A measure of disorder and randomness in a system. Every living system consists of orderly and complex structures, as in the intricate tissue of plants and animals. The Second Law of Thermodynamics tells us that, as events take place—as work is done—this order dissipates: the tissues decay. It can be repaired if there is a sufficient supply of the energy of the right kind and in the right concentration. In the case of our planet, that source of energy is almost entirely the sun—both the modern sun (sunlight) and the ancient sun (stored in oil, coal and gas)—supplemented on a minor scale from nuclear energy, and by heat from deep inside the planet itself.E196

A high level of entropy, or disorder—cold, dark, silent, meaningless—is the default condition (equilibrium) for physics, and it is everywhere, unless something both remarkable and energy-driven happens to prevent it, or to bring order into it. We do not need to be aware of the laws of thermodynamics to know that the consequences of the depletion of fossil fuels will take the form of disorder of many kinds, nor that a political economy that relies on sustained growth is impossible. But the laws of thermodynamics are a convenient summary of the problem, and the idea of entropy—the bleak baseline from which the making of order starts—is central: it stands at the opposite extreme from everything that matters to us.

If the energy to sustain a large political economy is not there, there is something to be said for planning for a small one.E197


Related entries:

Social Entropy, Touch-Down, Wheel of Life.

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David Fleming
Dr David Fleming (2 January 1940 – 29 November 2010) was a cultural historian and economist, based in London, England. He was among the first to reveal the possibility of peak oil's approach and invented the influential TEQs scheme, designed to address this and climate change. He was also a pioneer of post-growth economics, and a significant figure in the development of the UK Green Party, the Transition Towns movement and the New Economics Foundation, as well as a Chairman of the Soil Association. His wide-ranging independent analysis culminated in two critically acclaimed books, 'Lean Logic' and 'Surviving the Future', published posthumously in 2016. These in turn inspired the 2020 launches of both BAFTA-winning director Peter Armstrong's feature film about Fleming's perspective and legacy - 'The Sequel: What Will Follow Our Troubled Civilisation?' - and Sterling College's unique 'Surviving the Future: Conversations for Our Time' online courses. For more information on all of the above, including Lean Logic, click the little globe below!

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