Have we unknowingly evolved to destroy our universe and is our quest for energy efficiency actually putting our far future existence in danger?
Background: Evolving Unavailability
The discussion begain with the German physicist and mathematician Rudolf Clausius’s work “On the Concentration of Rays of Heat and Light, and on the Limits of Its Action” in 1863 and was extended by the Austrian physicist Ludwig Boltzmann in 1875.
“The general struggle for existence of animate beings is not a struggle for raw materials — these, for organisms, are air, water and soil, all abundantly available — nor for energy which exists in plenty in any body in the form of heat, but a struggle for entropy, which becomes available through the transition of energy from the hot sun to the cold earth.”
— Ludwig Boltzmann
Boltzmann suggests that lifeforms vie to make use of the “hot sun” to “cold earth” transition, which we can understand in modern parlance as available energy to unavailable energy, or entropy.
Thermodynamics and Entropy
The Second Law of Thermodynamics states that the total entropy of a closed system¹ must evolve toward thermodynamic equilibrium where that equilibrium is the state of its maximum entropy.
A discussion of entropy itself is beyond the scope of this article, but we shall consider it to be a measure of the amount of unavailable energy, or disorder, in the closed system described above.
A common example is to consider a simple, manually powered, potter’s workshop as the closed system. Constructing an elaborate item such as a vase would decrease the entropy of its constituent atoms as it involves rearranging them into a more ordered state. But, the very act of organising these atoms uses energy — some of which has been converted into heat — which cannot go on to be recovered. Thus overall, the entropy, or state of disorder, has increased.