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The Influence of Thermodynamic Ideas on Ecological Economics: An Interdisciplinary Critique


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  • Geoffrey P. Hammond

    (Institute for Sustainable Energy & the Environment (I•SEE), University of Bath, Bath, BA2 7AY, UK
    Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of Bath, Bath, BA2 7AY, UK)

  • Adrian B. Winnett

    (Institute for Sustainable Energy & the Environment (I•SEE), University of Bath, Bath, BA2 7AY, UK
    Department of Economics, University of Bath, Bath, BA2 7AY, UK)

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    The influence of thermodynamics on the emerging transdisciplinary field of 'ecological economics‘ is critically reviewed from an interdisciplinary perspective. It is viewed through the lens provided by the 'bioeconomist' Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen (1906–1994) and his advocacy of 'the Entropy Law' as a determinant of economic scarcity. It is argued that exergy is a more easily understood thermodynamic property than is entropy to represent irreversibilities in complex systems, and that the behaviour of energy and matter are not equally mirrored by thermodynamic laws. Thermodynamic insights as typically employed in ecological economics are simply analogues or metaphors of reality. They should therefore be empirically tested against the real world.

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    Bibliographic Info

    Article provided by MDPI, Open Access Journal in its journal Sustainability.

    Volume (Year): 1 (2009)
    Issue (Month): 4 (December)
    Pages: 1195-1225

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    Handle: RePEc:gam:jsusta:v:1:y:2009:i:4:p:1195-1225:d:6385

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    Keywords: thermodynamic analysis; energy; entropy; exergy; ecological economics; environmental economics; exergoeconomics; complexity; natural capital; sustainability;

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    1. Sollner, Fritz, 1997. "A reexamination of the role of thermodynamics for environmental economics," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, Elsevier, vol. 22(3), pages 175-201, September.
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    Cited by:
    1. Lucia, Umberto & Sciubba, Enrico, 2013. "From Lotka to the entropy generation approach," Physica A: Statistical Mechanics and its Applications, Elsevier, Elsevier, vol. 392(17), pages 3634-3639.
    2. Malghan, Deepak, 2011. "A dimensionally consistent aggregation framework for biophysical metrics," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, Elsevier, vol. 70(5), pages 900-909, March.


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