Thermodynamics and the Art of the Quid Pro Quo


Every student of thermodynamics learns about the laws of entropy and enthalpy; how these two fundamental energy processes must operate in balance for any system to properly function. For those of us who have managed to sidestep the study of thermodynamics at university: if we take more out of a system than we put into it, eventually that system stops working.

When we are talking about cars, we know if we drive and never fill the gas tank, it will stop running. The same goes for your bank account after you’ve withdrawn the last dollar, and the same goes for the human body: if we do not feed ourselves, we sicken and die. We would no longer produce anything of value, for ourselves and for others. All things are systems; all systems engage in transactions with proximal systems. The output of one system is often an input for another system. All systems must receive as inputs at least as much or more usable material-energy than they consume or they will eventually stop consuming and providing—and they will die.

When a system dies, any neighbouring systems reliant on its outputs to drive their own internal processes begin to weaken and die…and the process cascades.

We should at least agree on this: if we do not put in as much or more than we take out, we will eventually be left with nothing. Think non-renewable resources-their stores function just like bank accounts, except there is no overdraft protection or interest added for just leaving it where it is.

Now, think oil.

Oil is nothing but the residual material of ancient vegetative life. [i] It is, for all intents and purposes, non-renewable. Once we use it up, it’s gone for us. There is no way for us to put oil back into the ground to restock in a hurry—we must allow Nature millions of years to accomplish it for us. Heck, we can’t even manage with the by-products of our oil use: in fact, we’re killing ourselves with it.

The world’s dependence on oil, given what we now know, is going to kill us. It has already placed us on a downwards spiral into a climate-change black hole which we might not be able to climb out of. Our addiction to oil, as with any addiction, is not based upon common sense: we want it, now; and like all addictions, we will continue to want it long after we learn that it is hurting us. Our ‘doctors’ dutifully remind us to quit, but we say, ‘Yes, I know,’ and then walk away -for us, it remains business as usual. Our ‘doctors,’ in the environmental context, are the Suzukis and Piketty’s and Trudeaus[ii] and McKennas of the world—not the Trumps, Harpers, Scheers, or the JWR-Phil-potted-Mays. But because we don’t like what the doctor is telling us, we react by looking for a ‘second opinion;’ one that will tell us what we want to hear, not what we need to hear for our own good.
Whatever will we do next?

The practitioners of Fallun Dafa have been persecuted by the Chinese government for their beliefs; so too the Uighur Muslims. Fallun Dafa describes all of Creation as existing in a state of constant motion, with a circular motif. The circular motif always finds its way into talk about systems of any sort and forms the basis of Kate Raworth’s new global economic paradigm in her book, Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist The circular motif implies that all things in Existence exist in a configuration of balanced give-and-take with other systems. When a system is out of balance, given enough time, there is catastrophic upheaval and death to the system and the systems that rely upon its outputs for their input.

Nature’s uber-system, as we know it, is bound to crash and soon. Nature can no longer sustain us; neither our numbers or our level of activity. We have been harvesting trees willy-nilly without sufficiently replacing them, for generations. Our rainforests are disappearing with the boreal forests following hard upon. Desertification is expanding into formerly vibrant, productive territories: trees purify and rejuvenate the air and aquifers upon which human and all other species rely for survival. We humans consume air and water even as we pollute them into uselessness, so that now, what was once freely available and in excess, we buy in plastic bottles.

Plastic bottles. We all know about the effects of plastic waste; our solution to water pollution is  compounding the pollution problem; it is delaying the crash of the environmental system. We know one can keep applying bandages, but until the injury is sutured, it will not heal; it will become infected and we will bleed out. The crash of the environmental system will soon acquire inevitability if we do not act.

An inevitability that our children are going to have to struggle with; a struggle they may lose. I doubt, when they grow into adults and have inherited from us responsibility for the welfare of their nations and communities, that they will be thanking our generation…

…unless we change our attitude—right now.

The anti-Trudeau angst which the right is spewing is simply a money – power grab. The cons of today, unlike the progressive conservatives of the Diefenbaker era and earlier on,[v] cannot envisage their communities and nations in any other terms. If life on Earth is sub-dividable into predators and prey, then it is today’s cons, wherever they are in the world, who are spirited as predators. They lack any imagination with respect to creating a viable future; they can only pluck the low hanging fruit.

Conversely, the Liberals of today are imagining ways for all of humankind to harvest higher up the tree, so that all can eat and thrive and not just the tall folks. Liberals seems to entertain the sentiment that their neighbours count for as much as their friends. Trudeau is only pointing out we have a problem; the Cons want us to think he is the problem for pointing it out.

We will find out how wrong the cons are but only after it’s too late to do anything about it, should we vote the current Trudeau-led government out. Conservatives are confused. They think you can create truth, but in fact you can only choose to respect or to ignore it. Truth is what truth is, and stupid is as stupid does. Trudeau is not stupid. Trudeau did not create the environmental catastrophe that will soon besiege us. As leader of our nation, he is identifying an existential threat to our nation and world. Any responsible leader or community member must do the exact same thing. They would not stick their heads in the sand, Alberta’s or any other’s à la Jason Kenney; leaving the problem to their kids.

They would act. Perhaps to their political peril, but they would act if they were truly leaders. If the direction they need to take their nations in happens to be upstream of them (or seem like taxes to the voter), they would struggle against the current, or they are not a leader.

They would be cons. Justin Trudeau is no con.


[i] Please read the book, The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight: Revised and Updated Third Edition: The Fate of the World and What We Can Do Before It’s Too Late by Thom Hartmann.

[ii] Thomas Piketty’s opus, Capital in the Twenty-First Century is a serious must-read.

[iii] To my joy, the practitioners of Fallun Dafa marched in our city of Welland’s Canada Day parade.

[iv] I refer you to the book Donut Economics by Kate Raworth

[v] Joe Clark is included among that fine group of Canadians; it was just his bad fortune to come on the scene when Pierre Trudeau was around. I would much rather have had him than Mulroney, and Mulroney destroyed the Progressive Conservative Party, creating a vacuum into which the Western Alliance/Reform inserted itself, in virus-like fashion inserting its rna into the shell of the PC Party in order to look like the sort of political party Canada would produce (and voters would vote for), incorporating them into the body politik and making the body politik sick. There is only one cure for any virus. Get plenty of rest (from their misinformation) and drink plenty of fluids (for us, Molsons or Labatt’s or a cottage brewery offering) to purge them from our consciousness-ps, I’d rather not have to suffer through their attack ads while I’m watching my favourite tv shows..

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