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Entropic creep revisited

Posted By Chris Reay, Tuesday, 08 December 2015

A complex factory and a teeming metropolis combined, busily devoted to constructing, repairing and maintaining its systems to ensure that it delivers its support to the mega system. A frenzy of electrical energy that, if scaled up to visible dimensions, would represent the energy of a lightning strike. It works to a plan that all parts understand is part of the grand architecture”.


What is being described here is a living cell, of which you typically have some 10,000 trillion in your body. And as long as you are alive, they are all working pretty well. They work hard to ensure that your energy and survival remain at a sustained level. In another way one could conclude that the system entropy remains low as there is normally no degradation until we actually expire. Even then, at atomic level, the parts rush off to work elsewhere.


While the body collective is at work, it will be receiving energy in the form of sustenance to feed the cells. As long as we feed in sufficient energy, we will get work output. If we overwork and take out of the system more than we put in, the active system will die.


In this exercise we will assume that the system is the SA economy with all its persons acting as the cells, the actions of which should be planned by a cohesive design to create the energy such that its consumption is less that its production. That design would be the rules and practices set up by those in the role of having been elected to do so. The problem arises when the architecture is flawed and fails to provide a net energy growth by suitable conversion.


This is a long way round, couched in technical speak, that implies that the model in question is running out of money and all indications are evident that it will do so within the next 2 to 3 years. The intervening circumstances however will be horrendous.


We need a built environment to provide the right conditions for the people to generate the energy (wealth) to sustain the system. We as a nation are in serious trouble with the deterioration in the number and type of projects that build the economy. Engineered projects are not happening. The commodities base of the historic economy is dying, if not already dead, and the downstream activities are starved of action including the EPCM, EPC, contractor, supplier and service roles that have been the backbone of the SA economy for 100 years. We are witnessing more retrenchments in our measured scarce resources than take-ons. The result is scary to watch and many facing the situation are seeking opportunity outside SA. Our own policy makers seem to believe it is all the global economy’s fault and wallow in their comfort while the citizens face accelerating hardship of unemployment and despair. If we ever, by some magical formulation, reverse the rot and start to provide a growth path, we will then, like an ironic twist, face the biggest skills’ scarcities ever. We do not have the project environment to enable our young engineering resources to train and gather experience. Thus the centre of gravity of the useful, experienced resources is perceptibly now in the 50-70 age group who we must utilise as Mentors and Coaches for the younger resources. But where are the projects?


What can we as the engineering intellectuals of SA do about this? For decades we warned about the electricity crisis and have been doing so about the water situation and lack of infrastructure maintenance which is now emerging as predicted. It was ignored. How do we get the message of entropic creep into the minds of government? We know it is probably beyond their comprehension to understand anything with a thermodynamic flavour which is why we endeavour to provide “simple” analogies.


Foreign investor attitude is changing: billions of dollars that were directed into our shares and bonds over the past two decades are being withdrawn. When the tax base revenue declines below the endemic ability of the government to spend on so much non-productive activities, we will of necessity have to go cap in hand to the IMF. That will change the rules of the game by force.


Try messing with the proven mechanisms of a living cell. It is usually catastrophic.


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