Energy Transitions: History, Requirements, Prospects

ABC-CLIO
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Energy transitions are fundamental processes behind the evolution of human societies: they both drive and are driven by technical, economic, and social changes. In a bold and provocative argument, Energy Transitions: History, Requirements, Prospects describes the history of modern society's dependence on fossil fuels and the prospects for the transition to a nonfossil world. Vaclav Smil, who has published more on various aspects of energy than any working scientist, makes it clear that this transition will not be accomplished easily, and that it cannot be accomplished within the timetables established by the Obama administration.

The book begins with a survey of the basic properties of modern energy systems. It then offers detailed explanations of universal patterns of energy transitions, the peculiarities of changing energy use in the world's leading economies, and the coming shifts from fossil fuels to renewable conversions. Specific cases of these transitions are analyzed for eight of the world's leading energy consumers. The author closes with perspectives on the nature and pace of the coming energy transition to renewable conversions.

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About the author

Vaclav Smil is a distinguished professor in the Faculty of Environment at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Canada.

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Additional Information

Publisher
ABC-CLIO
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Published on
Dec 31, 2010
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Pages
178
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ISBN
9780313381775
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Language
English
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Genres
Business & Economics / Industries / Energy
Political Science / Public Policy / Environmental Policy
Technology & Engineering / Power Resources / General
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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As the earth’s carrying capacity continues to be stressed, the question of renewable energies is no longer whether, but when and by whom. Climate change and peak oil have hit the mainstream. Kolya Abramsky’s collection maps the world’s energy sector and shows how addressing these challenges necessitates an analysis of our economic priorities. Solutions must include massive shifts in our use of technologies and, most importantly, a democratization of the economic landscape based on broad new coalitions.

With four distinct sections—Oil Makes the World Go 'Round; From Petrol to Renewable Energies; Struggle Over Choice of Energy Sources and Technologies; and Possible Futures—and over fifty essays from approximately twenty countries, there’s nothing like Sparking a Worldwide Energy Revolution to address our global energy crisis.

The different chapters bring together a wealth of organizational and analytical experience from across the different branches of the energy sector, both conventional and renewable. Contributors include the following organizations and individuals: China Labour Bulletin (Hong Kong/China), Energy Watch Group (Germany), Focus on the Global South (Thailand), Integrated Sustainable Energy and Ecological Development (India), Public Services International Research Unit (United Kingdom), World Information Service on Energy (Netherlands), Preben Maegaard, and Hermann Scheer.

Kolya Abramsky is a former secretariat of the World Wind Energy Institute, based in Denmark, a pioneering country in renewable energy. He is currently a research fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies on Science, Technology and Society in Austria, and is pursuing a PhD in sociology at State University of New York, Binghamton.

Could everything we know about fossil fuels be wrong?

For decades, environmentalists have told us that using fossil fuels is a self-destructive addiction that will destroy our planet. Yet at the same time, by every measure of human well-being, from life expectancy to clean water to climate safety, life has been getting better and better.

How can this be?

The explanation, energy expert Alex Epstein argues in The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels, is that we usually hear only one side of the story. We’re taught to think only of the negatives of fossil fuels, their risks and side effects, but not their positives—their unique ability to provide cheap, reliable energy for a world of seven billion people. And the moral significance of cheap, reliable energy, Epstein argues, is woefully underrated. Energy is our ability to improve every single aspect of life, whether economic or environmental.

If we look at the big picture of fossil fuels compared with the alternatives, the overall impact of using fossil fuels is to make the world a far better place. We are morally obligated to use more fossil fuels for the sake of our economy and our environment.

Drawing on original insights and cutting-edge research, Epstein argues that most of what we hear about fossil fuels is a myth. For instance . . .

Myth: Fossil fuels are dirty.
Truth: The environmental benefits of using fossil fuels far outweigh the risks. Fossil fuels don’t take a naturally clean environment and make it dirty; they take a naturally dirty environment and make it clean. They don’t take a naturally safe climate and make it dangerous; they take a naturally dangerous climate and make it ever safer.

Myth: Fossil fuels are unsustainable, so we should strive to use “renewable” solar and wind.
Truth: The sun and wind are intermittent, unreliable fuels that always need backup from a reliable source of energy—usually fossil fuels. There are huge amounts of fossil fuels left, and we have plenty of time to find something cheaper.

Myth: Fossil fuels are hurting the developing world.
Truth: Fossil fuels are the key to improving the quality of life for billions of people in the developing world. If we withhold them, access to clean water plummets, critical medical machines like incubators become impossible to operate, and life expectancy drops significantly. Calls to “get off fossil fuels” are calls to degrade the lives of innocent people who merely want the same opportunities we enjoy in the West.

Taking everything into account, including the facts about climate change, Epstein argues that “fossil fuels are easy to misunderstand and demonize, but they are absolutely good to use. And they absolutely need to be championed. . . . Mankind’s use of fossil fuels is supremely virtuous—because human life is the standard of value and because using fossil fuels transforms our environment to make it wonderful for human life.”
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