How Work Overheats The Earth

We’re ignoring the laws of physics and going to thermodynamic jail
8 min readSep 7, 2023
Image of thermodynamics via Granta Magazine

In physics, ‘work’ is the energy transferred to (or from) an object. Not all energy can be transferred to an object, some is necessarily lost as heat. If we keep doubling the work we do every generation (a 2.3% growth rate), the waste heat boils the oceans in 400 years. Work is thus not something to mindlessly maximize. It’s something that has to be kept in careful balance with the object we live on, ie the planet.

In common language, work is what humans do ‘for a living’ and as Anna Mercury says — citing Blink 182 — ‘work sucks’. It’s not just that work sucks the energy out of you, it sucks energy and resources out of the planet. Mercury says “We don’t need to keep toiling to producing more. In fact, less toil, less work, less production and less consumption are the only way we’re going to continue surviving on this planet.” As Mercury goes on, “To fight global warming, we really need to chill.”

She continues:

In the past few years, various environmental movements have begun rallying people around the slogan, “Do Nothing for the Climate.” The idea is simple: we are killing our planet because we are doing too much. We are working too much, buying too much, producing too much, extracting too much, traveling…



Indrajit (Indi) Samarajiva is a Sri Lankan writer. Follow me at, or just email me at