How the World Really Works by Vaclav Smil

We know climate change is altering our planet. How the World Really Works is a much-needed reality check reminding us that before we can tackle problems effectively, we must understand the facts. This is a thought-provoking book I recently read that looks at the importance of energy for humanity.

Written by Canadian energy expert Professor Vaclav Smil, the book explains the fundamental realities governing our survival and prosperity. These include fossil fuels and food production, globalization, and the future of the environment.

Smil is first and foremost a scientist. He finds it difficult to understand how many of us do not know the basics of life and the technologies that enable us to survive, such as how wheat is grown, how steel is made, and how we rely on power for almost everything.

He has a gift for turning numbers into information. The 4.4 billion tons of cement that China produced in two years nearly equaled the total the US made in the entire 20th century. Cement manufacturing is highly energy- and emissions-intensive because of the extreme heat required to produce it.

Our dependence on fossil fuels makes it unlikely that we can eliminate them any time soon. Alternative energy sources, Smil writes, will take decades to fully develop.
Given the irrefutable evidence of climate change, he asks, does this mean that our civilization is doomed?

What I really appreciated about this book is that Smil avoids being dramatic. He prefers to concentrate on practical solutions, rather than wasting time on complex forecasts. He touches on topics that have been ignored in the past, making this an essential book for anyone concerned about our planet.

It’s a compelling and worthwhile read that opened my eyes to our past, present and future.

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