A Personal Journey Part III: Entropy: Into the Greenhouse World

Dante’s Forest Dark
Dante’s Forest Dark

A Personal Journey

The second chapter of the book A New City of God: Theology in an Age of Limits describes my personal journey through Dante’s “Forest Dark” as I learned more about the changes that are taking place, and as I thought about the theological implications of such changes.

The sections of that chapter are shown below. Every so often I will write a blog to do with one of these topics. In this blog let’s take a look at the third entry (highlighted in red): A Chemical Engineering Magazine Article.

  • A Brief Biography
  • The Machine Stops
  • A Chemical Engineering Magazine Article
  • Entropy: Into the Greenhouse World
  • A History of Knowledge
  • Twilight in the Desert
  • Down The Hubbert Curve
  • The Archdruid Report
  • Hard Times for These Times
  • Oil Price Collapse
  • Hegelian Synthesis
  • Jevons Paradox
  • Sustainable Growth: An Oxymoron
  • Peak Prosperity
  • Post Carbon Institute
  • Cassandra’s Legacy
  • Resource Insights
  • Francis I
  • The Last Question
  • The Journey
  • The Ladder of Awareness

Entropy — Into the Greenhouse World

Entropy: Into the Greenhouse World

One of the first books that I read that was to do with ecological destruction was Jeremy Rifkin’s Entropy — Into the Greenhouse World (Rifkin 1989). Although published over 30 years ago, its predictions to do with the ‘Greenhouse World’ have turned out to be useful and accurate. His discussion to do with the deforestation of Europe that occurred in the Middle Ages, described in the previous chapter, particularly resonated with me.

Jacques Turgot (1727-1781)
Jacques Turgot (1727-1781)

Rifkin starts one chapter with an overview of a two-part lecture given by Jacques Turgot at the University of Paris in the year 1750. Turgot argued that history proceeds in a straight line and that each stage of history represents an advance over the previous one. In other words, he developed the idea of what we now call “progress”. We can expect tomorrow to be better (in material terms) than today.

The theme of Rifkin’s book is that this world view, the one of inexorable and unstoppable material progress, is coming to an end.

Though we are largely unaware of it, much of the way we think, act, and feel can be traced back to the . . . historical paradigm that took shape and form during those centuries [ the time of Turgot ] . . It is ironic indeed that only now as that tapestry begins to fray and unwind is it possible to really see the stuff we and our modern world are made of.

The concept of unending material progress would have made no sense to people in Biblical times because the only energy available to them was provided by human and animal labor, supplemented by the energy obtained from burning wood. Their society was basically steady state. Although Turgot probably did not realize it, material progress depends on the availability of fossil fuel energy. We are not in thermodynamic equilibrium with our environment.


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