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Social entropy is a macrosociological systems theory. It is a measure of the natural decay within a social system. It can refer to the decomposition of social structure or of the disappearance of social distinctions. Much of the energy consumed by a social organization is spent to maintain its structure, counteracting social entropy, e.g., through legal institutions, education and even the promotion of television viewing. Anomie is the maximum state of social entropy.[disputed ] Social entropy implies the tendency of social networks and society in general to break down over time, moving from cooperation and advancement towards conflict and chaos.
Energy returned on energy invested theories
A related economic model is proposed by Thomas Homer-Dixon and by Charles Hall in relation to our declining productivity of energy extraction, or Energy returned on energy invested or EROEI. This measures the amount of surplus energy a society gets from using energy to obtain energy.
There would be no surplus if EROEI approaches 1:1. What Hall argued is that the real cutoff is well above that, estimated to be 3:1 to sustain the essential overhead energy costs of a modern society. Part of the mental equation is that the EROEI of our traditional energy source, oil, has fallen in the past century from 100:1 to the range of 10:1 with clear evidence that Fossil Fuel natural depletion curves all are downward decay curves. An EROEI of more than ~3, then, is what appears necessary to provide the energy for societally important tasks, such as maintaining government, legal and financial institutions, a transportation infrastructure, manufacturing, building construction and maintenance and the life styles of the rich and poor that a society depends on.
The EROEI figure also affects the number of people needed for food production. In the pre-modern world, it was often the case that 80% of the population was employed in agriculture to feed a population of 100%, with a low energy budget. In modern times, the use of cheap fossil fuels with an exceedingly high EROEI enabled 100% of the population to be fed with only 4% of the population employed in agriculture. Diminishing EROEI making fuel more expensive relative to other things may require food to be produced using less fossil fuel energy, and so increases the number of people employed in food production again unless fossil fuels are replaced with renewable sources.
- Klaus Krippendorff's Dictionary of Cybernetics (University of Pennsylvania)
- Kenneth D. Bailey (1990). Social Entropy Theory. Albany, New York: State University of New York (SUNY) Press. ISSN 1094-429X