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Why natural laws of energy know no limits

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Kate Macintosh (Letters, AJ 7. 9. 00) refers me to the First Law of Thermodynamics, or the principle that in natural systems energy is neither created nor destroyed, but merely transformed. In that sense energy is indeed conserved in natural systems.

However, the Second Law of Thermodynamics recognises that while the quantity of energy is constant, the natural process is for energy to dissipate into qualitatively different forms. Not all forms of energy are useful. It is only through technology that humans purposefully convert energy from one form into another at some level of efficiency, trying to conserve the qualities we require.

In this way, human technical knowledge and scientific insight allow us to resist the useless entropy of nature, providing the opportunity to develop new sources of energy.

From the first open fires of primitive man and the earliest agriculture to the flexible PV cell and biotechnology, humans have directed the chemical energy in their brains and muscles to bring order to energy systems constantly decaying around them. Architecture can be thought of as the imaginative storage of energy in materials assembled to resist natural decay.

Being an architect is then part of the purposeful effort to bring order to nature, by the only species aware of entropy as a law of the universe and doing something about it.

In this way we have made it possible for six billion of us to thrive on a planet that could support more with better technology. There is no fixed carrying capacity because we improve the thermodynamic systems of the earth. The Reverend Thomas Malthus and Kate Macintosh are wrong in their pseudo-scientific attempts to pose limits to population growth. If Macintosh had come to our conference she might not be re-heating the failed arguments of natural limits to growth.

Ian Abley abley@audacity. org

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