Losses in the system

The summer has been, to put it mildly, tumultuous – and it doesn’t look as though things are going to settle down anytime soon.  There are have been all sorts of big hitting events, but most of these seem to have a tail with the death of a thousand cuts.  In the UK, Brexit may mean Brexit, but we have still to find out exactly what that means, and on what time scale.  In the US, not one but two people have received the nomination of their party whilst at the same time having ridiculously low popularity ratings.  Billy Connolly, whilst drumming up support for Comic Relief famously derided ‘compassion fatigue’ – he suggested that people replace compassion with ‘love’ – “could you ever imagine suffering from love fatigue?”  he asked.  It’s certainly difficult.  But it is also difficult not to feel fatigued by the state of politics at the moment, especially as it relates to the environment. There seems to be a lot of points scoring going on and very little action.

If you’re a regular visitor to this blog, you’ll have seen my post about hiatus and other projects and all the rest of it.  Fatigue or no fatigue, I’ve seen a couple of things via twitter over the last few days that have prompted me to put sleep on hold for a little while longer, and put fingers to keyboard.  There are some calculations to be done in support of another post, so that one will have to wait for another day, but right now I need to have a bit of rant.

  1. ~4600 calories worth of food is harvested per day per person on Earth.
  2. ~10% of all electricity generated is lost in transmission between powerplant and home, not to mention that lost converting energy from one form to another within the plant and then getting it from the point of generation into the grid.  Transmission losses rise to 30-40% in some developing countries
  3. Clean Water leakage is typically in the range 20-30% in most networks around the world. Again, there are some networks that are better behaved – and some that are worse.  It should be remembered that in the developed world daily per capita water usage averages out at 120-150 litres, not including the leakage.

What is very easy to say, especially if you have any background in science and engineering, is that losses are inevitable, entropy will always win.  But you know what?  That is just lazy and morally irresponsible.  In a world where the UN has to set Development Goals because there are people who still don’t have access to clean water, people who are still starving, people who can’t get an education or a living because of the lack of energy – WE DO NOT HAVE THE RIGHT TO SAY ENTROPY DID IT.

We want cheap food, cheap energy, cheap water  – and may be I’m a hypocrite, sitting here, burning the midnight electrons to write this post.  But we need to take a good look at our systems and networks and change them.  Our social mores need to be shaken until their metaphorical teeth rattle.  Our politicians need to be made to spend a lot more time looking at the losses in the system and how these are to be addressed and turned to account.  And we all need to look at what we can do at home.

When we’ve got our affairs in order, then we can appeal to entropy.

I’m off to make sure there aren’t any taps left on or any devices guzzling electricity…


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