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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...

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Beyond our ken

As a long standing physical scientist, I have repeatedly asked many technical questions over the years about what physically happens and why. I manged to get a few answers during my career as an aeronautical research scientist. I have been researching what technological systems have done to the environment during my retirement. This covers a much broader field so I have come up with many more questions but not many more answers!

Some questions that are unanswered include:
  1. scientists have determined the microscopic composition (electrons, neutrons, protons) of elements and chemical compounds. They know their properties and their role in the operation of ecosystems. What carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere are doing to the climate is a popular topic now. We give little thought to the oxygen in the air mixture that we breathe or that normally there is no free hydrogen but it is in many compounds, such as water, that we find invaluable. Physicists and engineers have learned how some elements are radio active and how that can be used to provide nuclear energy in power stations  and in bombs.Chemists have provided appreciable understanding of the grouping of elements in the periodic table. They have devised reactions that have produced new products, often unexpectedly toxic although profitable.What determined this structure of elements?
  2. the flow of energy plays a major role in the operation of all systems made of material. The Sun has been the source of the energy used by systems here on Earth, even that energy stored for ages in oil, gas and coal. Various forms of energy are properties of materials. It is the chemical energy in oil that powers many of the systems of civilization. However, it is the gravitational potential of water that fills a similar role with hydro stations supplying electricity. Physicists understand the microscopic aspects of energy even to the relation between energy and matter. But do cosmologists have the answer to the question as to how matter and energy came into existence?
  3. natural forces took millions of years to produce oil using energy that came from the Sun. Humans devised means of extracting a high proportion of the crustal store of oil so that they can use mechanical monsters to carry them and their goods hither and thither on land, in the air and upon the sea. Despite valiant attempts by industry to devise measures to extract what is remaining of the various forms of oil, the availability of oil products is irreversibly declining. The question is: what will most people do when they can not longer call upon the mechanical monsters to carry them and their goods hither and thither?
  4. fuel for the mechanical monsters is running out. That is an indisputable fact. It is not a question. But those monsters are made of irreplaceable materials extracted out of the crustal store. And friction ages them. So the question is whether the die off of the mechanical monsters will be a bigger problem for society than running out of fuel.
  5. scientists have in recent times acquired a vast amount of knowledge and understanding of how the vast array of natural forces operate in the various fields. The introduction of  improved instruments and data handling systems has facilitated  that progress. Governments and industries sponsor technological research and development with the objective of the provision of innovative goods and services. Why is science given such reverence when the objective is to provide these goods and services at the expense of permanent divestment of natural material wealth?
  6. engineers got so carried way with the invention of machinery to extract and process natural material resources to supply electrical energy that they did not take into account the fact that  useful energy is always a property of materials. The combustion of fossil fuels produces the greenhouse gases that have made a major contribution to irreversible rapid climate change and ocean acification and warming. Can they redress that mistake by coming up with a system that will sequester carbon dioxide in a sustainable manner? That is a question that has been addressed without taking into account the fact that sequetering would entail the installation of a temporary system at appreciable ecological cost.
  7. do those who benefit from what technological systems provide by ravishing eco systems take into account the fact that the natural force, friction, irreversibly ages the systems. This is common knowledge but its long term impact is not factored into financial consideration. Do politicians, economists and financial advisers believe natural resources can be conjured up out of thin air in the way money is?
  8. disposal of radioactive waste from nuclear power stations has been put in the too hard baskets by governments in a number of countries. What sound proposals can possibly deal with this problem when the capabilities to carry out remedial measures have been drastically reduced as materials run out?
  9. wise people have the view that greed is the (financial) market's vice. They view greed as being at the heart of three major threats to our existence as individuals and societies: pollution, terrorism and crime. What can be done to get rid of this insidious disease?
  10. oligarchy has been a tenet of the elite in societies for a long time even though the term has gained prominence through activities in Russia in recent times. What do the oligarch hope to gain with their riches apart from a lavish life style. It certainly is not immortality and it appears that it does not buy them happiness. What can explain the rapid growth of this parasitic portion of the human race?  
  11. economists are strong in pronouncements of policies that will foster economic growth. They have developed mathematical tools to analyze financial market developments and to estimate opportunity costs. They claim they have adopted a scientific methodology. How can they claim that when ecological costs are not included in their methodology?
  12. What right has society to condone the irreversible devastation of the life support system of civilization?
  13. The Good Friday Appeal for the Melbourne Children's Hospital  brings to the TV screen the marvelous efforts of the doctors and nursing staff in dealing with sick children. They use a bewildering array of devices in carrying out their life saving activities. What will these skilful people do when the specialized equipment can no longer be procured? How will parents deal with the loss of these heath services?That time will come before the end of this century.