Energy capture, technological change, and economic growth: an evolutionary perspective

Abstract. The goal of this article is to formulate a clear, pragmatic, and thorough report of the knowledge that a thermo-evolutionary perspective can bring to enlighten the economic growth process. First, correct definitions of important concepts such as exergy, entropy, self-organization, and dissipative structures are recalled, and the meaning of thermodynamic extremization principles for the evolution of physical and biological systems are explained. The attention then turns to economic systems, and it is shown that during the entire human history, energy has systematically been central to direct the successive phases of technological change and economic development. Then, a more theoretical thermo-evolutionary approach is adopted to depict technological change and economic growth in relation to the capture of energy and its dissipation. The transition from agrarian to industrial economies in then re-contextualized in a thermoeconomic perspective. Finally, this perspective is used to discuss some implications regarding the evolution of human values, the economic slowdown of the most advanced economies for the last thirty-five years, and the delusion of dematerialization. The article concludes on the importance of finally seeing conventional economic growth theories acknowledging the central role of energy in the economic growth process.