Vaclav Smil’s latest book explores growth in nature and society. It examines the rules and patterns of growth in four key domains, those of the living world; human energy consumption; human artifacts; and human populations, societies and economies.
Anyway, this is all vaguely relevant to my present theme, which is some thoughts on Vaclav Smil’s Energy and Civilization: A History (MIT Press, 2017). It’s hard to keep up with Smil’s output, since he seems to produce about three books every year, but I find him an interesting writer.
Smil’s mantra is this: "All of the past shifts to new sources of primary energy have been gradual, prolonged affairs, with new sources taking decades from the beginning of production to become more than insignificant contributors, and then another two to three decades before capturing a quarter or a third of their respective markets."
We must engineer a return to that era’s lower usage, says expert Vaclav Smil. For nearly 40 years now, Smil, a Czech émigré and polymath, has studied the world’s energy systems. He grew up in the political darkness of the Soviet Empire and has matured in the moral emptiness of its American counterpart. Although heralded around the world for his insights, he remains largely unknown in Canada. Yet the prolific academic has penned some 30 books and 400 articles on how the world recklessly spends both energy and valuable natural resources.