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There is something in the future I can see now. It is a world where the cost and consequences of what we do are obvious to all. Life is a long chain of small and big forks in the road, and we decide according to what we sense ahead. The decisions, depending on importance, can be described as subconscious, automatic, almost unthinking, pondering, dwelt on, discussed, agonized over. We are driven by thinking of the benefits. It is harder to think of the costs, to realize the costs, or even to be aware of or imagine the risks of high costs.

It is common for us to judge costs in time and money. The costs are supposed to be countable, and we estimate times to be taken for our actions. But there are hidden costs, hidden by ignorance or design. Consider the consequences of smoking. The money cost of the cigarette is inconsequential compared with the physical downside to the smokers health, and those else who inhale passively. Currently soci-economists try to put a money value on the costs of health issues – medicines, hospitalization, lower productivity, even earlier death. But the chemistry that excites/rewards our brain with a hit of nicotine must have a net negative effect if we draw the boundary to include not only the cigarette and the brain, but also the lungs, and lungs of passive inhalers. That chemistry, in a unified numeraire, is yet to be discovered, but will be.

Added 12 June 2011:

When I met Malte Faber at a cafeteria in the World Bank complex in Washington 1990, he told me when he looked at a car, he could “see and feel” the entropy not only out of the engine in exhaust pipe and radiated heat and noise and vibration, but in the cumulative entropy that went in to the entire supply chain from deliver to sales, back to assembly line, back to parts manufacture, raw material ingots, back through refining to mining and the earliest stage of exploration. That beautiful new car represents a lot of entropy. 

Does not mean we stop enjoying cars.  But we should acknowledge that extrapolated growth with given technologies is impossible.  If we can measure that cumulative entropy, or what seems to be another way of putting it, exergy destruction, then our world and its future and what we want to do with it would look very different. 

It is almost certain that the entropy Carnot confronted in 1824 and the energy (and useful energy) Joule experimented with mid 1800’s are not the right measure.  I suspect we need to go back to the ethereal idea of force, with emf being the dominant denominator.

: http://www.coulterexergy.com/archives/752

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