From conclusion of second chapter "The Birth of Energy: Fossil Fuels, Thermodynamics, and the Politics of Work" by Cara New Daggett.Entropy and its tragic perspective “laid the foundation for a new cosmological synthesis” between science and Christianity, a synthesis that
remains relevant to energy politics today. As the next chapter shows,figuring out steam engines in the nineteenth century was both a practical
and a spiritual concern whose solutions touched upon the larger relationship between Christianity, industrialism, and the Earth. Some of the leading early energy scientists of the northern British camp, as devoted Scottish Presbyterians, made sense of the laws of thermodynamics by putting them into conversation with the existing Protestant work ethic and its enemy, waste. Energy scientists were thus engaged in a double reading of energy from the start. They always had in mind the cosmological, the metaphorical, the theological. Energy laws could be deployed to endorse an ethos—the ethos of the engine, the maximization of work, and the minimization of waste—that reconciled the spatiotemporal registers of Earth time and human time, God’s beneficence and cosmic indifference.
Available for free download here:
I have not yet finished reading myself, but I thought many here might find it interesting. It is what I would describe as a "good post-modern" take on many of the issues related to ERE. What I mean by "good post-modern" is it requires the ability to hold perspective of science/economics as subservient to politics/culture as well as the perspective of culture/politics as subservient to science/economics, but as far as I can determine thus far, the author does not subvert the science towards falsehood. However, I would be curious to learn whether those who are more well versed in physics than myself (2.5 years under-graduate level-have read Feynman whom she quotes) would agree with her take on the concepts of "energy" and "entropy."
One of her arguments, which she somewhat takes from Vaclav Smil, is that much is lost in the generalization of The First Law of Thermodynamics which informs our concept of energy. It lends itself to a sort of Rumpelstiltskin and/or dehumanizing delusion that gallons of petroleum can be directly converted into kilocalories to feed human labor or vice-versa. Smil makes clear that "density" is a quality that can not be ignored in energy flow/use analysis, and Daggett makes clear that politics can not be ignored in any energy flow/use analysis inclusive of actual humans, as opposed to idealized "workers requiring X kcalories to dig Y ft. of ditch."
I don't thoroughly agree with all of her presumptions or conclusions, but I think it is a valid and well-informed attempt at discussing the issues at approximately Kegan Level 4.8-5.4 (:lol), and, therefore, worthwhile reading.