Thursday, January 3, 2019

How will economic growth end? By ignoring the laws of physics, we will suffer more.

As with any other natural system, civilization is composed of matter. Internal circulations are maintained by a dissipation of potential energy. Oil, coal, and other fuels “heat” civilization to raise the potential of its internal components. Dissipative frictional, resistive, radiative, and viscous forces return the potential of civilization to its initial state, ready for the next cycle of energy consumption.
Linking physical to economic quantities comes from a fixed relationship between rates of global energy consumption and historical accumulation of global economic wealth. When growth rates approach zero, civilization becomes fragile to externalities, such as natural disasters, and is at risk for accelerating collapse.

As it reaches limits, human activity will degrow. To the extent that we degrow voluntarily, we may be able to reduce the pain. In any case, physics will rule. We can fight it, but not overcome it.