Laws of thermodynamics and sustainability of the economy


  • Remigijus Čiegis VU Kauno humanitarinis fakultetas
  • Raimondas Čiegis Vilniaus Gedimino technilkos universitetas


The consequences of mass and energy conservation and the laws of thermodynamics for economic activity are analysed. As the objectives, for this content of the relations between thermodynamics and economics is critically investigated. First, the relations between mass and energy conservation and the Laws of Thermodynamics are discussed. Then the analysis of neoclassical economics attitudes to the Laws of Thermodynamics is given. After this the analysis of the concept of weak sustainability and the Laws of Thermodynamics are discussed. Methods of systematic scientific literature analysis, general and logical analysis, comparison and generalization were used as the methods of the research. The relation between Thermodynamics and Economics is a paramount issue in Ecological Economics. Basically, the Laws of Thermodynamics are relevant to the economy because economic activity is entropic. The integration between economics and thermodynamics at the substantive level is of crucial importance because economic processes obey thermodynamic laws and therefore a sound economic theory must be coherent with thermodynamics. When applying a systems perspective to resources and environmental issues, it is natural to start with thermodynamics. Many resources and environmental problems have their roots in fundamental aspect of conservation of matter. When we analyzing the environmenteconomy interaction and taking economy, there in each stage of the production process waste will arise. The amount of waste in any period is equal to the amount of natural resources used. The reason for this equivalence is the First Law of Thermodynamics. But some waste can be converted back to resources. Materials in goods can be recycled. But why not all waste is recycled? It is here that the Second Law of Thermodynamics become relevant. The materials that are used in economy tend to be used entropically and entropy places a physical obstacle, a ‘boundary’, in the way of redesigning economy as a closed and sustainable system. In recent years a new discipline Industrial Ecology, has emerged. This new discipline has been built, to a large extent, based on perceived analogies between economic and ecological systems. But the essential ecological difference between people and other species is that, in addition to our biological metabolism, people created enterprises with industrial metabolism. This stands as a crucial opposition to evolution of biosphere, which took many billions of years to evolve. Interpretations of strong and weak sustainability can also be justified by studying the possibilities of substituting supplies of nature’s and economic capital or complementing each other. Strong sustainability requires both types of capital not to decrease for the benefit of one of significant indicators. The version of weak sustainability contains (making an unrealistic assumption about the perfect substitution of nature’s and man-made capital) the sum of the forms of both capital – nature’s and economic capital – or any other aggregated unit of measurement, and requires it not to decline all the time.

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