Hurricane Isabelle


Technological civilizations are dissipative structures. They only exist in form to speed the degradation of energy and dissipation of heat. Modern industrial civilization exists to convert vast stores of fossil energy to waste heat. Although the form of the hurricane and the infrastructure of civilization seem vastly different they are the same. When the energy gradient becomes too small, they cease to exist. Instead of a column of swirling air reaching from the ocean’s surface to 50,000 feet in the atmosphere, humans have created numerous factories, homes, cars and other machines to release the energy into the lower atmosphere. The seemingly ordered motions of the technological metabolism, always growing and “making progress” are no different than the swirling air of the hurricane. The imagined complexity and progress of civilization are secondary to the primary physical phenomenon of degrading energy.

When the source of energy is gone the dissipative structure will disappear. It seems that industrial civilization is beginning to make landfall and growth in size and intensity is no longer possible. As it moves over the rough terrain it will gradually lose all recognizable form as it is cut-off from its fossil fuels, until what was once a powerful force of nature is no more.

Dissipative structures in all of their wonderful complexity exist in their orderliness to obtain energy and degrade it, thereby obtaining the energy necessary to maintain themselves. These conduits exist only where they can feed upon higher grade energy and dump low grade energy into the environment. The type and concentration of the energy will determine the forms of the conduits. In ecosystems, captured energy in the form of bodies are devoured to supply other conduits with energy. A proportion of energy obtained is stored in the conduit infrastructure while the rest keeps the metabolism in motion.

Man’s industrial civilization will last only as long as it can siphon energy from fossil fuels to build its infrastructure. Eventually all of the complexity and conduits will be lost, including the human RNA pounding away in their factories making tools. There must always be enough net energy to build more infrastructure or repair existing infrastructure. Once that is no longer the case, the conduit will fall apart and the processing of fossil fuels will cease. Everything that seems a permanent part of our existences will be lost through attrition, obsolescence, and decay.

Just as organic life evolved into its role in capturing sunlight, the humans evolved to use stored and finite energy like megafauna populations, soils, wood, oil, coal and natural gas. Only these dense, vast resource stores were sufficient to enable the emergence of industrial technological civilization. Technological civilization is nothing more than a collection of human scale conduits (collectively one big hurricane) for energy dissipation which we can always find new ways to accomplish. This process won’t last long as the amount of energy is finite, the technological growth is enormous and each nation seems to be racing each other to the finish line.

I’m not even sure further study is needed at this point, the population seems immune to edification on their thermodynamically determined journey of energy degradation. Humans are an integral part of the process and naturally are going with the flow – until landfall.