How the Second Law of Thermodynamics Took Down Ancient Egypt

I know what you are thinking. What does science have to with the fall of arguably the most remarkable and culturally rich nation’s demise? To understand this puzzling question, we first must understand the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Rudolf Julius Emanuel Clausius was born to a wealthy family on January 2, 1822 in Poland. In 1840 he attended the University of Berlin with hopes of pursing a degree in history. However, he discovered a new passion and concentrated on mathematics and physics instead.[1]

Clausius became famous in 1850 when he wrote his first paper on the mechanical theory of heat, otherwise known as the second law of thermodynamics[2]. This law essentially states three important facts: 1. Heats travels hot to cold, 2. Heat cannot be converted into useful work, and 3. Every isolated system becomes disorderly overtime. [3] The third part of this law is the most important in understanding the fall of Ancient Egypt. In simplistic terms, as time continues, things decay. For example, refer to the diagram below to look at a snow flake. Snowflakes start off as orderly systems with intricate patterns unique to every flake. However, as time continues snowflakes melt and turn into water. What once was an ordered system, turned into chaos. Disorder is always more probable then order in any system.[4]


This image describes how over time systems become more disorderly. [5]


The Fall of Ancient Egypt

Ancient Egypt was one of the most influential River Valley civilizations that lasted from 3000 BCE until 332 BCE. This empire outlived Christianity by a thousand years and was already gone by the time western culture even existed.[6] The Egyptians created an empire that they thought would last an eternity. Due to its geological location, it was no surprise that Egypt became one of the most power nations in this region. Being near the Nile River and having fertile land made producing food a breeze. Having easy access to food, allowed the Egyptians to pursue other endeavors such as building the Great Pyramids of Giza (see image below). They also had an abundance of resources to create such huge monuments.

This is picture of the Pyramids of Giza. [6]

Unlike a snowflake, the Ancient Egypt’s transitions to disorder took about 3,000 years. It was very gradual, and can be broken up into 3 main periods: the Old Kingdom, the Middle Kingdom and New Kingdom. As each kingdom progressed, the entropy increased. Entropy measures the degree of disorder in the system.[6] As the entropy increased, this nation constantly got one step closer to destruction. In the path to demise, there where uprising, wars, corrupt rulers, oppression, droughts, and famine.[7] Finally around 300 BCE, the mighty Egyptians where defeated by the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

What does that mean for us?  

Have you ever wondered why the world seemed to be falling apart? There is murder corruption, war, and greed seen everywhere across the globe on the daily. The world as we know it, moment by moment is getting more chaotic. One day there will no longer be a United States of America or the even the ideas in which we hold dear. There will come a day our civilization will succumb to the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Every day entropy in our system increases; it is just a matter of time before we become like the Egyptians.

Energy Production Gone Wrong… Surprised?

March 11, 2011, a major earthquake, followed by a 15-meter tsunami, destroyed the power supply and cooling of three Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power reactors, causing a nuclear catastrophe. The plants at Fukushima were Boiling Water Reactors (BWR, shown in Figure 1.). A BWR produces electricity by boiling water with nuclear fuel and uses the steam from the water to drive a turbine, which creates electricity. The steam then is cooled and condenses back into water until it is heated by nuclear fuel again. The nuclear fuel is uranium oxide, a radioactive mineral.

Figure 1: Model of a Boiling Water Reactor used at Fukushima.

Figure 1: Model of a Boiling Water Reactor used at Fukushima.

The devastation from Fukushima released unmanageable amounts of radiation, and about 80% of the radiation is still being released into the Pacific Ocean through ground water. Yet, why is this relevant to us? 300 tons of radioactive water from Fukushima enters the Pacific Ocean every day, and it has started to affect the United States. According to the Nuclear Emergency Tracking Center, radiation levels all over the U.S. are elevating, specifically the west coast. (Shown in Figure 2.). The total amount of radioactive material from Fukushima is increasing everyday in the U.S., and it is steadily building up in our food chain, which could cause radiation poisoning in innocent civilians all over America.

Figure 2.  Caution Symbols Key: Yellow/Green = Normal levels of Radiation Yellow/Black = Rising levels of Radiation Yellow/Red = Elevated levels of Radiation Black/Red = Concern/Watch levels of Radiation

Figure 2.
Caution Symbols Key:
Yellow/Green = Normal levels of Radiation
Yellow/Black = Rising levels of Radiation
Yellow/Red = Elevated levels of Radiation
Black/Red = Concern/Watch levels of Radiation

With an increase of radioactive material in our food chain, people will have a high risk of developing cancer or other health problems due to the high exposure of nuclear radiation. These possible risks are already being foreshadowed by the effects the nuclear radiation is having on the ecosystems along the west coast. On the Alaskan coastline, polar bears, seals, and walruses are beginning to suffer from alopecia (loss of fur) and skin lesions, and along the California coastline there has been a tragic amount of sea-lion deaths. For example, 45% of the pups born during the summer have died, when usually pup deaths are below 33%. Also, many types of fish are being affected by the radiation. Along the Canada and Alaska coastlines, the population of sockeye salmon is at a “historic low.” Along the west coast of Canada, fish are suddenly bleeding from their gills, bellies, and eyeballs, and the cause is predicted to be nuclear radiation. A test in California found that 15 out of 15 Bluefin tuna were contaminated with radiation from Fukushima and plankton found in the Pacific Ocean between Hawaii and the West Coast had very high levels of cesium-137 (radioactive metal). With these cases of death, disease, and illness within the ecosystems of the west coast of North America, soon enough, nuclear radiation may begin to affect innocent people.

It is a terrifying thought how the production of energy can cause such devastation. In fact, it is ironic   how the nuclear plants, which hurt the environment, have been destroyed by the environment (natural disasters), and in result will affect us, the people whom are using the energy. Fukushima is an example of how energy production cannot only directly affect the environment, but also can directly affect the health of humans. How can we prevent this is the future? We can produce energy with safer and more renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind energy, a simple, yet expensive method. Although using more efficient energy sources can raise the bills, when it comes down to it, what is more important, health or money?

The Duality of Science and Religion

Science and religion are often times considered to be far apart on the spectrum of academia. Nevertheless, the efforts of Pope Benedict XVI, also known as the “Green Pope” have effectively linked Catholic faith with working towards a more energy efficient world.

In 2009, Pope Benedict XVI installed over 1,000 solar panels in the Vatican. Solar power is energy from the sun that is converted into solar or thermal (heat) energy. Figure 1 shows the highly efficient roof of the Vatican.

Figure 1


Solar power is a clean energy source, meaning it’s efficient and renewable. Solar panels are “large flat panels made up of solar cells.” (seia) These solar cells are made of materials that, when struck by light, turn the energy within sunlight into an electrical current.  This electrical current can then be harnessed as electricity. Figure 2, illustrates this process.

Figure 2


The most important thing to understand about solar energy, and all sources of clean energy, is that it generates electricity with little to no pollution or contribution to climate change.

The Catholic’s church journey to energy efficiency isn’t limited to the actions of the “Green Pope.” Last month, a group of Catholic Bishops from all over the globe “called on the world’s governments to end fossil fuel use…citing climate change’s threat to the global poor.” (thinkprogress) Climate change is any notable change in temperature, precipitation or wind patterns. It is attributed to large amount of carbon dioxide and other green houses gases entering the atmosphere. The majority of these greenhouse gases are emitted through the burning of fossil fuels to produce energy. The greenhouse gases that build up in the atmosphere “act like a blanket around Earth, trapping energy in the atmosphere and causing it to warm.” This process is called the greenhouse effect.  This resulting change in climate is dangerous to the health of ecosystems and humans. For example, through changing the consistent climate of a region, the population’s ability to obtain water and maintain agriculture can be disturbed.

The bishops also called for a global agreement to lower carbon emissions. They argued that in doing so “the immediate needs of the most vulnerable communities” will be prioritized. The globe’s most impoverished populations are particularly vulnerable to droughts, floods, storms and other extreme weather attributable to climate change. The Catholic Bishops called attention to the moral side of energy efficiency by connecting the use of fossil fuel to victimizing impoverished populations.

The way in which the Catholic Church is able to relate an issue rooted in science to a question of morality is articulated when Daniel Stone notes, “Benedict (the Green Pope) is able to “inject morality into environmental debate. Changing light bulbs or saving a wild animal by protecting the habitat wasn’t about saving money… but was a religious obligation.” (nationalgeographic) Making clean energy the scrupulous choice is an excellent way to spread awareness of energy efficient practices.

Often times when people think of saving energy, it’s simply to save electricity.  Usually saving energy isn’t a a question of the right thing to do.  When Pope Benedict says, “If we want justice and peace, we must protect the habitat that sustains us, “ he makes saving energy a question of being morally right or wrong. Furthermore, he connects Catholic faith to preserving the environment through energy efficiency. I’m not religious, but, to me, tying energy efficiency to being ethically “good” is more affective than knowing that I save X amount of energy when I turn my light off or recycle. The key to getting anyone to do something is getting him or her to care. The actions of the “Green Pope” and the Catholic Church are a step towards doing just that.


Has Energy Wastage Really Decreased Over the Years?

Over the years technological advancements have been made with the hopes of making individuals lives easier. However, there have also been several advancements made with the hopes of helping reduce the energy wastage. The problem is that as technology advances, the price of technology increases, and the idea of trying to conserve energy becomes less appealing. According to a report in 2005, commercial and residential buildings are responsible for 38.9% of the total energy consumption in 2005 in the US. In 2005, 53.7% of the total is used by residential buildings, while the remaining 46.3% is used by commercial buildings. The US has always been the larges consumer of energy, which also leads it to be the largest contributor to energy wastage. If you look at the Figure 1 below, you can clearly see that the US uses more energy than any other country.

Figure 1.


You may ask yourself why the US uses so much energy, especially when we have a smaller population that other countries. There are many reasons, but one reason is because we are the worlds leader in oil consumption, consuming up to 25% of the total oil consumption. If you look at Figure 2 you can see that not only has there has been an increase in oil consumption in the US, but also around the world.

Figure 2.


Now, lets take a closer look at the US. In the United States, a majority of the energy consumption that occurs in building happens in residential buildings, such as homes and apartments. While this may make sense, it also makes it harder to fix. There are more homeowners than commercial business owners, therefore making commercial building energy efficient seems like it is an easier task. More specifically, 51% of the electricity consumed in the US occurs in residential buildings and 74.4% of the total water consumption is used by homeowners in their homes. Water consumption has doubled over a span of 50 years, from 1950 to 2000, causing the average person to use about 100 gallons of water everyday. Furthermore, 4 billion dollars is spent every year in the United States to provide energy to run drinking water and wastewater utilities. By using better efficiency equipment, we can reduce up to 10% of the cost, which is equivalent to 400 million dollars.

Going Back to what I had mentioned before, the reason that energy efficient technology is not used that often is because the price of buying energy efficient equipment is a lot more expensive. However, something that many people don’t understand is that in the long term the investment will help because it will actually help you save money.

A perfect example of this occurred in Four Seasons Resort in Maui. The resort began to make advancements in their technology which costed up to $8 million dollars, however once all of the advancements are done, the resort will save over $1 million. In the long run, not only will they gain their $8 million, but they will save much more than that.

So has Energy wastage changed over the years? In my opinion, I think that energy wastage will decrease, if it hasn’t already because of people who want to make advancements so they don’t waste $94,000 because of a leak.

Efficient Energy Please, the Japanese Do it with Ease

Everyone these days seems to be obsessed with saving energy. The word “sustainability” and “go green” seem to be all that were hearing these days. Some people hear these ideas of being energy efficient and it goes straight in one ear and out the other. Some countries however, truly want to create  a sustainable, energy efficient environment, and currently Japan sets the highest standard as the most energy efficient country (Figure 1).

Figure 1:


Japan has always prided itself off being 30 years ahead of other global super powers in terms creating an energy efficiency initiative. After the 1970 increase in oil price (figure 2) it was evident that “if something wasn’t done, life wouldn’t be sustainable” . Japan and several other countries suffered economically and Japan’s economy in particular “was on the brink of collapsing. This prompted the Japanese government to take initiative and increase energy efficiency across their country.

Figure 2:


The Japanese government has had a great influence over the Japanese people and their energy efficiency. In doing so, the government established several movements and laws in hopes of creating a sustainable country. Several conservation laws were passed forcing factories to replace old inefficient boilers and assembly-line machinery with new energy efficient equipment. There is also a law put into place which requires each factory to hire an individual who is in charge of overseeing factory energy efficiency. This is a very demanding job as by law, Japanese factories are required to become more energy efficient by one percent every year.  Japanese individuals have also started movements such “Setsudan” which emerged to “encourage people and companies to conserve energy and prevent rolling power cuts”. Japanese individuals will increase temperatures in homes and offices, thin lighting by removing some of the bulbs, and stop using big screen and exterior lighting in hopes of cutting back on energy.  These cut backs in energy use are obviously working as”Japan’s industrial sector uses the same amount of energy as 40 years ago, despite the dramatic economic growth since then”. These laws and movements have now become a Japanese way of life as most families live and operate in energy efficient manners.

Japan faces extreme temperatures in the Summer however typical Japanese families rarely uses their Air Conditioners. Most Japanese have AC units in every room of their homes. In doing so this enables them to save energy in the long run. AC units are only turned on in rooms which are occupied this saves more energy compared to having constant central air. Not only this, but the Japanese also have power strips with individual on/off switches so that their appliances won’t waste energy. Most families also purchase LED lights as well to conserve light energy. Families even save water by sharing bathwater; some individuals even have bathtubs that talk to them and warn them when they are wasting energy (figure 3) . Families are also prompted to conserve energy because of the high energy bills which costs twice as much in Japan as in the US, because Japan imports nearly all of it’s fossil fuels. 

Figure 3:


No matter what the motivation is for the Japanese, whether it is fear of high energy bills, or the fear of living in an unsustainable environment, Japan is setting a great example for the rest of the world in terms of energy efficiency.  In fact, recently Obama mentioned Japan as a country we should strive to be like in terms of our own energy consumption in the US.  Although it could take sometime, I am very hopeful that with some new laws and green initiatives, the US can soon become a green, sustainable country which excels in energy efficiency as well.

What’s happening with the Carbon Cycle

How the Carbon Cycle should be

The carbon cycle tells us how carbon, one of the most essential elements needed for life, travels from the surface of the earth to the atmosphere. A producer uses carbon dioxide in order to conduct photosynthesis. Then a primary consumer will eat the consumer and the carbon will also be transferred from the producer to the consumer.Then when another consumer eats that consumer or it dies the carbon dioxide will be released into the atmosphere and the cycle will restart. Carbon can also be stored for longer periods of time during the carbon cycle. Forests are a good carbon sink because trees can hold carbon for multiple years. Trees also provide the atmosphere with oxygen using carbon dioxide during photosynthesis. Recently, scientists have been observing that the majority of carbon sinks are located in the southern hemisphere but not in “big forests, but in dry places, even deserts, places where the only green things are shrubs or tall grass.” This had scientists wondering what was happening because this was not coherent with the carbon cycle, so they did research and learned that rain played apart in this occurrence. The year before this happened the precipitation in the southern hemisphere was more than usual and it caused the carbon dioxide to move to these dry environments. Scientists reported that “plants become more efficient with their water use under elevated CO2 in the atmosphere.” The plants in these areas then flourish with the rain and carbon dioxide because both water and CO2 are necessary for photosynthesis to occur. Ecologists were concerned about this change in the carbon cycle because they fear that it is not sustainable. Ecologist Daniel Metcalfe at the University of Lund in Sweden explained that having carbon stored in small plants is a short term solution because these plants usually live for a couple of years. He stressed that trees were the ideal place to store carbon for “tens or hundreds or sometimes even thousands of years.” The carbon cycle is one of the most important cycles that we must monitor because of its relevance to life on earth. With the recent increase in combustion of carbon due to human reliance on coal, oil, and natural gases the amount of carbon in the atmosphere is not healthy because the ratio of carbon in the atmosphere to carbon in the earth’s surface is supposed to be close. With the combustion of fossil fuels and the cutting down of trees in forests the ratio of carbon in the atmosphere to carbon on earth’s surface is becoming unstable. The carbon cycle is important to monitor in order to ensure the sustainability of life on our earth! Listen to the NPR on this it’s very interesting! Link is in the bibliography.


Disrupting the Carbon Cycle is not the only thing Deforestation is Responsible for…

Africa supports approximately 30% of the forests in the world, with a large amount of these forests located in Upper Guinea and Lower Guinea (Congo). Yet, these forests have been subject to an immense amount of deforestation. Although deforestation provides people with goods and resources, it is terrible for the balance of the Carbon Cycle and our atmospheric layers. Trees have large amounts of Carbon in their wood, and therefore when they are cut or burned, CO2 is released into the atmosphere. Unless there are enough trees planted or grown to recapture the lost carbon, the exchange between trees and the atmosphere of CO2 is put out of balance, which is a cause of global warming.

Although global warming is a very popular and conversational topic, there is one topic that is stealing everyone’s attention. You guessed it, Ebola. Ebola is one of the most dangerous viruses in the world today, causing many symptoms, one being internal bleeding, and is most likely by followed death. Now, you may be asking, “What does Ebola have to do with deforestation in Guinea?” Well, this latest Ebola epidemic is believed to have started in one of the small towns in Guinea, and has now spread all over West Africa (See Figure 1.).

Map of Africa depicting Ebola Cases

Figure 1: This map of Africa Depicts what areas Ebola cases have been confirmed or suspected. The highlighted areas in red show where confirmed and probable cases of Ebola have been found. The tan highlighted areas show where suspected cases of Ebola are. As shown in the map, a lot of these highlighted areas are in the Guinea region, where the Ebola epidemic is believed to have started.

People in West Africa commonly eat Fruit Bats in stew, yet bats are known to be carriers of the Ebola Virus. Due to deforestation, many animals’ habitats are being destroyed, including bats. With bat’s habitats destroyed and human’s have moved into prior forest areas, the interactions between bats and people in West Africa has increased greatly. This increased interaction between humans and bats has also greatly increased the chance that one of the fruit bats that are eaten contained the virus Ebola, and sadly this event did occur. Yet, it did not just effect a few people in Guinea, it has spread all over West Africa, taking thousands of people’s lives, and is now spreading into other continents, such as the United States. While the CDC and other organizations are attempting to contain and control this outbreak, it has not had much effect, and the virus continues to spread rapidly.

Ebola, according to the World Health Organization, has already claimed AT LEAST 4,493 lives, and the number is increasing. Yet, what played a major role in this epidemic? It was human’s impact on the environment. Deforestation has claimed not only a vast amount of the forest biomes in West Africa since 1955, it has also claimed thousands of people’s lives. (displayed in Figure 2.),

West Africa Deforestation from 1955 to 1988

Figure 2. Shows West Africa in 1955 in the top picture and West Africa in 1988 in the bottom picture. The green represents where “closed forest cover,” or full forest, is, the dark yellow represents ‘Fragmented forest,” and the light yellow represents where deforestation has taken place. These two photos show how drastic deforestation has struck West Africa and therefore gives you an idea of how many animal habitats were destroyed and taken over by humans. The full picture of Africa on the bottom right also shows this by using the red areas to depict where deforestation has taken place. This also refers back to Figure 1. and shows how greatly West Africa and specifically Guinea was affected by deforestation.

While global warming did become a large controversy, hopefully this deadly outbreak of the Ebola virus that has ignited immense fear and panic can express to the public what serious effects humans have on the environment, and how what we do to the environment, can strike back on us.