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The life story of matter and its attribute, energy

denis's picture

Energy is often defined as ‘the ability to do work’ or ‘the ability to do something useful’. They are very misleading definitions that have contributed substantially to the dire situation that civilization is in today. ‘the ability of an object to do work on a vehicle’ or ‘the ability of an object to do something useful to a vehicle’ are more realistic definitions because they specify that energy is an attribute of an object and it can do something useful to a vehicle. Energy does not exist in isolation in our everyday world. The object may be a person or a horse or a stone or a machine or a fuel or a magnet. It makes no difference. If it has potential to do work, the object has potential energy. This describes the circumstances where work can be done on a vehicle. The object can only have potential energy if it has obtained it from our sole source, sunshine, by way of some process. A fuel has potential energy that was stored for eons in oil. My fingers have the potential to do work pressing keys because I got the energy from the food I ate. This potential energy invariably ends up as waste heat when used. A parcel of energy has a limited life. That is its invariable destiny so should realistically be incorporated in its definition. The object and vehicle invariably are natural material or made from natural materials (matter) and most also have limited lives. The waste material on their demise often degrades the ecosystem. Coal provides stored potential energy that can do useful electrical work. The life of the coal ends up as material wastes, including the carbon dioxide that is contributing to climate change.

This is a simplified but realistic view of the operation of the ecosystem and its parasite, civilization. This view can contribute to elucidation of wiser means of using the limited remaining natural resources, including those that are the source of the energy that drives industrialized society which is built up from natural resources.

Denis Frith


‘What went wrong’


denis's picture

The Oz bus is heading out into the Simpson desert on the dirt track with Rudd at the wheel. He occasionally comments to his passengers about the passing scenery but often argues with Abbott beside him about how fast the bus can go while Brown mutters away about the condition of the track ahead. They are pleased with the way the bus is handling the current rough bit. However, Abbott claims he would have set a better course while Rudd steers.

Most of the passengers admire the greenery but a few wonder what is ahead as they have heard the track takes them into the desert. They keep quiet as they still believe Rudd knows where he is going and he has enough fuel. They expect Abbott and Brown agree with that view as the front seat arguments are about what they can see ahead and how the engine is running.

Those in the front seat are too taken with espousing their views to worry about the needle creeping into the red zone on the fuel gauge. They take for granted that there are cans of spare fuel in the back. And the passengers continue to be taken for a ride. So the Oz bus flounders on in to the Simpson desert.

This analogy strikes a chord with a growing, from a small set, group of concerned and knowledgeable people. After all, irreplaceable oil, fertile soil, aquifer water, many raw materials and biodiversity functions are being used up. Much damage is being done to the terrestrial and marine eco systems. These natural goods and services are part of the declining fuel for the Oz bus (Australian civilization), even if our politicians are so focused on their agenda that they ignore that stark reality. The population at large cannot see this as the dollar sign obscures their view.

Great analogy, Denis.