Global Catastrophes and Trends

Author: Vaclav Smil
Publisher: MIT Press
ISBN: 0262195860
Format: PDF, Mobi
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Fundamental change occurs most often in one of two ways: as a "fatal discontinuity," a sudden catastrophic event that is potentially world changing, or as a persistent, gradual trend. Global catastrophes include volcanic eruptions, viral pandemics, wars, and large-scale terrorist attacks; trends are demographic, environmental, economic, and political shifts that unfold over time. In this provocative book, scientist Vaclav Smil takes a wide-ranging, interdisciplinary look at the catastrophes and trends the next fifty years may bring. Smil first looks at rare but cataclysmic events, both natural and human-produced, then at trends of global importance, including the transition from fossil fuels to other energy sources and growing economic and social inequality. He also considers environmental change -- in some ways an amalgam of sudden discontinuities and gradual change -- and assesses the often misunderstood complexities of global warming. Global Catastrophes and Trends does not come down on the side of either doom-and-gloom scenarios or techno-euphoria. Instead, Smil argues that understanding change will help us reverse negative trends and minimize the risk of catastrophe.

Feeding the World

Author: Vaclav Smil
Publisher: MIT Press
ISBN: 9780262692717
Format: PDF, Mobi
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This book addresses the question of how we can best feed the ten billion or so people who will likely inhabit the Earth by the middle of the twenty-first century. He asks whether human ingenuity can produce enough food to support healthy and vigorous lives for all these people without irreparably damaging the integrity of the biosphere. What makes this book different from other books on the world food situation is its consideration of the complete food cycle, from agriculture to post-harvest losses and processing to eating and discarding. Taking a scientific approach, Smil espouses neither the catastrophic view that widespread starvation is imminent nor the cornucopian view that welcomes large population increases as the source of endless human inventiveness. He shows how we can make more effective use of current resources and suggests that if we increase farming efficiency, reduce waste, and transform our diets, future needs may not be as great as we anticipate. Smil's message is that the prospects may not be as bright as we would like, but the outlook is hardly disheartening. Although inaction, late action, or misplaced emphasis may bring future troubles, we have the tools to steer a more efficient course. There are no insurmountable biophysical reasons we cannot feed humanity in the decades to come while easing the burden that modern agriculture puts on the biosphere.

The Next Fifty Years

Author: John Brockman
Publisher: Vintage
ISBN: 0307429075
Format: PDF, Kindle
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A brilliant ensemble of the world’s most visionary scientists provides twenty-five original never-before-published essays about the advances in science and technology that we may see within our lifetimes. Theoretical physicist and bestselling author Paul Davies examines the likelihood that by the year 2050 we will be able to establish a continuing human presence on Mars. Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi investigates the ramifications of engineering high-IQ, geneticially happy babies. Psychiatrist Nancy Etcoff explains current research into the creation of emotion-sensing jewelry that could gauge our moods and tell us when to take an anti-depressant pill. And evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins explores the probability that we will soon be able to obtain a genome printout that predicts our natural end for the same cost as a chest x-ray. (Will we want to read it? And will insurance companies and governments have access to it?) This fascinating and unprecedented book explores not only the practical possibilities of the near future, but also the social and political ramifications of the developments of the strange new world to come. Also includes original essays by: Lee Smolin Martin Rees Ian Stewart Brian Goodwin Marc D. Hauser Alison Gopnik Paul Bloom Geoffrey Miller Robert M. Sapolsky Steven Strogatz Stuart Kauffman John H. Holland Rodney Brooks Peter Atkins Roger C. Schank Jaron Lanier David Gelernter Joseph LeDoux Judith Rich Harris Samuel Barondes Paul W. Ewald From the Trade Paperback edition.

Why America Is Not a New Rome

Author: Vaclav Smil
Publisher: MIT Press
ISBN: 026228829X
Format: PDF, Kindle
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America's post--Cold War strategic dominance and its pre-recession affluence inspired pundits to make celebratory comparisons to ancient Rome at its most powerful. Now, with America no longer perceived as invulnerable, engaged in protracted fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, and suffering the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, comparisons are to the bloated, decadent, ineffectual later Empire. In Why America Is Not a New Rome, Vaclav Smil looks at these comparisons in detail, going deeper than the facile analogy-making of talk shows and glossy magazine articles. He finds profound differences.Smil, a scientist and a lifelong student of Roman history, focuses on several fundamental concerns: the very meaning of empire; the actual extent and nature of Roman and American power; the role of knowledge and innovation; and demographic and economic basics--population dynamics, illness, death, wealth, and misery. America is not a latter-day Rome, Smil finds, and we need to understand this in order to look ahead without the burden of counterproductive analogies. Superficial similarities do not imply long-term political, demographic, or economic outcomes identical to Rome's.

Energy Transitions

Author: Vaclav Smil
Publisher: ABC-CLIO
ISBN: 0313381771
Format: PDF, ePub
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This bold and controversial argument shows why energy transitions are inherently complex and prolonged affairs, and how ignoring this fact raises unrealistic expectations that the United States and other global economies can be weaned quickly from a primary dependency on fossil fuels. * Includes case studies of energy transitions in eight nations * Presents graphs of energy transitions on global and national scales, showing both common features and idiosyncratic patterns * Features photographs of the containment vessel of America's first nuclear reactor and of a stationary gas turbine * Provides a thorough bibliography

Harvesting the Biosphere

Author: Vaclav Smil
Publisher: MIT Press
ISBN: 026201856X
Format: PDF, ePub
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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.

Energy Myths and Realities

Author: Vaclav Smil
Publisher: Aei Press
ISBN: 9780844743288
Format: PDF, ePub, Docs
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Reality: Comprehensive energy transitions take several generations. --

Power Density

Author: Vaclav Smil
Publisher: MIT Press
ISBN: 0262326930
Format: PDF
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"There's no author whose books I look forward to more than Vaclav Smil." -- Bill GatesIn 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.

Made in the USA

Author: Vaclav Smil
Publisher: MIT Press
ISBN: 0262019388
Format: PDF
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An argument that America's economy needs a strong and innovative manufacturing sector and the jobs it creates.

Transforming the Twentieth Century

Author: Vaclav Smil
Publisher: Oxford University Press
ISBN: 0199883424
Format: PDF, ePub
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This inquiry into the technical advances that shaped the 20th century follows the evolutions of all the principal innovations introduced before 1913 (as detailed in the first volume) as well as the origins and elaborations of all fundamental 20th century advances. The history of the 20th century is rooted in amazing technical advances of 1871-1913, but the century differs so remarkably from the preceding 100 years because of several unprecedented combinations. The 20th century had followed on the path defined during the half century preceding the beginning of World War I, but it has traveled along that path at a very different pace, with different ambitions and intents. The new century's developments elevated both the magnitudes of output and the spatial distribution of mass industrial production and to new and, in many ways, virtually incomparable levels. Twentieth century science and engineering conquered and perfected a number of fundamental challenges which remained unresolved before 1913, and which to many critics appeared insoluble. This book is organized in topical chapters dealing with electricity, engines, materials and syntheses, and information techniques. It concludes with an extended examination of contradictory consequences of our admirable technical progress by confronting the accomplishments and perils of systems that brought liberating simplicity as well as overwhelming complexity, that created unprecedented affluence and equally unprecedented economic gaps, that greatly increased both our security and fears as well as our understanding and ignorance, and that provided the means for greater protection of the biosphere while concurrently undermining some of the key biophysical foundations of life on Earth. Transforming the Twentieth Century will offer a wide-ranging interdisciplinary appreciation of the undeniable technical foundations of the modern world as well as a multitude of welcome and worrisome consequences of these developments. It will combine scientific rigor with accessible writing, thoroughly illustrated by a large number of appropriate images that will include historical photographs and revealing charts of long-term trends.