chapter  5
The unequal exchange of time and space
Pages 19

I have long been pursuing an understanding of industrial capitalism as to some extent a zero-sum game. In this work I have been using the Second Law of Thermodynamics (the so-called Entropy Law) as a point of departure, arguing that the build-up and maintenance of industrial infrastructure necessarily requires a continuous net input of free or available energy (technically referred to as exergy, and closely related to the concept of negative entropy; cf. Schrödinger 1944; Georgescu-Roegen 1971). Purely analytically, it is possible to conclude that industrial infrastructure – whether a factory, an industrial city, or the global technomass – must maintain an unequal exchange of free energy with its hinterland in order to survive and grow. It is also possible to analytically conclude that, under market conditions, this unequal exchange will be orchestrated by the terms of trade between industrial and extractive sectors of the national and global economy, i.e. the rate at which industrial manufactures are exchanged for fuels and raw materials. The concept of unequal exchange in this sense is objectively specified rather than normative, and can be applied to several other possible metrics of trade, including material flows (Fischer-Kowalski 1998). Georgescu-Roegen argued that not only energy but materials, too, suffer irreversible dissipation in economic processes, and that the concept of entropy applied to such processes should be understood in terms of the generation of increasing energetic and material disorder as a by-product of the local creation of cultural and technological order or structure. Prigogine’s concept of dissipative structures has been applied to the asymmetric flows of entropy and negative entropy between different sectors of global society (Hornborg 1992; Clark 1997). Combined with a world-systems perspective (Frank 1966; Wallerstein 1974-1989), such an understanding of industrial capitalism provides a theoretical framework for interpreting the socio-ecological logic by which environmental problems tend to be unequally distributed between different sectors of the global population.