We have never had so much information at our fingertips and yet most of us don’t know how the world really works. This book explains seven of the most fundamental realities governing our survival and prosperity. From energy and food production, through our material world and its globalization, to risks, our environment and its future, How the World Really Works offers a much-needed reality check – because before we can tackle problems effectively, we must understand the facts. In this ambitious and thought-provoking book we see, for example, that globalization isn’t inevitable – the perils of allowing 70 per cent of the world’s rubber gloves to be made in just one factory became glaringly obvious in 2020 – and that our societies have been steadily increasing their dependence on fossil fuels, making their complete and rapid elimination unlikely. For example, each greenhouse-grown supermarket-bought tomato requires the equivalent of five tablespoons of diesel oil for its production, and we still lack any commercially viable ways of making steel, ammonia, cement or plastics at required global scales without fossil fuels. Vaclav Smil is neither a pessimist nor an optimist, he is a scientist; he is the world-leading expert on energy and an astonishing polymath. This is his magnum opus and is a continuation of his quest to make facts matter. Drawing on the latest science, including his own fascinating research, and tackling sources of misinformation head on – from Yuval Noah Harari to Noam Chomsky – ultimately Smil answers the most profound question of our age: are we irrevocably doomed or is a brighter utopia ahead? Compelling, data-rich and revisionist, this wonderfully broad, interdisciplinary masterpiece finds faults with both extremes. Looking at the world through this quantitative lens reveals hidden truths that change the way we see our past, present and uncertain future.
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