How Everything Works
How Everything Works How Everything Works
 

QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
 
Question 1172

If living organisms maintain their order by exporting disorder to their environment, do they create more disorder than the order they maintain? — CC
Living organisms create more disorder in their surroundings than they create order in themselves. Overall the disorder of the combined system—organisms and environment—increases. This result is an unavoidable consequence of the second law of thermodynamics, which notes that the entropy (disorder) of an isolated system can never decrease. While it is possible in principle for a living organism to export disorder so efficiently that the overall disorder remains unchanged, that perfection is never achieved. Instead, living organisms export far more disorder than is required for them to maintain order in themselves. As a result, living organisms are net producers of disorder.

In that respect, people are much more vigorous producers of disorder than most other living organisms. People seek order not only in their bodies, but also in the objects around them and they achieve this ordering by consuming order in their environment—fossil fuels, minerals, pure water—at a furious pace and producing disorder in its place—burned gases, garbage, polluted water. Fortunately, sunlight is a tremendous source of order for our earth and it undoes some of the disordering caused by living organisms. However, we are consuming much of the order that sunlight stored on earth over millions of years in only a few generations. At this pace, we're destined to have troubles with the disorder we're creating. Many of the environmental issues that face us today can be viewed from this order/disorder perspective: we have to learn how to create less disorder.

         

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