My Canada Includes The Laws Of Thermodynamics

There’s an episode of the Simpsons where Lisa, who has a lot of free time due to a teachers’ strike, builds a perpetual motion machine. Homer is upset, and yells “Lisa, get in here! In this house we obey the laws of thermodynamics!”

Stay with me, I’m going somewhere with this.

Last night I had a nice long political debate with a friend of mine. Let’s call him “Sean,” because, well, that’s his name. (I think it’s unfortunate and somewhat dangerous that talking about politics with friends and family is increasingly considered impolite. I don’t know how we expect democracy to work otherwise.) Our conversation jumped around a lot, but the argument basically came down to Sean’s belief that the status quo was more or less great and that concerns about converging environmental crises were overblown or entirely made up. I, uh, maintained a different viewpoint.

I love debate, and one of the things I enjoy doing is getting a good understanding of why people think what they do. As a result, Sean and my conversation got more and more fundamental, as I searched for things we could agree on. Eventually, I said, “ok, well I know that we can at least agree that the Earth has limits.” Sean did not agree. “Um, ok,” I continued, “well, let’s make it more specific then. We can agree that energy cannot be created….” But again, Sean did not agree.

That’s when we changed the subject. The first two laws of thermodynamics state, in essence, that energy cannot be created nor destroyed, and that you can’t get something for nothing. Somehow, there are now at least a handful of people in Canada and throughout the western world who think (actually, feel might be a better word) that that’s not true. As James Howard Kunstler points out in The Long Emergency, some of our culture’s most basic assumptions have become misaligned with the realities and limitations of the physical world. For example, energy policy is based on the assumption that energy is “generated” (created), and can continue to be created in increasing quantities in perpetuity. Similarly, much of our economic activity is based on the assumption that it’s reasonable to get something (like, money) for nothing (see

Sean’s not a dumb guy. He’s no Homer. In fact, that’s the crazy part — he’s come to his conclusions in a rational way by observing the world around him. Problem is, the world he and I have grown up in is currently in the process of throwing all the wood on the fire, so of course we’re lacking perspective. (Except, of course, that instead of wood we’re using oil, which, well, doesn’t grow on trees.)

Brownie points will go to the first MP willing to stand in Parliament and say, “Mr. Speaker, be it resolved that this House will obey the laws of thermodynamics.”

6 thoughts on “My Canada Includes The Laws Of Thermodynamics

  1. I’ll take those brownie points… but you’ll have to settle for an MPP – and you’ll have wait until at least November… ;)

    (btw, good to meet you on Tuesday)

  2. Um, is it weird that I kind of enjoyed riding the speculativebubble rollercoaster?… WEEEEEE!

  3. Chris,

    Considering thermodynamics, one of the great educators I had the priviledge of listening to was my engineering professor Declan Barry. To me a good educator gets you to think, a great one gets you to think outside the box about what may be wrong with what you are supposed to be learning. (he didn’t teach spelling)

    Here is a simple engineering paradox:

    Note: A capacitor stores electric charge and consists of two closely spaced plates. If you put a voltage across a capacitor, positive and negative charges attract but can’t get through the separating insulator, thus the charge is held when the voltage is removed. An ideal capacitor has no resistance or inductance and therefore doesn’t dissipate energy. “Laden jars” were the early capacitors.

    Take an IDEAL capacitor and charge it to a fixed voltage. Let the voltage be 1 volt and the capacitance of the capacitor 1 Farad.

    The energy stored = 1/2*C*V^2 = 1/2 joule. (^2 ->squared)
    charge = C*V = 1 coulomb

    If we connect a second IDEAL capacitor to this capacitor, by the second law of thermo, half the charge will go to the second capacitor to even out the charges.

    By conservation of charge, each capacitor has 1/2 coulomb, and voltage is determined as

    Q=CV, from which, V=Q/C = 1/2 volt

    the energy in each capacitor is 1/2* C*V^2 which is:

    1/2*1 Farad*(1/2)^2= 1/8 joule, both capacitors added togather have a total energy storage of 1/4 joule.

    But we started with 1/2 joule. What happened to the other quarter joule ?

    Either the laws of thermo are wrong or the laws of electricity and magnetism are wrong. Its likely that the laws of E & M are incomplete in my establishment education- but something is wrong with this basic science.

    A possible solution is at: This guy misses the point of the question and introduces a parasitic affect (inductance) to explain the missing energy here You can assume zero inductance. There are two flaws in this explanation provided in the PDF.

    Show this baby to a friend in physics or engineering.

    The moral of the story: Nothing deserves to be worshipped until it can be shown to be perfect. Establishment science even at the basic level isn’t perfect- its likely just incomplete.

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