THERMODYNAMIC LIMITS TO ENERGY GROWTH. I have often encountered arguments on the physical limits to economic growth that are based on a fixed supply of energy or on adverse consequences of global warming. The “Finite Physicist” makes a different argument for the physical limits to energy growth: there is a thermodynamic limit on how much energy can be used on earth. The physicist says that “the Earth has only one mechanism for releasing heat to space, and that’s via (infrared) radiation. We … can predict the surface temperature of the planet as a function of how much energy the human race produces. The upshot is that at a 2.3% growth rate (conveniently chosen to represent a 10× increase every century), we would reach boiling temperature in about 400 years.” That is, if humans increase their energy use at a plausible rate based on history, we reach a crisis four centuries from now.

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