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To My Chinese Readers,
I feel deeply honored to have had the opportunity to write the Foreword to the Chinese Edition of my book. It is a privilege, indeed, to address to the most populous nation of planet Earth, with more than five thousand years of history, culture, and tradition.
I would like to thank the publisher, Hunan Science and Technology Press, and its Vice President and editor, Liu Didi, who has been extremely helpful in all of the phases. I am also grateful to Zhi Wang for her conscientious work in translating my book.
Thanks to globalization of economies, free trade, population growth, and advances in science and technology, our world is developing and changing massively and rapidly. In the past few decades, economic and scientific developments have picked up momentum throughout the world and have propelled many developing countries, in particular China, into industrialization and modernization, bringing increased incomes and living standards. In the process, China has become a major economic might.
At the same time, however, environmental and socioeconomic problems—often called challenges—have also grown throughout the world. These problems are not happening accidentally. They are consequences of the First and Second Laws of Thermodynamics—the Laws of Energy and Entropy—which this book is all about. These two laws of Nature control everything that is going on in our universe, including human activities. They affect us personally as well as humanity at large. Consequently, it is to our benefit to understand what these laws are all about and to pay special attention to them.
I spent more than two decades developing the concept, researching, thinking, and writing this book. Much has changed since its conception, but the Laws of Thermodynamics still apply. In fact, they have become even more relevant today, because world population, consumption of energy, and world trade have increased considerably, putting greater pressure on natural resources, and strain on the environment, humanity’s health and socioeconomic systems.
Nature has provided humanity with plenty of energy and natural resources. However, thermodynamics tells us—through its Second Law—that their use is not free of charge. Each kind of energy use leaves its own particular effect or effects on the environment, often creating ecological, social and health problems that demand attention. Consequently, socioeconomic systems need to recognize this fact and set policies accordingly.
In recent history, because of population growth, humans have turned increasingly to high-intensity agriculture, which encompass mechanization, irrigation, fertilizers and pesticides. While these technologies have helped increase yields per hectare, they have also perturbed the cycles of the biosphere, thus contributing to the entropy—disorder—of the environment. These technologies have increased soil erosion, polluted groundwater and water resources. Moreover, increased pesticide use has created serious public health and environmental headaches.
History shows that every scientific application—technology—brings with it certain side effects, which historians call unintended consequences of technology. In many cases, these side effects—disorders—create social and environmental problems, which individuals and societies cannot ignore and must address.
As we become knowledgeable of the Laws of Thermodynamics—especially the Second Law—we become aware of the consequences of our actions. Thermodynamics helps us realize how Nature works, and thus live harmoniously with Nature and each other.