Complexity, Problem Solving, and Sustainable Societies - Focus

Focus

It focuses on the energy cost of problem solving, and the energy-complexity relation in manmade systems. This is a mirror of the negentropic tendencies of natural evolution, according to ecological economics, notably the arguments of Donella Meadows and her colleagues on the economic constraints of contemporary problem solving.

The Limits to Growth, 1972, argued that "to raise world food production from 1951-1966 by 34%, for example, required increasing expenditures on tractors of 63%, on nitrate fertilizers of 146%, and on pesticides of 300%. To remove all organic wastes from a sugar-processing plant costs 100 times more than removing 30%. To reduce sulfur dioxide in the air of a U.S. city by 9.6 times, or particulates by 3.1 times, raises the cost of pollution control by 520 times." All environmental problem solving will face constraints of this kind, Tainter argues. It is not a question of expending a lot of energy to discover "more efficient" ways to do these things - that process amplifies the decline.

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