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  • Writer's pictureTom Mast

Beyond Magical Thinking: Time to Get Real on Climate Change

Updated: Nov 2, 2022

Vaclav Smil

Yale Environment 360, 5/19/22

Tom Mast, founder Solve American Gridlock

The article referenced above was adapted by Yale from Vaclav Smil’s new book, How the World Really Works, … Prof. Smil has written 40 books and over 500 papers in the fields of energy, environmental and population change, food production, history of technical innovation, risk assessment, and public policy. What a background for writing on the complex issue of climate change! Last, but not least, he has superb command of English prose. This summary is drafted in hopes that it will lead you to reading the article and/or the book.

The Paris Climate Accord in 2015 followed six other major world climate conferences. “Even if all voluntary pledges were honored, … the Paris Accord would still result in a 50 percent increase of emissions by 2030.” #climatechange #carbontax

We are listening to both the catastrophic and the “techno-optimism” extremes that tend to divert our attention away from more comprehensive and effective actions.

We affluent peoples of the world have had huge life style benefits from 700x the energy per capita available around 1800. Our present lives depend on fossil fuels.

The per capita energy usage of around 40% of the world’s peoples is very low as are their lifestyles, but these folks very reasonably have the desire – and the right – to have more of the advantages that energy brings.

Unrealistic targets of future temperature increases without realistic plans to achieve them have led to confusion and to very poor progress in cutting emissions.

For example, some say if we can’t reduce fossil fuel usage fast enough to meet temperature-reduction targets, we will just substitute “carbon capture”. The unknowns and costs in this approach are staggering – at best.

“The fact is that we can make a great deal of difference, but not by pretending to follow unrealistic and arbitrary goals. History does not unfold as a computerized academic exercise… It is full of discontinuities, reversals, and unpredictable departures.” “What remains in doubt is our collective – in this case global – resolve to deal effectively with at least some critical challenges.”

“The reality is that any sufficiently effective steps will be decidedly non-magical, gradual, and costly…We will have to pay a considerable economic and social price…will have to last for at least two generations in order to bring the desired outcome…”

“I am neither a pessimist nor an optimist. I am a scientist trying to explain how the world really works.” – Vaclav Smil.


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