We have often encountered the first law of thermodynamics in this blog, or at least
as it applies to obesity. This week the Second Law – the law that governs
entropy and the movement of heat -has taken centre stage for a change. CABI’s
own Peter Baker has dealt with the subject eloquently this week in an article he
wrote for BBC News’s online forum, GreenRoom.

According to the Second Law of Thermodynamics, as Baker explains, the Universe
is inexorably heading to increased randomness and disorder – entropy. It takes
energy to counteract this natural drift and generate the state of order we need
to function. Living things are highly ordered assemblies of molecules fighting a
constant battle against entropy. It costs energy for our world to exist as it
is. For example, the energy used to plant, grow, harvest, process, pack, store,
monitor, administer, transport, display and sell tomatoes in the US consumes
four times as many calories as the calorific value of the tomatoes created, as
baker explains. The evolution of systems like this was possible because we
humans have always had access to a plentiful supply of energy and plenty of
space to dump the waste.
In his work as a Commodities Development Specialist at CABI,
Baker is part of a team that works on multidisciplinary projects to develop and
improve crop production in a sustainable way. Much of this work is done on crops
grown in developing countries and many of these crops are grown for export, like
coffee and cocoa (possibly my two favourite beans). However, growing crops for
cash, rather than food means that ‘trucks carrying away the produce along bumpy
rural roads sometimes pass food aid trucks coming in the opposite direction.’
This food aid originates from the same countries the produce is going to. Put
like this, something has clearly gone awry. Baker explains the situation in
‘Feeling the heat of food security’. I suggest you go there now.

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