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About Vaclav Smil
Vaclav Smil is currently a Distinguished Professor in the Faculty of Environment at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Canada. He completed his graduate studies at the Faculty of Natural Sciences of Carolinum University in Prague and at the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences of the Pennsylvania State University. His interdisciplinary research interests encompass a broad area of energy, environmental, food, population, economic, historical and public policy studies, and he had also applied these approaches to energy, food and environmental affairs of China.
He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada (Science Academy) and the first non-American to receive the American Association for the Advancement of Science Award for Public Understanding of Science and Technology. He has been an invited speaker in more than 250 conferences and workshops in the USA, Canada, Europe, Asia and Africa, has lectured at many universities in North America, Europe and East Asia and has worked as a consultant for many US, EU and international institutions. His wife Eva is a physician and his son David is an organic synthetic chemist.
Official Website: www.vaclavsmil.com
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An essential guide to understanding how numbers reveal the true state of our world--exploring a wide range of topics including energy, the environment, technology, transportation, and food production.
Vaclav Smil's mission is to make facts matter. An environmental scientist, policy analyst, and a hugely prolific author, he is Bill Gates' go-to guy for making sense of our world. In Numbers Don't Lie, Smil answers questions such as: What's worse for the environment--your car or your phone? How much do the world's cows weigh (and what does it matter)? And what makes people happy?
From data about our societies and populations, through measures of the fuels and foods that energize them, to the impact of transportation and inventions of our modern world--and how all of this affects the planet itself--in Numbers Don't Lie, Vaclav Smil takes us on a fact-finding adventure, using surprising statistics and illuminating graphs to challenge conventional thinking. Packed with fascinating information and memorable examples, Numbers Don't Lie reveals how the US is leading a rising worldwide trend in chicken consumption, that vaccination yields the best return on investment, and why electric cars aren't as great as we think (yet). Urgent and essential, with a mix of science, history, and wit--all in bite-sized chapters on a broad range of topics--Numbers Don't Lie inspires readers to interrogate what they take to be true.
Societies that have undergone all four transitions emerge into an era of radically different population dynamics, food surpluses (and waste), abundant energy use, and expanding economic opportunities. Simultaneously, in other parts of the world, hundreds of millions remain largely untouched by these developments.
Through erudite storytelling, Vaclav Smil investigates the fascinating and complex interactions of these transitions. He argues that the moral imperative to share modernity's benefits has become more acute with increasing economic inequality, but addressing this imbalance would make it exceedingly difficult to implement the changes necessary for the long-term preservation of the environment. Thus, managing the fifth transition--environmental changes from natural-resource depletion, biodiversity loss, and global warming--will determine the success or eventual failure of the grand transitions that have made the world we live in today.
"I wait for new Smil books the way some people wait for the next 'Star Wars' movie. In his latest book, Energy and Civilization: A History, he goes deep and broad to explain how innovations in humans' ability to turn energy into heat, light, and motion have been a driving force behind our cultural and economic progress over the past 10,000 years.
—Bill Gates, Gates Notes, Best Books of the Year
Energy is the only universal currency; it is necessary for getting anything done. The conversion of energy on Earth ranges from terra-forming forces of plate tectonics to cumulative erosive effects of raindrops. Life on Earth depends on the photosynthetic conversion of solar energy into plant biomass. Humans have come to rely on many more energy flows—ranging from fossil fuels to photovoltaic generation of electricity—for their civilized existence. In this monumental history, Vaclav Smil provides a comprehensive account of how energy has shaped society, from pre-agricultural foraging societies through today's fossil fuel–driven civilization.
Humans are the only species that can systematically harness energies outside their bodies, using the power of their intellect and an enormous variety of artifacts—from the simplest tools to internal combustion engines and nuclear reactors. The epochal transition to fossil fuels affected everything: agriculture, industry, transportation, weapons, communication, economics, urbanization, quality of life, politics, and the environment. Smil describes humanity's energy eras in panoramic and interdisciplinary fashion, offering readers a magisterial overview. This book is an extensively updated and expanded version of Smil's Energy in World History (1994). Smil has incorporated an enormous amount of new material, reflecting the dramatic developments in energy studies over the last two decades and his own research over that time.
Energy: A Beginner's Guide highlights the importance of energy in both past and present societies, by shedding light on the science behind global warming and efforts to prevent it, and by revealing how our daily decisions affect energy consumption. Whether you're looking for dinner table conversation or to further your own understanding, this book will amaze and inform, uncovering the truths and exposing the myths behind one of the most important concepts in our universe.
An essential analysis of the modern science and technology that makes our twenty-first century lives possible--a scientist's investigation into what science really does, and does not, accomplish.
We have never had so much information at our fingertips and yet most of us don’t know how the world really works. This book explains seven of the most fundamental realities governing our survival and prosperity. From energy and food production, through our material world and its globalization, to risks, our environment and its future, How the World Really Works offers a much-needed reality check--because before we can tackle problems effectively, we must understand the facts.
In this ambitious and thought-provoking book we see, for example, that globalization isn’t inevitable--the foolishness of allowing 70 per cent of the world’s rubber gloves to be made in just one factory became glaringly obvious in 2020--and that our societies have been steadily increasing their dependence on fossil fuels, such that any promises of decarbonization by 2050 are a fairy tale. For example, each greenhouse-grown supermarket-bought tomato has the equivalent of five tablespoons of diesel embedded in its production, and we have no way of producing steel, cement or plastics at required scales without huge carbon emissions.
Ultimately, Smil answers the most profound question of our age: are we irrevocably doomed or is a brighter utopia ahead? Compelling, data-rich and revisionist, this wonderfully broad, interdisciplinary guide finds faults with both extremes. Looking at the world through this quantitative lens reveals hidden truths that change the way we see our past, present and uncertain future.
Growth has been both an unspoken and an explicit aim of our individual and collective striving. It governs the lives of microorganisms and galaxies; it shapes the capabilities of our extraordinarily large brains and the fortunes of our economies. Growth is manifested in annual increments of continental crust, a rising gross domestic product, a child's growth chart, the spread of cancerous cells. In this magisterial book, Vaclav Smil offers systematic investigation of growth in nature and society, from tiny organisms to the trajectories of empires and civilizations.
Smil takes readers from bacterial invasions through animal metabolisms to megacities and the global economy. He begins with organisms whose mature sizes range from microscopic to enormous, looking at disease-causing microbes, the cultivation of staple crops, and human growth from infancy to adulthood. He examines the growth of energy conversions and man-made objects that enable economic activities—developments that have been essential to civilization. Finally, he looks at growth in complex systems, beginning with the growth of human populations and proceeding to the growth of cities. He considers the challenges of tracing the growth of empires and civilizations, explaining that we can chart the growth of organisms across individual and evolutionary time, but that the progress of societies and economies, not so linear, encompasses both decline and renewal. The trajectory of modern civilization, driven by competing imperatives of material growth and biospheric limits, Smil tells us, remains uncertain.
“There's no author whose books I look forward to more than Vaclav Smil.”
In this book, Vaclav Smil argues that power density is a key determinant of the nature and dynamics of energy systems. Any understanding of complex energy systems must rely on quantitative measures of many fundamental variables. Power density—the rate of energy flux per unit of area—is an important but largely overlooked measure. Smil provides the first systematic, quantitative appraisal of power density, offering detailed reviews of the power densities of renewable energy flows, fossil fuels, thermal electricity generation, and all common energy uses.
Smil shows that careful quantification, critical appraisals, and revealing comparisons of power densities make possible a deeper understanding of the ways we harness, convert, and use energies. Conscientious assessment of power densities, he argues, proves particularly revealing when contrasting the fossil fuel–based energy system with renewable energy conversions.
Smil explains that modern civilization has evolved as a direct expression of the high power densities of fossil fuel extraction. He argues that our inevitable (and desirable) move to new energy arrangements involving conversions of lower-density renewable energy sources will require our society—currently dominated by megacities and concentrated industrial production—to undergo a profound spatial restructuring of its energy system.
Oil is the lifeblood of the modern world. Without it, there would be no planes, no plastic, no exotic produce, and a global political landscape few would recognise. Humanity’s dependence upon oil looks set to continue for decades to come, but what is it?
Fully updated and packed with fascinating facts to fuel dinner party debate, Professor Vaclav Smil's Oil: A Beginner's Guide explains all matters related to the ‘black stuff’, from its discovery in the earth right through to the controversy that surrounds it today.
Un maestro de los datos y las estadísticas ofrece una visión del mundo tan sorprendente como iluminadora.
¿Es peligroso volar? ¿Qué es peor para el medioambiente, un coche o un móvil? ¿Cuánto pesan todas las vacas del mundo juntos y por qué ese dato importa? ¿Se puede medir la felicidad?
La misión de Vaclav Smil es convencernos de que los hechos importan. Científico medioambiental, analista de políticas públicas y autor tremendamente prolífico, es el referente de Bill Gates cuando se trata de entender el mundo.
En Los números no mienten, nos embarcamos con Smil en una fascinante expedición en busca de datos que desafían nuestras preconcepciones, al tiempo que nos invita a ver con nuevos ojos el impacto de las transformaciones del mundo moderno sobre la sociedad y el medioambiente. Basado en divertidos ejemplos, estadísticas y gráficas asombrosas, este libro es la combinación perfecta de ingenio, historia y ciencia quecambiará la manera en que vemos el mundo.
Es posible que los números no mientan, pero ¿qué verdad transmiten?
La crítica ha dicho...
«El título de Smil lo dice todo: para entender el mundo hay que examinar las líneas de tendencia, no los titulares. Un retrato fascinante, convincente y sobre todo realista del mundo actual y de hacía dónde nos dirigimos.»
«La palabra "erudito" se inventó para describir a gente como él.»
«Uno de los pensadores más importantes del mundo sobre la historia del desarrollo y un maestro del análisis estadístico.»
In Energy at the Crossroads, Vaclav Smil considers the twenty-first century's crucial question: how to reconcile the modern world's unceasing demand for energy with the absolute necessity to preserve the integrity of the biosphere. With this book he offers a comprehensive, accessible guide to today's complex energy issues—how to think clearly and logically about what is possible and what is desirable in our energy future.
After a century of unprecedented production growth, technical innovation, and expanded consumption, the world faces a number of critical energy challenges arising from unequal resource distribution, changing demand patterns, and environmental limitations. The fundamental message of Energy at the Crossroads is that our dependence on fossil fuels must be reduced not because of any imminent resource shortages but because the widespread burning of oil, coal, and natural gas damages the biosphere and presents increasing economic and security problems as the world relies on more expensive supplies and Middle Eastern crude oil.
Smil begins with an overview of the twentieth century's long-term trends and achievements in energy production. He then discusses energy prices, the real cost of energy, and "energy linkages"—the effect energy issues have on the economy, on quality of life, on the environment, and in wartime. He discusses the pitfalls of forecasting, giving many examples of failed predictions and showing that unexpected events can disprove complex models. And he examines the pros and cons not only of fossil fuels but also of alternative fuels such as hydroenergy, biomass energy, wind power, and solar power. Finally, he considers the future, focusing on what really matters, what works, what is realistic, and which outcomes are most desirable.
The biosphere—the Earth's thin layer of life—dates from nearly four billion years ago, when the first simple organisms appeared. Many species have exerted enormous influence on the biosphere's character and productivity, but none has transformed the Earth in so many ways and on such a scale as Homo sapiens. In Harvesting the Biosphere, Vaclav Smil offers an interdisciplinary and quantitative account of human claims on the biosphere's stores of living matter, from prehistory to the present day. Smil examines all harvests—from prehistoric man's hunting of megafauna to modern crop production—and all uses of harvested biomass, including energy, food, and raw materials. Without harvesting of the biomass, Smil points out, there would be no story of human evolution and advancing civilization; but at the same time, the increasing extent and intensity of present-day biomass harvests are changing the very foundations of civilization's well-being.
In his detailed and comprehensive account, Smil presents the best possible quantifications of past and current global losses in order to assess the evolution and extent of biomass harvests. Drawing on the latest work in disciplines ranging from anthropology to environmental science, Smil offers a valuable long-term, planet-wide perspective on human-caused environmental change.