Monday, June 21, 2010

Energy: "The man who’s tutoring Bill Gates … "

From the Globe and Mail:
The most-published and least-known thinker in Canada doesn’t want to be interviewed. He says he has 77 deadlines to meet (perhaps an exaggeration, but probably not) before he flies off to a scientific conference in Europe. Besides, he thinks media interviews are pointless. He detests our sound-bite culture, which shrinks enormously important and complex subjects into meaningless bits of info-kibble. “All I want is to be left alone to write my books,” he insists.

That may be one reason why hardly anyone in Canada has heard of Vaclav Smil. But Bill Gates has. He believes Prof. Smil is one of the smartest guys around today. He plugs several of Prof. Smil’s recent books on his website, and says that he has “opened my eyes to new ways to think about solving our energy and environmental issues.”

The sometimes irascible Prof. Smil hangs his hat at the University of Manitoba (which may be another reason everyone east of Winnipeg ignores him). He is a distinguished professor in the faculty of environment, but really, he is an incorrigible interdisciplinarian. His interests encompass the broad areas of energy, the environment, food, population, the economy and public policy. He seems to know a lot about almost everything. He has published 20-something books and hundreds of academic papers, and has another four books coming out this year. He is (almost) resigned to the fact that our great debates about energy and the environment are largely pointless, because they are hugely distorted by politics and sadly uninformed by basic facts. We are a culture of scientific ignoramuses.

For example, take the notion (heavily promoted by Al Gore) that we could wean ourselves off fossil fuels in a few years if only we really wanted to. This is about as realistic as the notion that we could fly to the moon on gossamer wings if we really wanted to. Some day it may be possible – but not any time soon. “We are structurally cooked,” he recently explained. “Every new technology takes 40 to 50 years before it captures the bulk of the market. As of today, there are no clean-energy technologies that can replace fossil fuels on a large scale.”...MORE
HT: Simoleon Sense who modestly titled his post "Weekly Wisdom Roundup #83-The Smartest Linkfest on the Web"