Futurist Jeremy Rifkin’s 1980 book “Entropy” deals with the second law of thermodynamics and its implications in our society.

Jeremy Rifkin’s doom’s day story

Surveys show that Seoul National University students’ best books include “Sapiens,” “Homo Deus,” “Guns, Germs, and Steel,” “Silent Spring,” “The Selfish Gene,” and “Entropy.” The university is South Korea’s most prestigious ivory tower.

All the books appear to deserve the accolade. In consideration of his other magnum opus like “The Age of Access” and “The Zero Marginal Cost Society,” futurist Jeremy Rifkin’s “Entropy” should be fine, too.

Reading through the 1980 book, however, I think that “Entropy” is disappointing. It was a doomsday story written in the late 1970s when the world suffered from the Second Oil Crisis.

“Time goes forward because energy itself is always moving from an available to an unavailable state … We watch our friends get old and die. We sit next to a fire and watch its red-hot embers turn slowly into cold white ashes,” he notes.

“We experience the world always changing around us, and that experience is the unfolding of the second law. It is the irreversible process of dissipation of energy in the world.”

Coming up with a message that the world is running out of time, the book has two unspoken assumptions about entropy, the earth and the universe.

Rifkin assumes that the earth is situated in a closed system, which can exchange energy with its surroundings but not matter, while the universe is sitting in an isolated system, which cannot exchange energy and matter.

By comparison, an open system can exchange both energy and matter. Entropy can be reduced in an open system at the cost of its surroundings.

By exploring Mars, what Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk try to achieve is to make the earth an open system. And who knows whether the universe is not an isolated system? What if it is a part of the multiverse and is affected by the gravity of neighbor universes?

At least, he was overly pessimistic, as amply demonstrated by his prediction that our crude oil reserve will be gone by 2005. But global companies are still pumping out oils and other petroleum liquids.

Hillary Lee studied literature in Seoul. Lee has big interests on various topics including IT, BT, business and finance. Lee can be reached at or 82-2-6956-6698.