Energy at the Crossroads: Global Perspectives and Uncertainties

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MIT Press, 2005 - Science - 427 pages
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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.

 

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Contents

Longterm Trends and Achievements
1
A Unique Century
3
Changing Resource Base
10
Technical Innovations
21
The Rising Importance of Electricity
31
Trading Energy
44
Consumption Trends
49
Looking Back and Looking Ahead
60
Fossil Fuel Futures
181
Is the Decline of Global Crude Oil Production Imminent?
184
Different Perspectives on the Oil Era
195
How Far Can Natural Gas Go?
213
What Will Be Coals Role?
229
Nonfossil Energies
239
Hydroenergys Potential and Limits
246
Biomass Energies
259

Energy Linkages
63
Energy and the Economy
65
Deconstructing Energy Intensities
71
Energy Prices
81
Real Costs of Energy
88
Energy and the Quality of Life
97
Energy and the Environment
105
Energy and War
116
Against Forecasting
121
Failing Endeavors
122
Conversion Techniques
124
Primary Energy Requirements
137
Demand for Electricity
145
Energy Prices and Intensities
149
Substitutions of Energy Resources
161
Complex Models and Realities
167
Unexpected Happenings
172
In Favor of Normative Scenarios
178
Electricity from Wind
272
Direct Solar Conversions
284
How Promising Are Other Renewables?
290
Infrastructural Changes and the Future Hydrogen Economy
296
Is There a Future for Nuclear Energy?
309
Possible Futures
317
Efficient Use of Energy
318
Beyond Higher Efficiency
332
Energy and the Future of the Biosphere
339
What Really Matters
349
What Does and Does Not Help
354
Realities and a Wish List
362
Units and Abbreviations
375
Prefixes
377
Acronyms
379
References
383
Index
419
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About the author (2005)

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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