Last month’s lengthy post titled “Inefficient Devices and the Laws of Thermodynamics” failed to relate the abstract laws of thermodynamics to everyday life. This post aims to tie the two together in a more easily digestible package.
Devices that consume excessive amounts of energy, convert energy inefficiently, or perform tasks that can be accomplished with less energy are wasteful and need to be replaced. This latter option, achieving a goal with less energy (i.e. carpooling instead of driving individually or cooking indoors on a cold day and leaving the oven ajar to release heat throughout your home) represents a version of low-hanging fruit.
If society is to reach the point of sustainability there needs to be a wise use of available energy. The distinction is clear. Energy cannot be created or destroyed. However, there is an increase in entropy – unavailable energy. Consuming non-renewable energy sources that are converted to heat to power society is not sustainable. Earth is a closed system – with a few minor exceptions – in terms of matter. What we have is what we have. On the other hand, it is an open system in terms of energy. A constant supply of energy enters the Earth’s atmosphere everyday. One source states that “The sun’s energy reaching the earth surface is 15,000 times more than our energy demanded”. Others claim that the amount of energy hitting the earth’s surface in an hour equals our global annual consumption. The time has come to return to using this energy, which does not cost the consumer a dime. By building homes that face south (if constructed in the Northern Hemisphere), they can take advantage of passive solar heating. Aside from planning ahead, this does not entail up front costs to the consumer. The south facing buildings are passively heated by the sun during the winter, and if built to include the proper overhang/shade on the windows, can block out the sun’s heat during the summer, reducing the need for artificial cooling. In addition, home construction that includes the use of deciduous trees to act as shade during the summer can let in the sun’s light and heat during the winter. By reducing the pavement around homes, less heat will be radiated back toward the home.
Although different than biomimicry, using the laws of thermodynamics is another way to work with nature – instead of against it – as we move toward a sustainable society.
- Eric Wilson