MoreNotesToSelf

Technology, Finance, and Life

The Physics of Economics & Climate Change

Posted by DK on November 29, 2009

This article describes a recent study by Tim Garrett, a scientist in Utah. The study is based on the concept that physics can be used to characterize the evolution of civilization. From the article:

"I'm not an economist, and I am approaching the economy as a physics problem," Garrett says. "I end up with a global economic growth model different than they have."

Garrett treats civilization like a "heat engine" that "consumes energy and does 'work' in the form of economic production, which then spurs it to consume more energy," he says.

"If society consumed no energy, civilization would be worthless," he adds. "It is only by consuming energy that civilization is able to maintain the activities that give it economic value. This means that if we ever start to run out of energy, then the value of civilization is going to fall and even collapse absent discovery of new energy sources."

Garrett says his study's key finding "is that accumulated economic production over the course of history has been tied to the rate of energy consumption at a global level through a constant factor."

One zinger comes towards the end:

"The problem is that, in order to stabilize emissions, not even reduce them, we have to switch to non-carbonized energy sources at a rate about 2.1 percent per year. That comes out to almost one new nuclear power plant per day."

I have no idea how solid this type of analysis is, but it sure is creative! It can't be any worse than some of the other models out there that are currently in use…

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