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3 - The Earth Is a Negentropic System, or “the Bright Side of Empty”

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 June 2021

Chris C. Funk
Affiliation:
University of California, Santa Barbara
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Summary

Here, framed in the context of a humorous story, we learn about the electromagnetic spectrum, entropy, negentropy, and available potential energy. We learn to see stars as tremendous gravity-driven concentrations of matter and energy, uniquely capable of supporting increased complexity and life on our planet. Seen from this perspective, the vast empty reaches of space allow for the formation of stars, which in turn support life. Energetically closed systems are doomed to entropic heat death, as mixing drives the system inexorably toward a boring end. But energetically open systems, like the Earth, absorb solar radiation and turn it into growing complexity on a planet hovering in a “magic” and narrow temperature range. This “negentropic” system can evolve over time. This increasing complexity arises because this incoming energy supports temperature gradients that drive weather and climate systems. Climate change adds more energy, and this extra energy can create more intense gradients, and more intense weather and climate events. Understanding this simple fact improves our ability to recognize and predict the dangerous impacts occurring now. At large scales, exceptionally warm tropical waters drive drought-inducing semi-global rainfall disruptions. At regional scales, warmer Ocean and atmosphere conditions can lead to more intense storms and hurricanes. As more energy moves through our Earth system, we are experiencing more extreme weather and climate.

Type
Chapter
Information
Drought, Flood, Fire
How Climate Change Contributes to Catastrophes
, pp. 40 - 58
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2021

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