Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Spring 2016

Document Type


Type of Thesis

Departmental Honors


Environmental Studies

First Advisor

Dale Miller

Second Advisor

Robert Parson

Third Advisor

David Youkey


This thesis explores a new approach to understanding contemporary environmental issues. This approach draws on concepts in thermodynamics such as entropy, free energy, and gradient dissipation, and applies them to non-equilibrium settings to provide an alternative view of chemical pollution in the context of ecosystems and human societies. Building on the works of Boltzmann, Gibbs, Schrödinger, E.P. Odum, Prigogine, Georgescu-Roegen, and Kay, this thesis demonstrates the necessity of pollution as a consequence of large scale energy use. First a historical background of thermodynamics and entropy is provided following the description of an “entropy framework” used to analyze various pollution phenomena. This framework is then compared to three traditional academic frameworks commonly used to address pollution and other environmental topics of concern. In this comparison, strengths and weaknesses of each framework are highlighted, revealing both the usefulness and limitations of each. Afterward, implications of the entropy framework are revealed, such as the risks of nuclear energy and geo engineering, and benefits of sustainable gradient reduction. At the end of this paper I provide some recommendations for attaining this goal such as minimizing collective energy use and investing in decentralized social and commercial institutions.