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


  • 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)


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.

Suggested Citation

  • Geoffrey P. Hammond & Adrian B. Winnett, 2009. "The Influence of Thermodynamic Ideas on Ecological Economics: An Interdisciplinary Critique," Sustainability, MDPI, vol. 1(4), pages 1-31, December.
  • Handle: RePEc:gam:jsusta:v:1:y:2009:i:4:p:1195-1225:d:6385

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. van Gool, W., 1987. "The value of energy carriers," Energy, Elsevier, vol. 12(6), pages 509-518.
    2. Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen, 1986. "The Entropy Law and the Economic Process in Retrospect," Eastern Economic Journal, Eastern Economic Association, vol. 12(1), pages 3-25, Jan-Mar.
    3. World Commission on Environment and Development,, 1987. "Our Common Future," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780192820808, Decembrie.
    4. Sollner, Fritz, 1997. "A reexamination of the role of thermodynamics for environmental economics," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 22(3), pages 175-201, September.
    5. van Gool, Willem, 1992. "Exergy analysis of industrial processes," Energy, Elsevier, vol. 17(8), pages 791-803.
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    2. David Bristow & Christopher Kennedy, 2015. "Why Do Cities Grow? Insights from Nonequilibrium Thermodynamics at the Urban and Global Scales," Journal of Industrial Ecology, Yale University, vol. 19(2), pages 211-221, April.
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    4. Lucia, Umberto & Sciubba, Enrico, 2013. "From Lotka to the entropy generation approach," Physica A: Statistical Mechanics and its Applications, Elsevier, vol. 392(17), pages 3634-3639.
    5. Evanthia A. Nanaki & Christopher J. Koroneos, 2017. "Exergetic Aspects of Hydrogen Energy Systems—The Case Study of a Fuel Cell Bus," Sustainability, MDPI, vol. 9(2), pages 1-17, February.

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