Pub. Date:
MIT Press
Energy at the Crossroads: Global Perspectives and Uncertainties / Edition 1

Energy at the Crossroads: Global Perspectives and Uncertainties / Edition 1

by Vaclav Smil
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An objective, comprehensive, and accessible examination of today's most crucial problem: preserving the environment in the face of society's insatiable demand for energy.

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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780262693240
Publisher: MIT Press
Publication date: 02/11/2005
Series: The MIT Press
Pages: 444
Product dimensions: 7.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Vaclav Smil is Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of Manitoba. He is the author of forty books, including Energy and Civilization , published by the MIT Press. In 2010 he was named by Foreign Policy as one of the Top 100 Global Thinkers. In 2013 Bill Gates wrote on his website that “there is no author whose books I look forward to more than Vaclav Smil. "

Table of Contents

Reflections on a Life of Energy Studiesix
1Long-term Trends and Achievements1
A Unique Century3
Changing Resource Base10
Technical Innovations21
The Rising Importance of Electricity31
Trading Energy44
Consumption Trends49
Looking Back and Looking Ahead60
2Energy Linkages63
Energy and the Economy65
Deconstructing Energy Intensities71
Energy Prices81
Real Costs of Energy88
Energy and the Quality of Life97
Energy and the Environment105
Energy and War116
3Against Forecasting121
Failing Endeavors122
Conversion Techniques124
Primary Energy Requirements137
Demand for Electricity145
Energy Prices and Intensities149
Substitutions of Energy Resources161
Complex Models and Realities167
Unexpected Happenings172
In Favor of Normative Scenarios178
4Fossil Fuel Futures181
Is the Decline of Global Crude Oil Production Imminent?184
Different Perspectives on the Oil Era195
How Far Can Natural Gas Go?213
What Will Be Coal's Role?229
5Nonfossil Energies239
Hydroenergy's Potential and Limits246
Biomass Energies259
Electricity from Wind272
Direct Solar Conversions284
How Promising Are Other Renewables?290
Infrastructural Changes and the Future Hydrogen Economy296
Is There a Future for Nuclear Electricity?309
6Possible Futures317
Efficient Use of Energy318
Beyond Higher Efficiency332
Energy and the Future of the Biosphere339
What Really Matters349
What Does, and Does Not, Help354
Realities and a Wish List362
Units and Abbreviations375

What People are Saying About This

Jesse H. Ausubel

Smil has the best macroscope of all current energy analysts.

Professor Noam Lior

A wealth of very useful information about energy use, resources, and environmental and socioeconomic impact, and the author's unabashed but educated opinions about approaches to the future. Thought-provoking and highly worthwhile reading for both believers and unbelievers.

Jonthan E. Sinton

An excellent guide for the general reader or university student to complex energy and environmental issues. Smil's critical thinking, independence, and conscious attempts to remain objective while clearly keeping in mind normative goals are, as always, refreshing.


Smil has the best macroscope of all current energy analysts.

Jesse H. Ausubel , Director, Program for the Human Environment, The Rockefeller University

From the Publisher

Smil has the best macroscope of all current energy analysts.

Jesse H. Ausubel , Director, Program for the Human Environment, The Rockefeller University

Mark P. Mills

Vaclav Smil's work stands as a bright light in a sea of dim treatises on the subject of energy. His previous energy books are invaluable and insightful resources, filled with real facts and clear writing. Energy at the Crossroads continues and expands that tradition.

Cutler J. Cleveland

An authoritative and comprehensive look at global energy prospects by one of the world's most respected energy scholars.

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