Energy at the Crossroads: Global Perspectives and Uncertainties

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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.

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 caused by the world's reliance on more expensive supplies of 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 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.

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Editorial Reviews

Foreign Affairs
This book, pulling together the mature reflections of a Czech-born Canadian who has devoted nearly four decades to studying energy, is a thorough introduction to the subject and a thoughtful consideration of the conundrums it presents. Smil skillfully guides readers through the forest and the trees. Energy is above all a quantitative subject — an idea that is good in principle can be quantitatively insignificant — and this book is not for the numerophobic. But given the pervasive importance of energy, Smil conveys well the complexity and uncertainty of the energy system and its social and environmental impacts. (An especially instructive chapter recounts the dismal record of long-term energy forecasts.) Still, Smil believes that current energy practices cannot continue indefinitely, not because fossil fuels will be exhausted but because the environmental impact of their use will become increasingly unacceptable and even dangerous. He sees promising technical and economic potential for change but is pessimistic when it comes to the possibility of intelligent, concerted action in that direction.
From the Publisher

"The most sober, thorough, and thoughtful integrated text on energy available, and it embodies core facts and some fundamental truths that any analyst of energy issues should ponder." Michael Grubb

The MIT Press

"...[Zeroes] in on the issue of reconciling the world's accelerating demand for energy..." Peter D. Blair American

The MIT Press

Foreign Affairs
A thorough introduction to the subject and a thoughtful consideration of the conundrums it presents. Smil skillfully guidees readers through the forests and the trees.
Utne - Jeremiah Creedon
...[A] sweeping survey of global energy trends...
Science - Daniel M. Kammen
Energy at the Crossroads provides a highly accessible tour of the state of the energy world.
Nature - Michael Grubb
The most sober, thorough, and thoughtful integrated text on energy available, and it embodies core facts and some fundamental truths that any analyst of energy issues should ponder.
American Scientist - Peter D. Blair
...[Zeroes] in on the issue of reconciling the world's accelerating demand for energy...
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780262194921
  • Publisher: MIT Press
  • Publication date: 11/1/2003
  • Pages: 443
  • Sales rank: 1,528,402
  • Product dimensions: 7.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Vaclav Smil is the author of more than thirty books on energy, the environment,food, and the history of technical advances, including Harvesting the Biosphere: What We Have Taken from Nature, published by the MIT Press. He is a Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of Manitoba. In 2010 he was named by Foreign Policy as one of the Top 100 Global Thinkers.

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Table of Contents

Reflections on a Life of Energy Studies
1 Long-term Trends and Achievements 1
2 Energy Linkages 63
3 Against Forecasting 121
4 Fossil Fuel Futures 181
5 Nonfossil Energies 239
6 Possible Futures 317
Units and Abbreviations 375
Prefixes 377
Acronyms 379
References 383
Index 419
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