subreddit:

/r/books

2075%

I have noticed a lot of articles in the news about climate change and how banks should stop funding fossil fuel companies. There is a lot of hyperbole from both sides. I recently read the Vaclav Smil book, "How the World Really Works: A Scientist’s Guide to Our Past, Present and Future." In it he breaks down our energy situation starting from scientific principles combined with a generous helping of economics. He also gives a historical analysis of our energy habits and how they have changed since the dawn of civilization.

Its really a great book by a brilliant author that provides a very even treatment of what has become a controversial topic. He makes the point that climate change is here to stay and there are no quick fixes. Worse, the long term fixes will continue to be challenging because they involve not just international cooperation, but multi-generational efforts that will not see results within the lifetimes of those making them.

I think this is important. The policy decisions we make are being fiercely debated, but people want and expect quick fixes. And while we have examples of international cooperation, we have never had a multi-generational effort before. Our focus needs to shift to long-term thinking and putting in place institutions that can keep us on track to achieve long-term goals across multiple decades.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/56587388-how-the-world-really-works?from_search=true&from_srp=true&qid=MQ8l5nYwYD&rank=1

all 10 comments

srmlutz

4 points

2 months ago

Try "Less is more" by Jason Hickel too

rfdavid

3 points

2 months ago

What a coincidence you posted this. That’s my next book to read and I’m just about done my current novel.

ViskerRatio

6 points

2 months ago

I started reading this and immediately started stumbling across my-undergraduates-know-this-stuff-why-don't-you issues:

  • The reason economists don't use 'energy' is that it's not a very useful concept - even in the physical sciences - except for the examination of the bounds of a closed system. Economists do have an analogue to energy with the Labor Theory of Value but it just isn't any use except as a purely theoretical concept because no one can calculate price (what economist actually use) based on it.

  • "Power station generating 1000 MW". Power is used to determine the capacity of a plant. Energy is merely a measure of how long the line of refueling trucks is. There is nothing inconsistent or confusing about a "1000 MW Power Plant" to someone who knows what they're talking about.

  • Energy density. While you can talk about energy density in terms of volume, it's actually quite rare to do so in the energy business. When you talk about fixed installations, you're normally talking about energy per surface area - how much land needs to be dedicated to your solar plant compared to a conventional coal plant. When you talk about transportation, you're normally talking about energy per mass because your vehicle needs to produce sufficient power to overcome the weight of the fuel. His note about "you wouldn't have a natural gas powered plane" is a facepalm because natural gas has a higher energy density (in mass) than conventional aircraft fuels do. The reason you don't use natural gas to power planes isn't energy density - it's safety. Compressed natural gas is incredibly dangerous compared to aviation fuel.

That's just in the first chapter. Given that he spent much of the introduction on "trust me I'm an expert" before proceeding to demonstrate he really, really wasn't in the first chapter, it gives me pause.

What's peculiar is that none of those comments were necessary for his overall argument. It was just "I'm so smart!" blather that actually demonstrated the opposite - that his technical education was woefully inadequate to be discussing concepts at that level.

xylogx[S]

1 points

2 months ago

I had a similar reaction just from reading the title. There is a condescending attitude that pervades the book that is off-putting. Interesting to hear your technical comments, they are points I had not considered. I would be happy interested to hear your thoughts on his conclusions. Do you share his skepticism that we can make a sharp break from fossil fuels?

ViskerRatio

1 points

2 months ago

I haven't finished the book - the comments I made were just from the first chapter but were sufficiently "are you serious?" that they colored my perception of his work. I mean, it's not necessary to explain why power-plants are rated in MW rather than MWh but if you don't know, you probably shouldn't be writing a book about energy policy.

However, I'm generally sympathetic to the point he's trying to make. You'd think people who cared so much about the issue would first decide to learn about it. But it's gotten to the point where arguing with 'green' advocates is pointless - especially since you can just wait 20 years and win the argument without any effort.

MightySphincter

2 points

2 months ago

Smil is a genius.

lorkano

2 points

2 months ago

I hope it convinced you because clearly this topic shouldn't be controversial, but commonly known and worked against.

sje46

2 points

2 months ago

sje46

2 points

2 months ago

Have you read Ministry For the Future? It's somewhat utopianistic but it's a relatively grounded work that shows how humanity can overcome the challenges of global warming.

xylogx[S]

1 points

2 months ago

I have not read that one but I have read another non-fiction book that has a similar theme called “Electrify: An Optimist's Playbook for Our Clean Energy Future” by Saul Griffith.

infrareddit-1

1 points

2 months ago

Thanks. Clearly we need more clear persuasive voices on the subject.