Friday, March 14, 2014

"Affluent, effluent . . ." - Money, Chemisrty, Life - What next?

John Courtneidge

14 March 2014

In a Facebook thread at the Green Left page, I used the phrase "affluent, effluent . . ."

Actually, there's a non-demonising point here and I apologise is I offend anyone with the "affluent, effluent . . ." pairing. 

Effluent (pollution) is the necessary co-production to wealth production: it’s a Laws of Chemistry (including the Laws of Thermodynamics) thing: the Second Law of Thermodynamics and the First Law of Chemistry thing( 'Everything gotta go somewhere' is a popular encapsulation of the latter ('Matter is neither created nor destroyed in a chemical reaction, simply changed from one set of relationships to another') while 'Shit happens' is a way of expressing the Second Law of Thermodynamics: That in *any* change any-where, the overall entropy (dis-order) of the universe increases.

Now, in a wealth-creating process, order is created locally, which means that disorder (either disordered low-temperature energy and/or disordered materials) in the rest of the universe results.

So a high-consuming individual/family or society is stacking up lots of ordered 'goods' - even short-lived ordered materials (like plastic water bottles, say) but at the expense of creating, in the wealth-creation phase (to say nothing of any later 'throw away’s) lots of pollution - effluent.

Thus the poetic pairing, 'affluent, effluent . . .' (an older, even more offending, but true pairing was due to the process of unearned incomes being distributed to the 'wealthy' in increments: 'the excrement living in increment'.  This demonisiation of the 'rich' - like the anti-fox-hunting slogan 'The unspeakable in pursuit of the inedible': no wonder that the politics of name calling gets out of hand!

Anyway, the not-human world operates according to those same Laws of Chemistry (including the Laws of Thermodynamics).  So, for example, photosynthetic life-forms (plants, blue-green algae - I'm no botanist, but am a chemist)  create local order (a tree for example) out of less-ordered materials (freely moving carbon dioxide molecules in the air, less freely-moving liquid water in the ground and, to a small extent, somewhat ordered minerals dissolved in the water.

Now, the overall process is, simplified, as:

Carbon dioxide + water + light (energy) -> carbohydrates (the tree) + oxygen  (read the arrow as 'Goes to give')

(BTW – my suspicion is that photosynthesis produces heat as well as another by-product, but whether that’s been shown to be true or not I don’t know.)

Now, the oxygen is a pollutant as far as the tree is concerned (and a dangerous one - oxygen is poisonous to living things - something that oxygen-metabolising things - like you and me - have to carefully control.  As does the tree: due to the following unwanted (as far as the tree is concerned reaction (for carbohydrate combustion: 'forest fires'):

Carbohydrates (the tree) + oxygen  ->  Carbon dioxide + water + heat and light.

Now, in a balanced eco-system, the sequestration (converting into 'tied-up' molecules like water - oxygen atoms tied onto/bonded with hydrogen atoms - and carbon dioxide: again a triatomic molecule of one carbon atom and two oxygen atoms) keeps an oxygen balance of about 21% of the atmosphere: enough for animals to breath and control, so that carbohydrates can be metabolised into energy (warmth and movement - and, I hope, sometimes a little metaphoric light: wisdom).

Now, all that is going on well in the Garden of Eden and, then, to cut a long story (about 15,000 years: which in global terms and even life-history terms is not a long time) we invented the super explosive, money.

Now, I'll shorten the description of explosives to say that they combine - often even in the same molecule, the fuel (like the carbohydrates of the tree) with the oxidising agent (the oxygen in the forest fire - or fire in the forest when controlled - as above).

Likewise now with money: money nowadays (and probably almost as soon as it was invented) not only lives a static life, lubricating human activities - wealth creation - but, once debt and interest had been invented, became a 'life'-form in its own right: demanding to be fed raw materials, energy - and human lives - to re-produce itself.

Now money has no limits, if we let it be so and so the wealth-creating process (as above) runs reckless - making the maximum effluent in the minimum possible time - the machine in the Garden goes wild, consuming everything - and everybody - in sight.

Such that earth's mechanisms - Gaia - can't cope and catastrophic change results - anti-wealth production (like war, for example).

So, why am I writing this?

Well, first, you will by now have appreciated that 'if we don't control money it will control us' - an old phrase that causes some of us to take the unsustainable route to managed capitalism (social democracy/fascism/Marxism) away from unmanaged capitalism (Anarchism/Neoliberalism/Libertarianism). Or to take the more-sustainable route - to replace capitalism with horizontalist, equalitarian, eco-integrated Co-operative Socialism (co-operating together as humans and co-operating with the rest o9f the creation as kindly as we can).

But, more so, I'm stumped.

Because the foregoing chemistry account should be the meat and drink (literally) of everyone: if we don't know how it works, how can we become responsible members of earth's com-m-unity?  Given our genetic ability to do so many bad! things?

And, yet, as much as I tried to promote a TV series termed 'The Right Chemistry' and as many TV series of toffs jetting around the world shows, the affluent creating (by necessity of their effluent lifestyles) amounts of effluent that Gaia can't cope with, dominate the Third Wave of Alvin Toffler's age of information.


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