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Energy, Complexity and Wealth Maximization


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Table of Contents

Preface.- Glossary of terms.- Glossary of people.- PART I.- CHAPTER 1. A BRIEF HISTORY OF IDEAS: ENERGY, ENTROPY AND EVOLUTION.- 1.1. Aristotle, Descartes, Newton and Leibnitz.- 1.2. Heat: caloric vs phlogiston.- 1.3. The birth of thermodynamics and statistical mechanics.- 1.4. Chemistry: from Lavoisier to Gibbs.- 1.5. Electricity and electromagnetism.- 1.6. Geology and Earth science.- 1.7. Darwin and biological evolution.- 1.8. Ecology.- 1.9. Entropy, exergy, order and information.- 1.10. Monism, "energetics" and economics.- CHAPTER 2. THE COSMOS, THE SUN AND THE EARTH.- 2.1. Relativity, quantum mechanics and astronomy.- 2.2 The black hole in physics.- 2.3 Nucleosynthesis: Love among the nucleons.- 2.4. The Sun and solar system.- 2.5. The elements needed to sustain life (and technology).- 2.6. The terra-forming of Earth.- 2.7. The long-term future of Planet Earth.- 2.8 Summary of pre-biotic evolution.- CHAPTER 3. THE ORIGIN OF LIFE.- 3.1. Exogenesis?.- 3.2. The origin of organic monomers.- 3.3. From monomers to polymers.- 3.4. Self-replication of macromolecules (genes).- 3.5. Genetic code: RNA and DNA.- 3.6. Information transfer: the genetic code.- 3.7. Oxygen photosynthesis.- 3.8. The "Great Oxidation" and the "invention" of respiration.- 3.9. Evolution before the Cambrian explosion.- 3.10. The "Cambrian explosion".- 3.11. Since the asteroid.- 3.12 Down from the trees.- CHAPTER 4. ENERGY, WATER, CLIMATE AND CYCLES.- 4.1. The Earth's energy (exergy) balance.- 4.2. The hydrological cycle.- 4.3. Ocean currents and atmospheric circulation.- 4.4. Climate change.- 4.5. Bio-geochemical cycles.- 4.6. The carbon-oxygen cycle.- 4.7. The nitrogen cycle.- 4.8. The sulfur cycle.- 4.9. The phosphorus cycle.- 4.10. Thermodynamic dis-equilibrium.- Summary of Part I: From the "Big Bang" to nutrient cycles.- PART II.- CHAPTER 5. ENERGY AND TECHNOLOGY.- 5.1. The enhancement of skin.- 5.2. The taming of fire.- 5.3.Transmission of knowledge: writing and replication.- 5.4. The dawn of civilization and the beginning of agriculture.- 5.5. Agricultural surplus and cities.- 5.6. Slavery and conquest.- 5.7. Money and coinage.- 5.8. Productive technology.- CHAPTER 6. THE NEW WORLD - AND SCIENCE.- 6.1. The discovery of the New World.- 6.2. From charcoal and iron to coal and steel.- 6.3. Gunpowder and cannons.- 6.4. Steam power.- 6.5. Town gas, coal tar, aniline dyes and ammonia synthesis.- 6.6. Petroleum.- 6.7. The internal (infernal) combustion engine.- 6.8. Electrification and communications.- 6.9 Telecommunication and digital technology.- 6.9. The demographic transition: the final disproof of Malthus or a prelude?.- CHAPTER 7. ENERGY, TECHNOLOGY AND THE FUTURE.- 7.1. This time is different.- 7.2. "Peak Oil".- 7.3. More on fracking: Is it a game changer?.- 7.4. The inevitable decline of the internal combustion engine.- 7.5 On opportunities for energy efficiency gains by systems integration..- 7.6. Renewables for heat and electric power generation.- PART III.- CHAPTER 8. MAINSTREAM ECONOMICS AND ENERGY.- 8.1. Core ideas in economic theory.- 8.2 On credit, collateral, virtual money and banking.- 8.3 On externalities.- 8.4. Economics as social science.- 8.5. Resources and economics.- 8.6.Resource discoveries as technology incubators.- 8.7. On the geology of resources: scarcity again?.- 8.8. The special case of petroleum.- 8.9. The role of resources in standard economic theory.- CHAPTER 9. NEW PERSPECTIVES ON CAPITAL, WORK, AND WEALTH.- 9.1. Active vs passive capital.- 9.2. Exergy, useful work and production functions.- 9.3. Wealth as "condensed" work and useful complexity.- 9.4. Debt: The downside of financial wealth creation.- 9.5. The direct costs of economic growth.- 9.6. More on economic growth: cycles and bubbles.- 9.7. Planetary limits: The downside of material wealth creation.- 9.8. The "circular economy" and the limits to growth.- 9.9. A Trifecta?.- Epilogue.- APPENDIX. ENERGY IN GROWTH THEORY.- A.1. Introduction.- A.2. Growth equations.- A.3. A new variable: Useful work U.- A.4. The choice of production function.- A.5. Statistical analysis of the time series.- A.6. Results.- A.7. Conclusion.- References.

Promotional Information

"Economists and physicists, like oil and water, resist mixing, sadly to the detriment of useful human knowledge. Bob Ayres is the rare combination of a physicist and a resource economist, giving him a unique understanding of the importance of useful energy services to all of life. This unique understanding is critical to the massive challenge human kind now faces - how to 'power' continued wealth creation without destroying the planet we call home. This book will almost certainly alter the way we approach this great challenge." (Thomas R. Casten, Chair, Recycled Energy Development LLC) "This is a must read for those who wish to understand what we've got wrong in our contemporary development paradigm and how we can fix it. By far the most important book in years that will reshape physics the way Darwin and Einstein have done, and will hopefully reshape economics too!" (Dr. Stefanos Fotiou, Director of the Environment and Development Division, UNEP) "Bob Ayres is among the pioneers of this biophysical approach to economics, which may prove to be the most fruitful innovation in economics since Keynes. This extraordinary book crosses disciplinary boundaries to takes a broad, evolutionary perspective on human societies as thermodynamical dissipative structures. As natural resources become scarce and quality declines, knowledge is the one ingredient that may save us from following a path analogous to supernovae explosions. At a time when most economists confine themselves to partial and local micro-explanations, Ayres provides a big-picture understanding of the forces that underlie our current economic paradoxes." (Gael Giraud, Professor of Economics, Ecole Normale Superieur (Paris), and chief economist, Agence Francais pour Developpement) "This magisterial synthesis traces the evolution of order and complexity from the Big Bang to Big Data to Big Dangers ahead. The book delineates the urgent collective challenge of making the 'great transition' from an economy that squanders nature's wealth to a new paradigm rooted in a knowledge-based wealth." (Dr. Paul Raskin, Founder and President Tellus Institute) "Robert Ayres' new book is a historic, a contemporary, and a future oriented work of immense depth of thought, written by an author of incredible knowledge and wisdom, and encompassing views and concepts of both social and natural sciences. It is theoretically interesting, empirically relevant and timely regarding integrated assessments of social and natural systems. I think the work is a seminal contribution to looking at the co-evolution of human (economic and social) development and the Earth system, and will especially help to comprehend the new geological era - the 'Anthropocene'." (Udo E. Simonis, Professor emeritus for Environmental Policy at the Berlin Social Science Center (WZB)) "In an age of sustainable development goals, there is no more urgent need for the policy makers and the public alike than to have a clear understanding of the complex linkages among energy, innovation, and wealth. Bob Ayres' book has done a superb job, weaving back and forth between physics and economics seamlessly, in illuminating the history of wealth creation in the past through the conversion of materials into 'useful things' based on the consumption of energy, and providing insights into the future when wealth will be created by knowledge accumulation, de-materialization and institutional innovation. It is a must read for all of us who wish for a sustainable future for humanity." (Lan Xue, Dean of School of Public Policy and Management, Tsinghua University, and Co-chair, UN Sustainable Development Solution Network)

About the Author

Professor Ayres holds a PhD in Mathematical Physics from Kings College, University of London, a MSc in Physics from the University of Maryland and a BA, BSc from the University of Chicago. He is currently Emeritus Professor of Economics and Political Science and of Technology and Operations Management at INSEAD, the international graduate business school.
He joined INSEAD in 1992, becoming the first Novartis Chair of Management and the Environment, as well as the founder of CMER, Center for the Management of Environmental Resources. He directed CMER from 1992-2000. Since retirement he has been a visiting professor at Chalmers Institute of Technology in Sweden (where he was also a King's Professor) and Institute Scholar at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Austria, He remains active, producing publications on topics ranging from Industrial Metabolisms and Industrial Ecology, through Environmental Policy and Environmental Economics, to Energy. Professor Ayres is the author or coauthor of 21 books, most recently including The Economic Growth Engine (2009, with Benjamin Warr), Crossing the Energy Divide (2009, with Edward Ayres) and The Bubble Economy (2014).


"Ayres does a great job in 'explaining energy or entropy to otherwise educated people' ... which was the starting point of this book. He not only illustrates the physical basics of thermodynamics in a very comprehensible way for non-physicists, but also points out the importance of energy for the evolution of mankind. Therefore, (energy) economists as well as people interested in the interdependency between physics, technology and economics will certainly enjoy reading this book." (Daniel Nachtigall, Journal of Economics, Vol. 121, 2017)

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