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Vaclav Smil

The New York Times Magazine: This Eminent Scientist Says Climate Activists Need to Get Real

April 26, 2022 — 

Vaclav Smil, UM professor emeritus was interviewed by David Marchese in The New York Times Magazine in advance of Smil’s latest book, How the World Really Works: The Science Behind How We Got Here and Where We’re Going. In the Q & A, Smil shares his beliefs on decarbonization, climate change goals, consumer consumption and the realities of transitioning to sustainable solutions.


As Marchese writes…

The “really” in the title of Vaclav Smil’s newest book, “How the World Really Works: The Science Behind How We Got Here and Where We’re Going,” is doing some heavy lifting. Implicit in the renowned energy scientist’s usage is the idea that most of us are uninformed or just plain wrong about the fundamentals of the global economy. He aims to correct that — to recenter materials rather than electronic flows of data as the bedrock of modern life — largely through examining what he calls the four pillars of modern civilization: cement, steel, plastics and ammonia. (The production and use of all four currently requires burning huge amounts of fossil carbon.) Which brings us back to that “really.” In the context of Smil’s book, which will be published May 10, the word is also a rebuke to those calling for rapid decarbonization in order to combat global warming. “I am not talking about what could be done,” says Smil, who is 78 and who counts Bill Gates among his many devotees. “I’m looking at the world as it is.”

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