Thermodynamic Efficiencies of Peer Production

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= research project of the P2P Foundation, in collaboration and under the leadership of the Blaqswan's Collective and others

URL = (bibliography of material)

The aim is to calculate the potential drastic reduction of resource use, if all the elements of the peer production stack were used concurrently and integratively. The original document was prepared by Celine and Xavier @ BlaqSwans Collective in Dec-March 2016.


"To document and show the thermodynamic efficiencies of peer production: i.e. showing that with 80% less matter and energy, we could conserve 80% of vital modern infrastructures, avoiding a post-peak-oil (peak resources, climate change) meltdown.

In other words: to show that a transition to open and shared models can result in significant savings in the amount of matter and energy needed for a civilized and comfortable infrastructure. Our wild guess is that 20% of current levels would allow us 80% of current usage levels (say the level of the 1960s in the West)."

The Report

* Report: Peer to Peer and the Commons: a path towards transition. A matter, energy and thermodynamic perspective. Céline Piques and Xavier Rizos. P2P Foundation, 2017.


Xavier Rizon on the preliminary plan of the first output, from a skype conversation, as understood by Michel Bauwens:

"First of all, it seems to us that neoclassical "price" economics is influenced by mechanistic thought, see the true price as something that 'gravitates' to the right equilibrium.

But it is entirely de-linked from its material-energetic basis which is determined by thermodynamic laws and entropy. The main issue here is that humans are using matter/energy much faster than its capacity to be regenerated in any useful way for us. A good example is the 'time in residence' of a plastic cup. The reasoning goes like this, it takes at least a million years for nature to produce oil, which is 1) extracted in Saudi Arabia 2) transformed into plastic pellets; 3) these are then send to China, where they are transformed into plastic cups, 4) then send to the whole world for use; 5) but a plastic cup used for an espresso ('time in residence') is used only 20 seconds. This is the problem!!

The major consequence from this insight is we cannot recycle our way back on a systemic level, but that local negentropy is possible, i.e. locally we can recreate order in disorder, for example by transforming the sun's energy into food production.

This is the philosophical basis of what we call "Cosmo-Localisation: big systems create entropy, but local systems can create negentropy.

We know from living systems that an organism that keeps growing is cancerous, so the key quesiton is: how do we reach steady-state ?

So the 2nd part of the paper looks at growth.

Francois Grosse, (former french engineer of Veolia) shows that circular economy cannot work above 1% growth, you merely differ the resource depletion of raw materials by maximum 60 years, but right now, most material use curves are actually 2-3%, which means they are all following an Exponential Function. So even with recycling rates of 90% we have no solution for material depletion!

So we need to limit growth, not of GDP which is a fairly meaningless metric, but directly related to the extraction of materials.

THE ONLY WAY WE CAN CHANGE IS THROUGH THE RE-APPROPRIATION OF THE COMMONS!!! This means we need a massive program of mutualization of the use of infrastructures and resources to drastically diminish the material/energy usage of local communities. Indeed, when we achieved growth below 1%, the results become positive again ;

So what we do: 1) prohibit planned obsolescence 2) mutualize physical resources 3) cosmo-localize production. Knowledge commons are the sine qua non to make sure all technical innovations in the diminishing of resource use, can be replicated as fast as possible in the whole world.

So we know that peer production works for immaterial production, can we extend it to physical production is the key question that needs to be solved.

To verify our intiutions and arguments based on our reading of the scientific literature, we then study examples from food production and distribution, and we show that it actually works!!

Eco-agriculture needs some transitiontime (3-4 years), as it is the equivalent of athletes suddenly stopping with steroids, but then becomes more productive than industrial agriculture. Renewable energy works as well, mark jabobson proves 100% transition is possible according to various studies. The study then moves to non-renewable resources; this is where the full gamut of p2p/commons solutions will be needed (massive mutualization).


More Information

  • Big picture and context provided by Michel Bauwens: