is associated with self esteem, financial reward, time
structure and socialisation all of which are associated with work. However, some
kinds of work, for instance excessive hours, excessive workload, undemocratic
management structures, or unpleasant colleagues may have an adverse effect on
Green economics (that is, economics which are founded
on the knowledge of ecology) therefore affirms the value of good work . It is
necessary for life, for good order in the world, and is generally good for our
Is all work therefore good?
we have been reviewing work in a purely theoretical and structural way, building
from physics to biology, and from biology to economics. On the other hand, it
is abundantly clear, not least in the consideration of extinctions made above,
and in consideration of climate change, that the prevailing world economic system
in the early 21st century is far from perfect. This is further illustrated by
the fact that one third of the world's human population is undernourished, while
a significant sector of the Western population is obese - a clear failure of the
distribution function of the global economy as it is currently ordered. Moreover,
human economic activity is increasing the disorder in the world's life support
system rather than increasing order and promoting life, as our use of fossil fuels
and our destruction of forest is disturbing the energy balance of the planet.
historically, our economic work was first powered by human effort. Later we enlisted
horse, ox and ass power, then wind and water, and finally we discovered steam
power, at first through fire obtained from solar radiation that was recently incorporated
into wood through photosynthesis, and unfortunately, later on, through the vast
stores of ancient solar energy that is embedded in coal, oil and gas. Only recently,
after 200 years of exploitation have we discovered that tapping into this fossil
energy was not such a good idea. Not only have we become addicted to the huge
energy resources that we have obtained, not only has the power that we have released
been used unwisely (for example, in making machine guns and motor cars), not only
has the power of fossil fuels enabled us to consume inordinate amounts of biomass,
and to invade the habitat of many species, driving many of them to extinction
but also we now know that coal, oil and gas cause serious planetary heat retention
In doing all of these things, we are reducing the
overall level of complex order in the planetary environment. If current trends
in bio-diversity extinctions are projected into the future, the only species left
on earth in the end would be homo "sapiens", his domesticated animals,
and all those pests that we are unable to exterminate, like rats, cockroaches,
mosquitoes, bacteria, fungi and viruses. Such a world would not be well ordered.
It would have fallen away from the rich diversity of mutually sustaining ecological
interrelationships that obtained in nature before we came to dominance. The conditions
at the end of the present trend would not be sustainable, and the system of life
on earth might no longer be sufficiently robust to support the human species that
brought life to such a low ebb. It is possible that we humans would follow our
other victims into extinction, or if not into extinction, into a low level of
survivalist, subsistence living.
In short, then, the way that
human work is carried out under the current economic arrangements is acting against
the life-order of the planet. Paradoxically, we human beings who are given to
regarding ourselves as superior in consciousness and intellect to other species,
have contrived to behave as if we were mere blind, mechanical forces of nature
acting in accordance with the Second Law of Thermodynamics.
theoretical explanation of this phenomenon may lie in the structure of our consciousness.
Our ecological understanding (in the sense of scientific knowledge and theory,
as opposed to the holistic understanding of, say, an aboriginal hunter-gatherer)
is a recently acquired cognitive construct. On the other hand, our current economic
behaviour is motivated at the level of immediate emotional and instinctual reward.
Mainstream economics (the economics of the "free" market) is emotionally
motivated, while holistic or green economics is rationally motivated. Green economics
seeks the long term good; the grey economy seeks immediate gratification. In neurological
terms, green is coming from the frontal cortex of the brain; grey is stemming
from the limbic lobe or the amygdala.
Whatever the root cause
may be for the split between our knowledge and our behaviour, from consideration
of the nature of work in its physical, biotic and economic aspects there arises
a new definition of economic work. True work is human economic activity that sustains
life. It goes with the grain of life, and results in a net increase in order on
the planet. Work that does not have this as its net result might have to be redefined.
and the Dyseconomy
What kinds of work reduces the level
of order in the world?
The most obvious example is the work of the bomber,
the product of whose labour is a pile of rubble and dead bodies. The transition
from house to rubble, and from life to death is clearly a transition from order
The bomber, and the man who commands the bomber, will defend his
actions by arguing that "If that house was not turned to rubble, then one
of our houses would have been so treated". This argument merely moves the
source of the system disorder further up the chain of command, ultimately to sets
of opposing politicians whose mutual misunderstanding, self-interest, rivalry
and institutional paranoia creates the need for armed force. Their condition might
be described by a psychiatrist as Paranoia Mutualis Caesarii - the mutual paranoia
of state leaders.
A positive feed-back loop exists between arms manufacture
and mutual political suspicion. State A increases arms spending because it distrusts
state B, which causes State B to increase its arms spending because of the military
dominance of State A.
In system terms it is enough to know
that the end result of any political paranoia and any arms race will eventually
result in an increase in entropy or disorder. There are those who would still
argue that nuclear weapons of mass destruction (nWMDs) serve to create peace by
the deterrence effect. However nWMDs serve only to raise the threshold at which
states go to war by a degree that is relative, to what went before. not to an
absolute degree. Since the result of a breakdown of nuclear deterrence would be
an absolute destruction of human civilisation, it is not logical to try to keep
the peace by threatening with deterrents which only raise the threshold of their
own use by a relative degree.
It is therefore the case that work in manufacture
of armaments and explosives, taken in conjunction with the politics of national
or sectional self-interest, should be redefined as a species of anti-work, or
negative work since their end effect is to increase, not decrease the entropy
in the environment. At the same time, the politics of rivalry, distrust and paranoia
should also be redefined as, anti-politics, since the proper work of the politician
is to resolve differences by thought and dialogue.
In the same
way, other elements of economic activity can be re-characterised. Any activity,
product or process that reduces the net physical or biological order prevalent
in the local or global environment, is anti-work. Order includes the diversity
of species who can be seen as benign or neutral to human interests, and this in
turn implies the extent or quality of the habitat of such species.
these terms, any process that is not carbon-neutral or carbon positive (using
the word carbon as a proxy for all atmospheric greenhouse forcing gases) will
have to be seen as contributing to an increase in entropy, since each and every
process that has a net carbon emission is causing an alteration in the planetary
environment that is hostile to the present degree of bio-diversity and ecological
ordering. Global warming, if its progress is not stopped and reversed, will destroy
the level of biological and human social order that obtains at the present time.
realisation shifts the terms of reference of the economic debate. From being "unorthodox"
or "alternative", green economics now becomes the norm, and orthodox
economics (that is, economics which does not take proper account of ecology) must
be redefined as dyseconomics, since its end product is an increase in the entropy
of terrestrial ecology. All businesses and workers will be obliged to look again
at their processes and products in terms of their contribution or subtraction
from the net order of human, biological and indeed physical arrangements on the
The Great Work of Healing the Planet
question arises, is then every person who drives a car part of the dyseconomy?
Every ambulance driver? Every Canadian who heats his home to a life sustaining
level when it is minus 24 degrees Celsius outside? The response has to be an uncompromising
yes - unless the process of altering the composition of the atmosphere can be
turned around by using "carbon offsets", which can be briefly defined
as balancing the adverse effects of greenhouse gas emissions through the planting
of adequate amounts of ecologically and socially well-designed forests, through
well-designed oceanic plankton fertilisation, through enabling carbon saving in
other parts of the world economy and even, possibly, through well-designed carbon
Carbon offsetting has unfortunately become a contentious
subject due to misunderstanding and malpractice. The misunderstanding is that
there is a necessary either-or choice between CO2 emission reduction and carbon
offsetting. In fact, it is possible to do both. The clinching argument in favour
of the carbon sink approach in addition to carbon fuel use cessation is that if
it were possible to stop all greenhouse gas production today and for ever, it
would still be necessary to reduce present atmospheric CO2 levels in order to
stabilise Earth's climate. In some instances carbon offsetting has been brought
into disrepute through industrial-scale plantations of invasive, non-indigenous
species such as Eucalyptus which have been set without regard for the wishes and
needs of the local population. Neither of these arguments alter in any way the
overwhelming need to use carbon offsets in parallel with making the necessary
transition away from carbon based energy sources to sources based on the Earth's
income of solar energy.
The centrally important work that needs
to be carried out by our generation is that of rebalancing the atmosphere's carbon
budget, as a prelude to restoring healthy and biologically diverse ecological
systems. The vast majority of life forms on this planet, human and non-human,
are dependent on the Earth losing heat into space at a higher rate than now obtains.
In terms of physical work and the Second Law, Earth began
as a hot planet with high CO2 levels in the air. Photosynthesis uses the sun's
energy to cause the atmospheric CO2 levels to be stored, creating a state of reduced
entropy, with low CO2 in air and large amounts of carbon underground. Our action
in releasing that primeval carbon back to the atmosphere is increasing the entropy
in the Earth system.
If we do not change our energy sources,
we may experience the kind of outcome envisaged by James Lovelock , who believes
that we are about to experience an inevitable and unavoidable collapse of the
earth's life-support system. He envisages the temporary survival of an elite in
Western Europe, where warming will be counterbalanced by the cessation of the
Gulf Stream, and where an elite group can maintain Western traditions for a few
decades through the use of nuclear power. This gloomy and elitist view can be
contrasted with the Green approach, which would have the energy of all humanity
enlisted in a great co-operative work programme of ecological restoration.
order to reverse the impending Second Law outcome, we will have to stop using
CO2 emitting forms of energy, as well as those energy forms that lend themselves
to the development of weapons of mass destruction, and turn to the use of the
energy of our Sun in a major way, while at the same time taking our current and
past CO2 emissions out of the atmosphere by carbon means of carbon sinks.
is mankind's proper work in the twenty-first century: economic action that works
against the Second Law and protects the present high state of ecological order
in the planet. This is after all the only reasonable option that is available
to us. Governments, which over the last century have become broadly subservient
to the superior power of industry and business, must reassert their democratic
authority and make dyseconomic processes progressively more difficult and expensive
until they become impossible. At the same time they must make truly economic processes
easier and more profitable by exerting a guiding force on the economy in general
and the market in particular.
The work to be done in healing
the planet is challenging: it focuses on the necessary transition from carbon
based energy to that based on the solar income, but also it involves a huge amount
of other restorative work. The scale is such that unemployment will become a thing
of the past. There will also be no financial room for military forces at the current
grotesque levels of expenditure , where the military spend every two weeks an
amount of money that could meet the basic life needs of the undernourished sector
of the human population for fifty two weeks.
The essence of
the economic transition will be to create a political and economic milieu that
enables every human individual, family, society, nation and institution to take
part in the great work of undoing the damage that has been caused to our planet
in years since we began to exploit the earth's stores of carbon energy.
Lawson MB BS, MPCPsych.
Saturday, 02 June 2007