Work: Physical, Biological and Economic

 

 


Introduction

The 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 is anti-work.

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 of thought.

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.

Manual 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.

All of 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.

Physical Work and the Second Law of Thermodynamics

In mechanical 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 is done.

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.

The 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.

Reverting 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 disappeared.

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.

The Concept of Order

The etymology of "Order" is of interest. The word has a similar sound in several different languages.
· Latin ordo
· Dutch: volgorde
· French: ordre
· German: Ordnung
· Italian: ordine
· Polish: porzadek
· Spanish: orden
· Swedish: ordning
· Portuguese: ordem
· Russian: ??????? poradok
· Slovene: ureditev

"Order" 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 regularity.
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.
The 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".
One 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.

Excessive Order

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.

In 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.

Reasonable order, 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".

The 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.

Against this 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.

Within 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.

Life 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)

In causing 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.

Economic 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 is poisonous.

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.

Natural, 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 economic work?

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.

These 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 to go.

The third level of the economy, services and administration, are essentially about good order and organisation.

The fourth 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.

Knowledge 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.

If 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 health .

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 health.

Is all work therefore good?

So far 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.

Viewed 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 problems.

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.

One 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.

Anti-work 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 to disorder.
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.

In 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.

This 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 planet.

The Great Work of Healing the Planet

The 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 sequestering technology.
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.

In 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.

This 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.

Richard Lawson MB BS, MPCPsych.
Dolberrow
North Somerset
Saturday, 02 June 2007

 
© 2001 R. Lawson