Thermodynamic Perspectives on Peer to Peer and the Commons as a Path Towards Transition

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* 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.



"The Commons movement is facing a challenge: to articulate the optimum rate at which a resource can be harvested or used without damaging its ability to replenish itself.

The next economy will have to balance the needs of Earth’s expanding population with the shrinking level of resources which are available to everyone. This dynamic equilibrium is called carrying capacity. It is a middle path between the ‘entropic’ faster, geometric growth rates of human population, individual consumption and economic production, and the ‘negentropic’ slower, arithmetic replenishment rates of water, food and fossil fuels.

This means that the carrying capacity rate for renewable resources will have to follow a carefully guided policy of maintenance and sustenance to ensure that resources are replenished sustainably in meeting the needs of people. The carrying capacity rates of non-renewable resources are much more challenging and will have to be treated very differently. Society will have to decide scientifically how much non-renewable resources to use in the present and how much to save for the future.

This study in 2 volumes leads to an analysis of the thermodynamic downside of free trade and the thermodynamic potential relocalization of production and distribution.

The first volume of this research explores how scientists and thinkers have come to realise that thermodynamics teaches us that economic theory must take into consideration the constraints of our ecosystem. It also articulates why contrary to what classical economics implies, the possibility to decouple growth from resource use is a myth, and why the commons and commons-based peer production are the right paradigms for the new economy.

The second volume surveys current practices in agro-economics and the dynamics of resource replenishment. It is also a basis for undertaking a future structural analysis of the thermodynamics of relocalization. It shows with scenarios applied to food and fibre, non-renewable resources, and energy, how the commons economy help us overcome the impasse of unlimited growth.

“Those who see the world as a mechanism, a clock, do not look at the economy in the same way as those who see it as a deteriorating energy system,” said French economist René Passet.

Whilst the task of shifting our mindset from looking at a mechanism to looking at a deteriorating energy system, as well as designing new practical alternatives is enormous and might feel daunting, there is however “a light on the hill” provided by the various precursors, influencers, thinkers and practitioners who have collectively started to write the blueprint of this new paradigm."





“The early classical economists intuited that some kind of dynamic balance was underpinning economics, and under the Newtonian influence, the price system became an incomplete and misaligned explanation of the essential relationship between resources and population. In other words, balancing supply and demand emerged as a weak substitute for balancing resources and population. Fast forward a few centuries, the Laws of Thermodynamics now give us the framework we need to consider to shift model, but they do not give us ‘how’ it should be done. The Commons, as an idea and practice, has emerged as a new social, political and economic dynamic that can provide this ‘how’.”




“The only way to materially curb the effect of exponential growth rates on non-renewable resource is to seriously limit the rate of their extraction.”