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Deutscher G. The Entropy Crisis

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Deutscher G. The Entropy Crisis
World Scientific Publishing Co. Pte. Ltd., 2008. — 185 p.
The biosphere is the world in which we live. Compared to the size of the earth, the biosphere is a thin layer surrounding the earth’s surface, extending a few kilometers above and below it. This is where all living organisms and their residues are to be found. This is where mankind has developed, in intimate relation with its surroundings, what we often call the environment. We know that our life has always been dependent on it, and always will. Hence our deep concern when changes, maybe harmful to us, occur in the biosphere, possibly due to the activity of mankind. Do these fears have a scientific basis, or are they grossly exaggerated? For instance, is climate change a real threat? And what is more harmful to the biosphere, to burn more fossil fuels, or to build and operate more nuclear reactors? Today these issues are in the public domain and, in the end, it will be the people who will decide what should or should not be done. This is why I believe it is important for everybody to understand the nature of the issues at hand. It turns out that an intelligent discussion requires some familiarity with a concept called entropy. While everybody is familiar with the concept of energy, only a few, mostly scientists, know about entropy. In order to understand that there is a deep connection between the energy crisis, by which we mean that we may soon run out of fossil fuels, and damage to the environment, it is necessary to understand the concept of entropy. According to the laws of thermodynamics, this damage is one aspect of an increase in entropy (or disorder at the molecular scale) in the biosphere, which cannot be avoided when we burn fuel. This increase in entropy is more subtle than the loss of fuel supply, but instinctively it is the one that we fear more. As we shall see, the danger lies not so much in the fact that we are burning fuel, but rather in the rate at which we do this. If we run out of fossil fuels it is evidently because we have been burning them so fast, and so inefficiently, and this is precisely the reason why the effects of the increase in entropy are now there for everybody to see.
Dealing with Entropy on a Daily Basis
Entropy in the household
An example of an entropy crisis at home
Where does all the disorder go?
Disorder and pollution
Entropy and the second law of thermodynamics
From the household to the biosphere
A Short History of the Biosphere
The billion year time scale
The biosphere on the 100 million year time scale
Carbon storage: carbonates and fossil fuels
Ice ages
The last 10 million years
How Much Energy do We Need?
Different forms of energy and power
Energy conversion
Energy use and entropy release
Energy needs and costs
Can society survive with a lower entropy release?
Entropy in Thermodynamics and Our Energy Needs
Entropy in thermodynamics
Entropy at the molecular level
Energy needs and man generated entropy
Climate Change: What We Know and What We Don’t
Time scale and temperature scale
The CO2 cycles
Anthropogenic temperature changes
Climate changes in space and time: back to entropy
The entropic meaning of sustainable development
Concluding remarks
Fighting Entropy with Technology
Motivation for fighting entropy increase: ensuring climate stability
By how much do we need to reduce anthropogenic entropy release
Entropy management strategies
Energy generation impact on global entropy release
Towards a World without Fossil Fuels
Increasing entropy and increasing energy needs
The retreat of oil
How much oil is left anyhow?
Replacing oil and gas by coal for residential heating?
Can we replace oil for transportation?
Can coal be displaced as the major primary fuel?
Displacing coal with renewables
A Changing World
A realistic objective
The supply side
Reducing the power consumed in developed countries
The dangers
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