“But – a fact hard to explain – loud though the noise caught by the entropy law, second law of thermodynamics, has been in physics and the philosophy of science, economists have failed to pay attention to this law, the most economic of all physical laws.” (Georgescu-Roegen 1971: 280)
During the 19th century physics underwent a revolution. Sadi Carnot, Lord Kelvin, Rudolf Clausius and others founded a new field of physics, thermodynamics, which focuses on the study of energy.
Although energy is one of the most important economic production factors, thermodynamics does not play a key role in Mainstream Economics. However, energy is necessary for every production process and has an impact on nature because it creates environmental damage. Its use leads to irreversible loss of coal, oil and gas. This is the reason why the founder of Ecological Economics Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen focused on thermodynamic considerations in his pioneering work The Entropy Law and the Economic Process (1972).
This concept explains the consequences of the two fundamental laws of thermodynamics: (i) Energy can neither be created nor destroyed, but only transformed. (ii) To give an example of the second law: Heat will by itself always transfer from a hotter to a colder body, like a heated stone will give up its heat to the cooler air surrounding it.
This concept lays the foundation for an understanding that every industrial production process yields joint products, at least one of which is a waste product. This fact is easily communicated to the public, heightening awareness of the danger of our mode of production.
A practical example is the production of steel by using coke and iron ore. The output is not only steel but also the remains of the manufacturing process, such as CO2, waste water, dust etc.
Key Contributers: Stefan Baumgärtner – Werner Böge – Lutz Freytag – Hans-Jürgen Jaksch – Henrike Koschel – Andreas Kuhlmann – Gernhard Maier – Georg Müller-Fürstenberger – Horst Niemes – J.L.R. Proops – Martin Quaas – Gunther Stephan – Gerhard Wagenhals