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Ethics in Science and Environmental Politics

    ESEP prepress abstract   -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/esep00213

    Beyond fatalism: Gaia, entropy, and the autonomy of anthropogenic life on Earth

    Alejandro Merlo*, Xabier E. Barandiaran

    *Corresponding author:

    ABSTRACT: The current disruption of ecosystems and climate systems can be likened to an increase in entropy within our planet. This concept is often linked to the second law of thermodynamics, which predicts a necessary rise in entropy resulting from all material and energy-related processes, including the intricate organization of living systems. Consequently, discussions surrounding the ongoing crisis commonly carry an underlying sense of fatalism when referencing thermodynamic principles. In this study, we explore how the understanding of life has been harmonized with thermodynamics to show that entropy production is a consequence of heightened complexity in life rather than its breakdown. Furthermore, it is crucial to perform a thermodynamic analysis of the Earth system as a whole to dispel fatalistic assumptions. The extremum principles linked to thermodynamics do not foretell the precise evolution of complex organizations but rather set the thermodynamic boundaries associated with their development. Ultimately, treating the Earth System as an integrated autonomous entity in which life and human societies play pivotal roles is essential for charting a sustainable path forward for humanity. Understanding how to contribute to thermodynamic states that are more conducive to life, rather than hastening the journey towards chaotic states, is paramount for human survival and well-being in the Anthropocene era.