Vaclav Smil – Drivers of environmental change: focus on energy transitions – YouTube

Vaclav Smil on the the scale and difficulty of executing an energy transition for the civilization.  “Calculate with me!” he says, before diving into a bunch of order-of-magnitude demonstrations that this is all much harder than we might like to think.  He’s very pessimistic about the large-scale integration of intermittent resources, and also about humanity’s ability to initiate a change voluntarily.  Would like to understand those positions better… and still continue to disagree with them.  The talk is long and rambling, but he’s so clearly engaged and emphatic that it doesn’t matter.

The Coming Decline and Fall of Big Coal

The Coming Decline and Fall of Big Coal.  Appalachian mountaintop removal mining has taken off in recent years in no small part because there’s not much left worth mining underground.  All the eastern coal fields are in declining production, despite these extreme techniques, and large increases in hiring.  Yet somehow, these developments are being couched by the industry as resulting from the Obama administration and environmental regulations.  Really it’s a geological special case of that Sagan quote: “The Universe is not required to be in perfect harmony with human ambition.”

Links for the week of June 4th, 2010

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Links for the week of February 11th, 2010

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Energy at the Crossroads by Vaclav Smil (Part 1 of 2)

Where does our energy come from today, and how do we use it?  How much does it take to live the Good Life, and what, really, should that energy be used on?  Where might it plausibly come from in the future, and what does the Good Life consist of anyway?  Energy at the Crossroads by Vaclav Smil at least attempts to get at this stuff, looking at humanity’s utilization of energy, in the past, present, and several possible futures.  But the book is a such a dense mass of numbers and graphs that I think I’m going to have to do this in several posts.

The first two sections Long-term Trends and Achievements and Energy Linkages, look at how energy use correlates with other variables of interest, how those correlations have changed through time, and how they vary globally today.  If there’s an overarching message here, it’s that nothing about today’s global energy system is straightforward.  You can’t make many useful comparisons by looking at only one dimension, such as the total primary energy supply (TPES) utilized or the energy intensity (EI) of a nation’s economy, or by simply looking at mean values without considering the distribution they come from.  These variables are not normally distributed.  Another clear message is that the 20th century was an anomaly.  The explosive global growth in fossil fuel utilization that we have seen over the last hundred years will not be sustained, for a variety of reasons, any one of which would be convincing, but which in combination are downright scary.  Either the way our civilization uses energy will be utterly transformed, or the sources of that energy will change dramatically.  Or both.

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Links for the week of October 15th, 2009

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Shared Links for Jun 26th – Jul 7th

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