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Entropy production delusion

It is common in knowledgeable circles to talk about the development of civilization in terms of entropy discussion. The term 'entropy...

Monday, December 23, 2013

Fun and Games with Bitcoin

The ups and downs of the digital currency, Bitcoin, is generating a vast amount of speculation in financial circles. Most people will have been bewildered by this innovation. They have been used to dealing with real money and have a degree of understanding of how inflation and deflation affects their decisions. The volatility of Bitcoin is beyond their comprehension. Many of those who have tried this digital currency have had their fingers burnt while others are hoping that the price of the Bitcoin they have acquired will make them rich by growing exponentially.

Intangible money is a means of buying tangible goods and services. Speculation in dollars, euros and other real currencies by investors, banks, financial managers and governments does not hide the fundamental usage of money to pay for those goods and services that are available. These goods and services are produced by irreversibly using up the limited supply of natural material resources, including those providing the necessary energy to do the work. That is an unsustainable process. So potency of real money will decline as these resources become scarcer. Economic contraction will set in, despite the protestations of economists.

Bitcoin will inevitably share the fate of real money after causing a lot of confusion amongst those who fallaciously believe it can cope with reality.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Grand Delusion

The proposal to build a high speed rail link from Melbourne to Brisbane via Canberra and Sydney is being discussed in government and industrial circles with support from the media. The success of such ventures in a number of countries is put forward as a good reason to improve transportation between these major eastern Australian cities. Financial, economic, employment, social and environmental factors have been weighed up in these considerations. The lessons learned in other high speed rail implementations have been taken into account in the proposal. They convey the impression that Australian economy would be markedly boosted by the link without any serious deleterious environmental or social consequences.

This proposal is a typical example of the myopic view of the powerful in society. It takes into account only the practicalities of its installation and the perceived benefits. It does not mention the consumption of vast amounts of the limited stored natural resources for its construction, operation and maintenance. It blithely ignores the fact that the rail system would have a limited lifetime. But, of course, that failure to take into account reality is not an Australian characteristic. It is a global disease. The powerful in society have the grand delusion that technological systems can everlastingly provide human beings with services by conjuring natural resources out of thin air!

Friday, November 29, 2013

Use it or lose it

There are numerous gas basins in eastern Australia and very few of them have been exploited to date. There are moves to install more processing plants as the demand for energy grows while the extraction of oil globally becomes more difficult. The logic that proponents of these developments are putting forward in aiming to get support is 'use it or lose'. This is the logic that has been used by world wide societies for centuries as they have exploited a wide range of natural resources to enable the the production of goods and the construction of infrastructure that have been the hall mark of civilization. The mining of coal, iron ore, uranium and other minerals have contributed significantly to the growth in the Australian economy.

This myopic view is a characteristic of the societies in industrialized countries. It is tantamount to the making use of the value of inputs without taking into account the inevitable waste outputs. Society is only now coming to grips with the rapid climate change that the wastes from fossil fuel providing energy, much of which goes up in fumes in traffic congestion!

But this production of wastes is not the only deleterious impact of this extraction of natural resources. Society is now addicted to the goods and services provided by this unsustainable process. All the implementation gas processing plants will do is maintain this dependence for a while longer and make the inevitable withdrawal even harder to cope with.

The proposal is akin to a tobacco company selling the benefits of smoking!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Earthly Revolution

Around the world, the young are enthusiastically embracing the the flood of electronic devices that enables instant gratification of demand for entertainment, communication with friends and many other services, including on-line shopping and banking. The rush of information is overwhelming for many, especially the elderly. It makes them feel impotent. Many of the young would like the satisfaction of doing something useful with the information handling capabilities and skills they have acquired. Something that they boast about to friends and even their parents! They would like to be like the celebrities they see on TV.

Some of the smart ones are anticipating the explosive growth of the Earthly Revolution. They want to be in the van guard. So they are using the internet to gain understanding of what is really happening. They know politicians adopt only policies that will improve their chances of re-election. They know businesses will do anything to increase their profits. They know the media are out to boost their audience. They know that even the universities have courses educating students into how to make money by marketing goods that will be thrown away to make way for the latest. But they also know there are forums on the internet that provide understanding put forward by the unbiased specialists in the range of fields governing what is actually happening in the operation of our civilization. They do not proffer the hype distortions that abound in the mainstream media.

Moreover, these smart youngsters also know that there are scientists knowledgeable in their fields who have been describing what has been actually happening. Climatologists are just one example.They have copious amounts of evidence of what is happening to sea ice, the marine ecosystem, icebergs, glaciers and xxxx.Anthropologists have described how the societies of many civilizations have collapsed for a vaiety of political, economic, social and ecological reasons. They know the current industrialized civilization is heading down that intractable path.

These youngsters want to address the challenge  of making the best possible use of the remaining natural resources. They want to slow down the devastation of the environment and the extinction of flora and fauna. They want to be proud of making a contribution that their grandchildren will be able to boast about.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The jobs mix: good and bad

People want jobs to earn money to pay for their needs and wants while putting a little aside for retirement. Businesses provide jobs to make and sell their useful and useless products and services to the workers while making profits that will ensure a pleasant retirement. Governments promote economic growth policies that encourage the creation of jobs without taking into account the true value of many of the job categories.

Let us rate the value to society and the environment of a range of job categories. Governments, economists, businesses and the media do not take into account what jobs do to the environment but we will because we are realists and they are illusionists. We will list the categories in our perceived order of value. So most people will need to go towards the bottom of the list to find the category that seems to indicate what they do for a living. That will encourage them to think and maybe they will becomes realists rather than pragmatists.

Here we go:
  1. providing understanding of the damge the operation of the systems of civilization are irrevocably doing to the natural life support system
  2. providing the young, aged and disadvantaged in society with aid, care and compassion
  3. teaching and lecturing on how to use sound information to develop useful physical and mental skills
  4. providing knowledge on how to manage biodiversity to limit the harm being done by human-introduced measures, including irrigation for farming 
  5. teaching and lecturing on how society can manage a sustainable life style using a minimum of natural resources
  6. providing essential health, policing, information,organizational, management, banking, housing, food, energy and  water supply, sanitation, maintenance, transportation services together with recreational and remedial facilities.
  7. promoting beneficial physical and mental activities, including participation in sport, playing musical instruments, having stimulating hobbies and enjoying social groups
  8. being an engineer who specializes in the maintenance and prolonging the effective operational life of all forms of infrastructure, including land, sea and air vehicles together with roads, tunnels and bridges.
  9. promoting devices to save on using energy on the pretext that will help to stop climate change
  10. farming using fertilizers, pesticides and machinery
  11. teaching and lecturing on how to achieve a high material standard of living
  12. driving trucks through cities loaded with containers 
  13. mining irreplaceable natural resources
  14. mining coal, oil and natural gas for export to make money for foreign and local investors 
  15. promoting, marketing and selling stuff that sales-addicted people do not really want
  16. contributing to the design and construction of high rise buildings that will be dependent on the continuing availability of services during their lifetime
Many of the jobs at the bottom of the list will vanish down the black sink hole as realism takes over from the delusion that society has had for in recent times.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

climate change bombshell

Climate change has hit the headlines again with the release of the latest IPCC report. Many prominent people, including the Prime Minister of Australia, voice their skepticism of the findings of the report. They do not believe that human activities could have had such a major impact. That is because they are so selective in their views and arguments. They have only to open their eyes to see what cities, skyscrapers, roads, airports, grids and numerous other items of infrastructure  have already done to the environment. The contribution to climate change is just one of the deleterious impacts of this growth and operation of infrastructure. But they will not do that because being realistic is not on their agenda. They mindlessly promote economic growth and to hell with the consequences.

Numerous scientists have devoted their careers to obtaining evidence on what is happening to various aspects of the climate, the associated response of flora and fauna and the impact on terrestrial and marine eco systems. Ironically, many organisms, such as beetles, are doing a better job of adapting to the changing climate than people! Scientists (unlike politicians) subject their findings to s systematic peer group review and this tends to make them conservative.

This has had the unfortunate effect of reducing the pressure on society to implement measures that will ameliorate the impact of the irreversible climate change (by reducing the rate of greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels) and others that will help society to adapt to increasing storms, more floods and droughts together with rising sea levels.

However, there are bodies of concerned and knowledgeable people who are not so constrained in providing insight into the stark physical realities that will inevitably have to be faced. Arctic News provides insight into just one of these climate change bombshells , the Arctic Methane Monster. This is providing a valuable service, a wake up call. But will the powerful in society hear it above the rustle of dollars?

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The demise of civilization

A short history of civilization provides insight into developments and what the future will be. Hunter-gather societies made way to farming communities in many regions thousands of years ago as our ancestors became more knowledgeable and acquired better tools. This development occurred at different rates around the globe for a variety of reasons, including the influence of climate. It led to towns as a greater range of skills were acquired and cities followed. An elite led these developments with the workers providing the diversified labor and skills. The needs of the populace increased from food, water, clothing and shelter to gradually embrace the wide range of goods and services that a high proportion of the current global population now take for granted.

Some civilizations carried this development too far. The Sumerians developed a very knowledgeable society but they went too far in their agriculture using irrigation. Salination spoilt the soil so the civilization went into decay despite their advanced culture and now the country is mainly desert. Easter Islanders suffered a similar fate as they used up limited natural resources, partly to build idols. The Norse in Greenland did not learn from the Inuit about how to obtain food in the harsh climate. They employed unsuitable European agriculture while not being able to catch seals.

However, in the main, the global civilization developed although at different rates. Industrialization enabled the use of stored natural resources such as coal and oil to produce the goods and services that became the foundation of a high material standard living for millions in the developed countries. Society embraced this progress without understanding the real cost. The transient material wealth of civilization was being obtained by irreversibly drawing down the natural material wealth that had evolved over eons.

The current infrastructure provides many in the global community with a range of services that are now taken for granted. Well established cities such as London, Paris, New York and Tokyo have a variety range of services used by their residents and visitors almost unthinkingly while many skilled workers use natural resources for their operation and maintenance. Even the newer cities consume vast amount of natural resources and spew out material wastes day by day.

This infrastructure is like a gigantic organism feeding on natural resources and emitting wastes, seemingly without control. The powerful in society continue to proclaim the advantages of economic growth without taking into account the divestment of natural wealth. But natural forces are extracting the price of this exuberance so civilization is entering into its senescence and its demise this century is certain.

It is ironical that current society has not learned anything from the demise of so many previous civilizations. They enthusiastically embrace the wonders of technological innovations without counting the cost or the unintended consequences. Climate change, ocean acidification and the pollution due to toxic wastes

Monday, August 19, 2013

Fundamental physical principles

I list the points in my hypothesis about fundamental physical principles below. People, in the main only make decisions as their personal impact on the operation of physical (materialistic) systems is small compared to the impact of technological systems and natural forces. People make decisions (good and bad) about realizing some of the potential that fundamental physical principles determine.

These principles are:
  1. energy is a property of materials and the form of energy (nuclear, chemical, thermal, mechanical or electrical) able to do positive work depends on the applicable circumstances. The internal (chemical) energy in water is of relevance in electrolysis but it is the gravitational potential energy of water that is relevant in hydro works. There is a vast amount of thermal energy in the oceans but there are very few systems installed to extract some if it. 'exergy' is often used in technical works to identify the circumstances where energy does work in technological systems. 
  2. every physical operation (process) entails the passing of time, the dissipative flow of energy and often the immutable transformation of material (as in hydrocarbon fuels to greenhouse gas emissions due to combustion) in the associated transformation of energy in doing positive work
  3. technological systems irreversibly use limited natural material resources, including those that supply energy, in an unsustainable process to temporarily provide infrastructure, goods and services for use by civilization
  4. this process produces immutable material waste that has a deleterious impact (such as contributing to climate disruption and ocean acidification and warming) on the eco (terrestrial and marine) systems and on the health of organisms (including human beings)
  5. the materialistic infrastructure of civilization (cities, roads, skyscrapers, bridges, etc.) is subject to an aging process due to the destructive action of natural forces, including friction during negative work, so these components have a lifetime that depends on circumstances, including what natural material resources remain available for their operation and maintenance 
These principles have applied for eons but human beings have devised (made decisions) about innovative ways of realizing (in an unsustainable manner) on some of the potential provided by the application of these principles.

Denis Frith

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The unwinnable war

Centuries ago, human beings declared war on the environment. They decided they would do to the enemy, Nature, what was deemed necessary to ensure that their civilization would progress. They invented weapons, artificial agriculture then industrialization leading to exponential population growth, to improve their fighting ability. They still believe they can win the war simply because of the power of their beloved weapon, fiat money.

The war has not been going well for Nature in recent times. Resource stocks that were built up over eons by hard work of numerous natural forces using energy from the Sun have been devastated by the rampant misuse by the technology devised by humans to provide energy and materials wastefully used. The emptying of the underground stocks of many minerals (including the fossil fuels), the deletion of soil fertility and groundwater, deforestation, desertification, ocean acidification go with the noticeable rapid climate change are just some of the unintended blunders of the ignorant society as it builds up a vast infrastructure that will only temporarily provide the services that humans are now so dependent on.

However, society at large has been duped by the hype of its leaders. It still has the fallacious belief that technology will enable the tackling of emerging problems with the way Nature operates. They have yet to take into account the fact that technology created these problems. Many people will be bewildered as Nature strikes back. Few, even at this stage, understand that climate change is only one of Nature's weapons. Many already have to cope with a food shortage stemming partly from devastation of the environment. They have yet to understand that Nature bats last so the Anthropocene era is drawing to a close with a major dieoff of humans and the certain demolition of the much of the infrastructure of this civilization.

Monday, July 15, 2013

The energy and material duality that invariably determines what happens

It is interesting that text book items are quoted without attempting to provide a sound contrary argument to the assertion that the systems of civilization are irreversibly using up limited natural material capital and producing material wastes. This assertion does not appear in text books because it is an innovative way of looking at the fundamental principles of what invariably happens. Leaving aside the controversial radiation (a process in which energetic particles or energetic waves travel through a vacuum) of the solar energy from the Sun, some of this incident solar energy is transformed to heat energy in air in the atmosphere. The consequences are winds (kinetic energy of air) and numerous other operations that are taken for granted. Some of the incident solar energy is used to produce chemical energy (carbohydrates) in plants (made of materials that grow and then decay). Some of this solar energy is absorbed in the oceans so affect the currents that have such an impact on other operations. Some of this solar energy is now absorbed in solar panels where it is converted to electrical energy.

A discussion of what happens in operations (processes) should also consider what happens over time to the system (made of materials) in which the process takes place. The nature of the process depends on the state of the system. If the system does not exist then the process cannot occur. There is a vast amount of heat energy in the oceans and this has an influence on many natural operations, such as currents. But only a very few technological systems have been installed to convert a very small proportion of that heat energy to electrical energy. All existing systems age due to the action of natural forces, including friction. So the nature of the processes carried out in an aging system adapts to the changing environment of the operation. The power of a petrol engine declines over time as many of its components wear.

The mathematical equation for energy = force x distance is often quoted as underpinning the process. Energy is transformed when it flows to do work. That is reality is embodied in the mathematical definition of work. Stored energy, such as the bond energy of chemical compounds, do not do work. So processes always involve the "flow of energy" and any discussion that just uses the short hand term "energy" presumes, unwisely, that the qualification is understood. That work statement is a well-recognized fundamental principle but it relates to only those circumstances where the energy associated with the material has the potential to do work by flowing, either spontaneously or when activated. That energy equation above has no relevance in energy transformation but other (thermodynamic or fluid dynamic) equations underpin these transformation processes. But all processes involve the irreversible flow of energy through a system made of materials. Some mathematical equations deal with aspects of the nature of the operation (process) but often they have to have allowance for real effects such as friction.

Some processes that have a stage which entails the transformation of energy to do work do not have an associated transformation of material. A generator does work in transforming mechanical (kinetic) energy into electrical energy with a high efficiency as only a small amount of that kinetic energy is dissipated as heat energy due to friction. The material lost in the bearings due to this wear is a long term problem for the maintenance people and those who have to pay for this dose of reality. But the generator is not transforming material in the process. Heat energy does the work to provide kinetic energy in gas turbines without a material transformation. Pressure energy does the work to provide kinetic energy in water turbines without a material transformation. The filament in a light bulb transforms electrical energy into visible light energy (and some heat energy) without transformation of the filament material although the filament will slowly degrade. 

On the other hand, as is now well known, the coal combustion work process transforms chemical energy in the coal to heat energy and transforms the material (mainly carbon) into gaseous, vapor and particulate wastes. The process of transforming (refining process) iron ore to metallic iron through the work done by the flow of the energy input produces vast amounts of waste heat. Both energy and materials are transformed in both of these processes. All natural processes also have the dual (energy and material) transformation process. The functioning (metabolism) of the human body is a classic example.

So it is only in some technological systems that the flow of energy to do work entails only the transformation of the energy. Most of the processes in these systems entail the transformation of both energy and materials. Ironically this significant difference between the operation of processes in technology systems is not covered in engineering courses at universities. Thermodynamics and fluid dynamics cover the irreversible flow of energy (increasing entropy - Second Law of Thermodynamics) in doing work in the operation of technological systems. Chemistry covers the transformation of chemical compounds (material) due to the flow of energy in (endothermic) or out (exothermic) of the reactions. Physics embraces the impact of numerous natural laws including the conservation of mass (of materials) on the operation of physical systems without taking into account that mass is transformed into waste in the aging process and often in the work process. Other subjects cover what happens (such and stresses and strains) to materials in operations.

The fundamental operational principles enunciated here are governing what is happening in current operations even though most people do not understand the nature of this irreversible process. The technological infrastructure hosting this unsustainable process is already degrading the life support system. Future widespread improved understanding of these fundamental principles can only lead to smarter decisions about how to power down.

Denis Frith

Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Waste Manifesto

The elite in global society continue to pursue their traditional dominance of the ecosystem  as well as the population at large in order to bolster their self esteem. Their manifesto has not changed in principle but the details have as civilization has developed through industrialization. The masses strive to share in this development of materialism with limited success as only some of the fruits of economic "progress" have trickled down.

This manifesto is based on the false premise that civilization can continue to ravish its life support system, the environment, without paying the ecological cost, the depreciation of natural material wealth and the transformation of natural resources into waste by using them. Natural forces takes no notice of this manifesto of parasitic Homo sapiens. They have been in control of what happens physically, geologically and biologically for eons. They continue to do so now.They will continue to do so into the far future. They will also continue to control how the temporary infrastructure of civilization operates and ages during its life time. Friction plays a major role in this irrevocable aging process.

Society enjoys the goods and services provided by the infrastructure irreversibly using some of the limited natural capital. They would feel lost without cars for transport, electricity for cooking, heating, cooling and for running all their electronic gimmicks. Most would be bewildered without shelter and sanitation. They are prepared to go along with the incredible manifesto of the elite so long as they can enjoy the benefits of industrialization without paying the ecological costs. They enjoy the free lunch that using up limited natural resources makes possible only at this stage. But what a legacy they will be leaving. Future generations will curse them for abiding the consumption manifesto.

It is ironical that society is happy for the operations they are so dependent on to produce vasts amounts of waste so long as most of it can be deposited in land fills. They have yet to accept that some of these wastes have contributed to the climate change that is becoming very worrisome. The influence of this pollution on human health is causing concern amongst medical profession although the majority of well off people continue to feast on the food that fossil fuels do so much to provide. They are content to work hard so that they can afford to consume the products made from natural wealth. Making intangible money is the driving force of these parasites.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Nuclear fission conundrum

Scientists have been pursuing the nuclear fission dream for many years. Those involved consider that it is their duty to make this process work.Vast amounts of energy, both intellectual and physical, have been spent in past decades in trying to devise a system that here on Earth can emulate the process that has been taking place on the Sun for millions of years. Some progress has been made with the JET (Joint European Torus) system in England producing a burst of 16 megawatts energy for seconds. This was only 70% of the energy pumped in to heat the plasma.

There are hopes in the scientific community that the bigger ITER International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor) system being build in southern France will do more than give a small burst of energy in response to the vast amount that powers it. Of course, the expectation that nuclear fission will eventually power the operation of the systems of civilization is adroitly promoted by the scientists who make a good living by pursuing this dream. They continue to gain support from governments and investors because the return, if it is ever realized, will enable civilization to continue to grow through the copious supply of energy.

Of course, the scientists promoting this endeavor present their understanding of the requirement. They strive to meet the challenge of understanding the complex physical forces at play. No one can doubt the integrity of these dedicated people.That is where their responsibility lies.

Their focus is on realizing a nuclear fission system that will produce more energy than is used to drive it. That is their objective. It is not for them to address two other issues that will determine the worth of the nuclear fission concept in the future operation of the systems of civilization.

Assume that ITER leads to a production system that provides a proportion of the energy requirement in some countries. This system will have to be manufactured out of materials that may well be becoming in short supply and this process will use a lot of energy currently supplied by fossil fuels and nuclear power stations. The authorities will then have to have in place a program to maintain them during their limited lifetime and to replace them subsequently. However, meeting the demand for energy to drive the infrastructure may not have a high priority for future governments as they try to cope with such developing problems as too many aging people, unemployed youngsters, workers with skills that are no longer required, environmental toxicity, climate change, ocean acidification, loss of fertile soil and potable water combined with decay of cities and the associated infrastructure. These problems cannot be addressed by the flow of intangible money, despite what people may think. Most of them are tangible operation of natural and synthetic systems. It is ironical that even the nuclear fission scientists talk about energy as though it is some quantity when, in actual fact, it is always the property of material and what happens to the material in the energy transformation process has to be taken into account if it carried out here on Earth. Astronomers understand what happens in nuclear fission on the Sun.

The scientists who have devoted their undoubted talents to produce a system that will only exacerbate the odious outlook for future generations will be no worse off than those who have worked so hard to produce the endangered species, cars, trucks, airliners and container vessels.

Friday, July 5, 2013

The power of money

Society is enraptured with the power of money. The rich know that this power is no delusion as they use money to get what they want with few exceptions, such as immortality. The poor recognize this power because they are powerless to get even sufficient food, drink, shelter and sanitation. People have good reason to put faith in this power as it has been the dominant driver of the progress of civilization - in their opinion. The creation of vast amounts of fiat money in recent times by authorities in a number of countries has done nothing to dampen the belief in the power of money. It still buys what citizens want, if they have access to enough of this intangible quantity.

The use of the term 'power' in this context is misleading as it is the consequence of  decision making by people in a position to believe actions will result from their decisions. This power is an intangible. It is not the result of a tangible, physical operation.

Consider a simple example. I have the "power" to switch on a light which then uses electrical "power". The first power is an intangible decision by me. It initiates what subsequently actually happens in a physical sense.The second power is indicative of the tangible flow of electrical energy to the light that can be measured by a meter. It is indicative of what happens.

Money is powerless on a remote island with no inhabitants. So a rich person caste ashore on the island will have to struggle to get food, drink and shelter. A poor person who is also stranded  will probably find it easier to cope because of less dependence on using money to buy the essentials. They have more personal power than the rich person.

Of course, the elite in society will continue to exercise their power without any consideration of the nuances in the meaning of the term. However, the power of natural forces have, if anything, been exacerbated by what the systems of civilization have done in recent times. Droughts, floods, storms, tsunamis, wild fires, hot spells and cold spells are examples of the power of natural forces that the powerful in society can do little about. All money can do is pay for skilled people and the required equipment to ameliorate as much as possible this impact of natural power.

Money power is bound to become impotent in coming decades as natural forces take over control from the aging infrastructure of civilization.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Carbon bubble

The possibility of what is being called the 'carbon bubble' is exciting discussion in the media because of its financial implications. The prospect that appreciable fossil fuel, oil, coal and gas, will remain underground due to the efforts to reduce emissions from their use is affecting the decisions of the oil and gas industry, so investors.

Many terms used by governments, corporations and the media are misleading, often to promote vested interests. Investors, particularly those who hope to increase their savings to enable a pleasing retirement, may be fooled by the seemingly sound comment that there is a 'carbon bubble'. However, those who have some understanding of physical science know that such a quantity cannot exist. Carbon is a solid so how can it be a bubble! They know that it really carbon dioxide that is being referred to. But a bubble! Of course, financial people often talk in terms of bubbles when they are referring to temporary inflated demand. So, does 'carbon bubble' really mean that a temporary surplus of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is causing climate change? Yes and no. It is common knowledge that animals, including humans, breathe out carbon dioxide in what is called respiration. But in one of the marvels of nature, plants take in carbon dioxide to produce carbohydrates by photosynthesis. This balanced cycling of carbon compounds has been going on for eons until clever humans derived means of disrupting the balance. Their technological systems obtain energy from fossil fuels by transforming hydrocarbons to carbon dioxide in the combustion process that emit into the atmosphere from the familiar power station chimneys. Trees also contribute to the consumption of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. So the widespread logging has also contributed to the actions decided by humans in disrupting the the cycling of carbon dioxide compounds. But society has not got away with that deleterious disruption of a long established process. It now has to cope with climate change.

As ever, however, selective arguments combined with misleading terminology leads to confusion and lack of understanding. It is a matter for speculation as to how well the oil and gas industry can manage to continue to devastate the environment in order to make money. They have on their side the desires of the populace to continue to have the energy that contributes to their well being as well as needs and wants. And, of course, governments will respond to the demand so of their voters. On the other hand, nature bats last!

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Las Vegas' losing gamble

Las Vegas has a hard won reputation as the gamblers' paradise. The multitude of glitzy casinos do their best to entice the multitude of tourists to risk their dollars in a variety of games.

But Las Vegas is a synthetic city in the Nevada desert. It has developed behind nothing more than the common lust to make money the easy way. However,  even such edifices cannot operate without an adequate continuing supply of water. The Hoover Dam was built on the Colorado River as a make work activity during the Great Depression. This created Lake Mead which provided the source for the water essential for the construction, operation and maintenance of all the infrastructure, including the multitude of casinos, of Las Vegas as well as the needs of the populace.

But the authorities got their sums wrong! If the water out exceeds the water in then the container will empty and then the water out will dry up. That is what is happening to Lake Mead and panic is setting in amongst the authorities and citizens of Las Vegas. It is ironical that the sponsors of Las Vegas gambled and are now losing much more than those who have been enticed there by the false promise of easy money.

Of course, Las Vegas is only an example of the muddled thinking of Homo sapiens that has resulted in the intractable devastation of Planet Earth for the sake of the illusory wants of some of the global population.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Tangible and intangible wealth

Time goes by. We all know that and we become more aware of it as we age! So does energy go by as it always dissipates as it flows and does work. We know that personally even though governments, industrialists and the media tell us that fossil fuels and nuclear will continue to meet energy demands, without taking into account the deleterious consequences. We also know that all organisms, including us, have to get rid of gaseous, liquid and solid wastes as well as waste heat. So material also goes by when it is transformed in a process.

But we are told we can make money out of thin air to increase our wealth. Many do this by fair means and foul. That is the accepted view in Myopia simply because society believes that it is free to use natural resources and devastate the environment without paying for it. They do not realize that they are destroying tangible natural wealth in an unsustainable process while the fortunate few play with their intangible wealth - whilst it is worth something. A high proportion of the crustal store of fossil fuel has already gone up in smoke

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Tityas raping Gaia

Gaia has evolved slowly over eons with the Sun providing most of the energy needed by the vast range of organisms and biological systems. The hydrological, carbon and nitrogen cycles have played a crucial role in this evolution. The occasional outburst of powerful natural forces promoted geological development. Movements of tectonic plates has caused earthquakes while the eruption of volcanoes has done much to improve the fertility of a number of regions. This is how Gaia developed for eons with the occasional missile from outer space causing a temporary disruption.

Then Homo sapiens developed to the stage when the tools they invented enabled the usage of natural resources to provide their developing needs and wants. Crustal stores of many minerals were found and there extraction has enabled the mining industry to make a major contribution to the increasing standard of living for millions of people around the globe. This ravishing of the eco systems has grown exponentially in recent times, largely because of the availability of 'cheap' energy from the fossil fuels (oil, coal and gas) and uranium. Society has fallaciously regarded these natural resources as being free for its use. Industry has promoted the use of these natural forces and skilled workforce to build, operate and maintain the vast organism, Tityas, that provides the services that many people are addicted to using. Tityas is effectively ravishing Gaia to feed its rapid growth in recent times and will continue to do so in its coming senescence. However, the demise of much of Tiyas in coming decades is certain. Cars, airliners and container vessels are doomed species. Roads, bridges, pipelines, power grids, skyscrapers are just some of components of Tityas that will become derelict. Many cities will become virtually uninhabitable.

But it will take the natural forces of Gaia eons to recover from the devastation caused by Tityas.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Beat the odds

We are continually being challenged to beat the odds. Headlines about lotto wins raises the possibility "Why not me?" despite the odds. The pokies are an easy way to pass the time that hopefully will throw out some cash - to the lucky few. Scratchies and lotteries attract a bevy of hopefuls. Many of those who go to the races hope that they will back enough winners to pay for the outing. But it is the bookies who have the odds on their side

 Putting money into superannuation in order to have a pleasing retirement is not seen to be a gamble. It is called an investment. Gambling is frowned on  by many in the community but investment is regarded as a fair way to make, rather than earn, money. The Melbourne 'Age' even has a section on Wednesday devoted to  that topic. It is a good prospect whilst the economy is growing but the odds have changed following the GFC. Of course, the financial advisers continue to make money by taking their cut for the service, good or bad, that they provide.

Many people are enjoying a comfortable retirement as the result of a growing economy during their working days. The politicians providing seemingly convincing arguments that the current sovereign debt problems in the financial market will be overcome by their decisions. Thousands of Americans, Greeks, Cypriots, Irish, Italians, Spanish, Portuguese wonder how the dice manged to get things so wrong for them in recent times.   

Many pundits proclaim how it is possible to have lucky runs. They have this belief because they do not understand that there is no connection between the spinning of a wheel and the previous one. They should toss a coin. Suppose the tossing produced three heads in a row. Some people think that heads are having a run so the next toss is likely to be a head. Others will quote the 'reversion to a mean' and expect a tail to be more likely. Neither is right! The result of the next toss cannot possibly be predicted. A complex mathematical model could calculate the dynamics of the spinning coin but it would not predict the outcome because the impulse applied was unknowable so could not be input to the model.

Entering into tipping competitions has become popular as people cannot resist the endeavor to show how smart they are in a harmless pastime. Some, with a mathematical bent, devise methods that use statistical principles in the expectation that this approach will produce better tipping performance than what tipsters relying on their skill can achieve. In soccer games with three possible outcomes, home win, draw or away win, good tipping could well have a success rate of 60 to 70 per cent. This rate will depend on an unknown combination of skill and luck because the outcome of matches is unpredictable to a large extent. A mathematical method may be good enough to out perform the vast majority of skilful tipsters so the mathematicians believe they can beat the odds and win the competition. That is spurious logic as the performance of a method will have an unknowable degree of luck. So will all the many skilful tipsters. Some will be very lucky and so have an unexpectedly and unrepeatable high success rate. The mathematicians will learn the hard way that their methods cannot beat the odds.
Naturally, many people know how to beat the odds. They embrace a fugal life style enhanced by family and friends in close knit communities. They obtain satisfaction by using their personal skills in gardening, cooking and repairing things, often for others. Without using the term, they embrace the 'precautionary principle' even though their governments do not.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Technofix delusion

It is amusing to read of the belief in the ability of technology to solve emerging problems of civilization. Machines are being invented to ease the mining of natural resources as they become scarcer. Cars, trucks, trains, airliners and ships are considered to be indispensable forms of transport for trade, tourism and everyday life even though they all have limited lives and they are using up irreplaceable fuel and materials. Cities provide a wide range of what the populace regard as indispensable  services by using irreplaceable natural resources and producing pollution of land, sea, air and all organisms, including us. Most city dwellers can take shelter, food, water, electricity and sanitation for granted - for now. Avast range of electronic devices have increased the ability for social discourse, online purchase of goods and conduct of financial matters. iPods and the like are deemed by the young to be a necessary accessory. These electronic devices are also made of irreplaceable natural resources, use up energy and have limited lives. They are, like cars, airliners, container vessels, doomed species. Society will find it hard to cope with the withdrawal symptoms.

Society is addicted to all these facets of the technofix. They cannot imagine how they will make do without them! They hold the inventors in high esteem. They believe these inventions form the basis for the sustainable progress of our civilization. The masses are encouraged to believe this delusion by big business chasing the dollar and politicians promoting economic growth - regardless of the ecological cost or the deleterious consequences. Very few, even amongst scientists, understand that all science and technology has ever done is make use of some of the potential of the natural forces that have existed for eons. Technology has never created natural forces or natural states.

The media reinforces this common view as they highlight all signs of advances in knowledge by scientists and all innovative devices. They never mention the role of technology in using fossil fuels, so producing the emissions that have initiated irreversible climate change. The damage done to biodiversity by many technological systems does not make headlines. And toxic wastes produced by technology is harming land, sea, air and organisms, including humans.

The scientists who capture the headlines are those who appear to be advancing the frontiers of knowledge. The populace at large do not realize that the recent findings of scientists in many fields are really accentuating how little understanding we have of how nature has operated for eons. Technology has produced many innovative products by using natural forces in innovative ways, with unintended consequences.

Information overload swamps understanding reality

 The extremely rapid increase in information in recent times due to the phenomenal development of the ability electronics to store vast amounts of information in a digital form and process it at astounding speeds is overwhelming. A few companies, such as Google and Palantir, provide information processing and search services for the community at large as well as for government bodies.

Many people bless this easy access to information and associated visual and aural recordings for entertainment, social discourse, management and education purposes. Others are overwhelmed by the rapidity of the growth of virtual civilization as they find it hard to learn how to handle passwords and the many other novel essential issues to be crammed into the memory.

The media makes a lot of how scientists are advancing the frontiers of knowledge often with the help of the greatly improved ability to handle vast amounts of information, control major experiments and run complex mathematical models. There is no doubt that science and technology has underpinned the high standard of living that many people now enjoy.

However, society has a myopic view of the development of civilization. They welcome the advances without really understanding of how it has come about. The reality is that the systems of civilization irreversibly use up limited natural resources and produce irrevocable waste during their limited life time. Technology only makes use of natural forces to produce goods and services. It has never created any material even when it has enabled the production of many novel items that society happily use without understanding the basic physical principle limiting what civilization can deliver.

Ironically, the information revolution is not helping society to gain the wisdom of knowing that the operation of civilization is unsustainable. The vast amount and complexity of this information hides the simple physical principle that the demise of industrial civilization is certain within this century. And scientists are so preoccupied with their specialties that they do not provide the populace with understanding of the holistic malaise that is the operation of industrial civilization. The slow awakening to the damaging impact of using fossil fuels to supply energy is now awakening society to some extent. Irreversible rapid climate change is one unintended consequence of that lack of understanding.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Bitcoin games

 With the chaos in the financial market causing so much concern, it is not surprising that there is a move to adopt a financial system that is not subject to the manipulation of governments and banks. Bitcoin is deemed by some to be the answer to the predicament posed by the growing booms and busts associated with global currencies.

However, the expectations of the proponents of bitcoin are not being realized. The volatility makes it almost useless while ,as may be expected, numerous rogues are scamming the system to gain unfair advantage of its lack of resilience.

It is amusing to contemplate the arrogance of those people who believe they can invent laws to handle intangible symbols of value in a sound systematic manner. They have this belief because they are used to complex natural systems that behave in a sound systematic way and they think that humans are clever enough to be able to emulate natural forces. The operation of organisms, including humans, provides them with examples of the wonders of nature. Scientists are renowned for advancing the frontiers of knowledge when what they are really doing is acknowledging that there is still a lot they do not know about how natural systems operate after eons of evolution. To top this lack of understanding off, there is widespread belief in seemingly informed forums in the ability of mathematics to describe natural operations. Mathematics is a system devised by humans to roughly describe some natural operations.

So the bitcoin concept is based on a foolish misunderstanding of the ability of to develop a complex resilient system rapidly from scratch. The current financial market has its inherent weaknesses but its development over centuries has resulted in a degree of responsiveness, acceptance and resilience that bitcoin cannot possibly attain, despite the efforts of its proponents.

Denis Frith

Friday, March 22, 2013


The use of drugs to enhance the ability of sports persons is grabbing the headlines. These drugs influence the ability of sports people to win. Lance Armstrong grabbed the headlines for a while but many addictions, including alcohol, have embraced by those who could afford the legal and illegal bolsters to their capabilities.

These drugs are substances that affect bodily and mental operations of the consumer in a way that is generally understood. Most people accept that they can be useful with moderation. Ironically, most people have views on these drugs while they ignore drugs that do much more harm.

The infatuation with the drug that is money is a very common affliction that is spreading rapidly to the emerging middle class in developing countries. It entails the consumption of natural resources without paying the ecological cost, the divestment of natural material wealth. It invariably results in the production of material wastes that pollute land, sea, air and organisms, including us. Society hold the rich in high esteem even they are the ones that have the greatest leverage of money to devastate the environment which is our life support system.

The global financial crisis has reduced the savings of many people and the withdrawal symptoms are hitting hard.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Black Swan event

Nassim Taleb coined the term 'Back Swan event' to describe events that are unexpected by people. This definition needs to be qualified as to who finds the event to be unexpected. The earthquake that hit Japan a couple of years ago was not expected by the residents. It was a 'Black Swan' event as far as they were concerned. But it was not to the scientists who were aware of the fault lines in the region. They could not predict when an earthquake would occur but they knew one was likely.

Many well off people lost money in the GFC (global financial crisis) of 2008. It was a Black Swan event as far as they were concerned. But it was not to bankers and investors who understood that the boom in the financial market was likely to bust. They made money!

Society, particularly those in government and industry, believe in economic growth. They do not understand that all the technological systems that provide the goods and services society is addicted to using irreversibly use up the limited natural material capital. That view is a characteristic of Myopia. What is actually happening is the characteristic of the Real world. Climate change and the depletion of natural resources is a Real symptom of what Myopia has done wrong. Unfortunately, society will have cope with what they consider to be a Black Swan event because they have been educated to believe that Homo sapiens make sound decisions.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Ten Laws of Ecolodynamics

The Ten Laws of Ecolodynamics

I assert that
The operations of materialistic civilization entail the irreversible consumption of limited irreplaceable natural material resource capital, an unsustainable bio-geo-chemical-physical process
sums up what is happening to the infrastructure of our civilization, Tityas, and its life-support eco systems in Gaia. It is a novel assertion although it is based on sound scientific principles backed by irrefutable arguments and experiential evidence. It is not yet a theorem (established principle) but this is because of lack of understanding of how natural physical forces always control what happens in operations involving materials. It is not even widely recognized in scientific circles. In fact there are a number of seemingly authoritative people who attempt to repudiate it. The purpose of this essay is to provide reasoned argument, for consideration by skeptics, backing this and the other assertions . This one can be regarded as the First Law of Ecolodynamics as it relates to the dynamics of the operation of complex technological and ecological systems.

1. Consumption of natural material capital

The well-known Laws of Thermodynamics embrace some aspects of what happens in natural and industrial materialistic (physical) processes.  They originally covered only energy flows (fluxes) but their applicability has been expanded in some scientific considerations to cover the tendency of systems and organisms to go from order to disorder as the processes seek equilibrium with the surroundings during development. The prior operation leading to order and the consequent potential (to subsequently go to disorder) is not embraced by the Second Law of Thermodynamics even though there are many well-known examples of that up and down process. The growth, maturity and then senescence of the human body is an example.This definition would clarify the circumstances where the term ‘negentropy’ is used by some authorities. The tendency for a system made of materials to increase in order, through the input of materials, some of which supply energy, from the surroundings, should be regarded according to Georgescu-Roegen as the Fourth Law of Thermodynamics. It would be more appropriate to call it the Second  Law of Mass dynamics where the First Law is the well known conservation of mass.

A corollary to the First Law is:
Technological systems introduced into civilization often bring into play physical and chemical forces in an innovative and irreversible manner that in many cases have had unintended deleterious and irreversible consequences.
This is deemed here to be the Second Law. The prime example of the application of the Second Law is the contribution of the emissions from fossil fuel combustion to the rapid climate change and ocean acidification. Seven others that are being seriously examined by environmentalists are the ozone layer, freshwater use, movement of nitrogen and phosphorus, land use for crops, aerosols (haze and particulates), chemical pollution
Another  corollary to the assertion (potential theorem) above is
The components and structures of materialistic civilization have limited lives as they are continually subject to natural destructive forces such as wind, rain and friction. Their existence constitutes a commitment to consume natural material capital for their operation and maintenance as long as that is possible. This also is an unsustainable physical process.
This can be considered to be the Third Law of Ecolodynamics. What will inevitably happen to the multitude of global cities and associated infrastructure is one issue impacted by the Third Law.
A Fourth Law is that:
Human beings have a natural capability to reproduce. This reproduction capability, as with all organisms, has evolved. However, in recent times human reproduction has become unsustainably parasitic because of the predatory usage of natural resources and associated devastation of the environment  coupled with a fallacious belief in the supremacy of the human race.
Population growth is causing concern in many quarters even as it is stimulated by economic growth and lack of understanding of the long-term consequences.
Another corollary (potential theorem) is
Natural laws have always determined  (and will continue to do so) what tangible materialistic operations in nature and in the systems of civilization are possible. Intangible information can only activate some of these potential tangible operations.
This, the Fifth Law, identifies the role played by information in activating operations. It is analogous to the brain sending messages to parts in the body. An extension of that Law is
The decisions made by humans about materialistic operations are constrained within the limits imposed by the tools and services provided by the systems and infrastructure of materialistic civilization. The achievements of the decision-making process will decline as the potential capabilities of materialistic civilization declines.
This can be considered to be the Sixth Law of Ecolodynamics. These decisions are largely based on financial market forces for now because the physical limitations have yet to strike home. The elite of society will probably find it harder to cope with the consequences of the Sixth Law than the disadvantaged global masses. The elite are currently able to take the goods and services provided by the infrastructure for granted. The First, Second and Third Laws will ensure that all and sundry, including the elite, will have to power down.
The Seventh Law of Ecolodynamics contributes to the list of laws governing the both the constructive and destructive operation of civilization.
The human race has been endowed through evolution with unique, decision-making  capabilities lacking in sound self-organizing and self-regulating attributes
There is nothing novel in that assertion but it needs to be taken into account in any holistic examination of what is happening and why. The Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Laws are on the other side of the balance sheet to the first four. They currently govern the operation of society as the first four laws are not yet common knowledge but that lack of understanding will diminish as impact of the stark, physical reality grows.
A corollary is:
Circumstances have enabled a proportion of society to be predators who prey on the masses as well as the eco systems.  Their operations are akin to a cancer in society and act as an ecological parasite.
This Eighth Law identifies one of the holistic factors having a major impact on what is happening and why. Past colonial powers have been usurped in recent times by military and financial hegemony but the degree of predation has not been markedly reduced. Treatment of this cancer requires the emergence of a degree of wisdom that appears to be foreign to human nurture.
This lack of wisdom is illustrated by the impact of the Ninth Law
Many of the activities initiated by humans have had unintended consequences due to lack of understanding of how some of the immutable natural laws influence materialistic operations
The use of fossil fuels to provide energy has had the unintended consequence of causing rapid climate change. That is but one example of the impact of the Ninth Law due to lack of knowledge. Another is the pollution of land, sea, air and all organisms be the material wastes produced by the operation of the systems of civilization
Finally, the Tenth Law states a simple physical reality that constrains what can happen
Continuing exponential growth is not possible
Governments, economists, media commentators espouse the virtues of growth, a process that is unsustainable for simple reasons that seem to be beyond their comprehension.  Continuing growth of the materialistic systems comprising Tityas is not possible for simple, physical reasons (First and Third Laws). Continuing population growth, despite reproduction, is also not possible for ecological and social reasons (Fourth Law). Continuing intangible monetary growth is possible but not the associated value of the money. Information growth will continue as the electronic devices profligate – for a while. But the wisdom content will not as society strives to cope with what has gone wrong.
The Laws cover the constructive and destructive influences on the operation of civilization. The changing balance of these forces represents a tug-o-war that the tangible destructive forces will eventually win. Materialistic civilization is entering its senescence while its inhabitants, human and others, are being forced to power down with the disadvantaged leading the way.

Denis Frith