Peak Oil is You

Donate Bitcoins ;-) or Paypal :-)

Page added on September 12, 2019

Bookmark and Share

Review: Growth by Vaclav Smil

Review: Growth by Vaclav Smil thumbnail

Vaclav Smil’s latest book explores growth in nature and society. It examines the rules and patterns of growth in four key domains, those of the living world; human energy consumption; human artifacts; and human populations, societies and economies. The author is a passionate advocate of quantitative analysis, and thus Growth is filled with numbers, graphs and mathematical notation. Yet it’s written to be easily understood by non-mathematicians, making brilliant but accessible use of statistics to illustrate salient features of growth in all its terrestrial forms (the book’s scope is limited to Earth). In short, Growth is a compelling read for statisticians and non-statisticians alike.

A favorite author of Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates and a Foreign Policy magazine Top 100 Global Thinker, Smil is known for his multidisciplinary approach, energy-related expertise and penchant for packing his many books with all manner of fascinating facts. Growth’s chapter on the biological realm supplies as fine a sampling of this latter propensity as can be found. Did you know that average dinosaur body volumes declined at the beginning of the final period of the Mesozoic era but then made a near-comeback to their previous highs by the time of the dinosaurs’ extinction? You will after reading this book—and if you’re as much of a nerd as I am, you’ll relish this and innumerable other scientific tidbits. You’ll also be awed by the 100-page bibliography and the fact that scarcely a sentence goes by without some bit of quantitative analysis or scholarly citation.

Prehistoric trivia aside, Smil’s chapter on the living world rightly focuses on those life forms most necessary to humanity’s survival and the functioning of the biosphere. These include, of course, modern-day trees and forests, microorganisms, agricultural crops and animals. We learn in fine detail about the rise of, among other things, multi-drug-resistant bacteria, toxic marine algal blooms visible from space, monoculture tree plantations and the litany of commercially desirable but freakish malformations in the bodies of industrial meat production animals. The book also highlights some worrying cases of declining growth rates (for example, of U.S. agricultural yields). Smil’s analysis turns to humans as well, charting our growth in stature and body mass over the course of our history as a species, as well as the typical growth rates of human brains, heights and weights over individual lifespans.

The shortest chapter consists of an impressively succinct history of humankind’s ever-greater reliance on extrasomatic energy sources, or those outside of what is produced by one’s own body. Smil engagingly recounts humans’ successive harnessing of fire, animate labor, falling water, wind, sunlight, fossil fuels and nuclear fission. He uses a series of charts to illustrate the growth of energy turbine capacities, power plant efficiencies, passenger vehicle power, solar cell conversion efficiencies, luminous efficacies, electricity use in manufacturing and many other revealing metrics. The common thread is that in most cases, growth rates have been increasing by less and less each year as we’ve moved ever deeper into a state of diminishing returns concerning our exploitation of extrasomatic energies.

The chapter on the growth of human-made objects and their performances reveals two main trends: growth curves still in their early stages of ascent, and growth curves that inflected long ago and are approaching their limit values. Internet traffic, global civilian aviation traffic and the total number of buildings taller than 200 meters are a few of the things that would appear to have plenty of growth ahead. Those whose growth began slowing long ago and has been leveling off include the average area of American houses, the maximum passenger capacity of commercial airplanes, U.S. adoption rates of numerous home electronics and appliances, the number of passengers on Japan’s trains and the total length of highways in China. For me, the most astounding fact in this chapter has to do with the sheer diversity of human artifacts. “[T]he universe of man-made objects and structures,” writes Smil, “is as rich, and in some cases even richer, than the variety contained within the biosphere.”

Human populations, societies and economies are, according to Smil, the world’s “most complex assemblies,” and so it’s fitting that they’re addressed in what is by far the book’s most substantial chapter at 145 pages. Yet for all the complexity involved in its analyses, this chapter consists largely of variations on a single theme: a period of sustained growth followed by a slow-down in the growth rate as some logistic curve or another nears its maximum. Graph after graph points to imminent limits to energy supplies, crop harvests, available cropland, economic growth and human life expectancy.

Though he acknowledges that our present society’s rates of consumption and environmental degradation can’t keep growing forever, Smil cautions against making specific forecasts on this front based on past trajectories. He explains that attempting to predict future growth or decline based on how closely past data conform to a particular curve is a recipe for error. He goes on to cite an obvious recent example of a mistaken forecast born of this common practice: the Hubbert curve for American crude oil extraction. Geoscientist Marion King Hubbert correctly predicted that U.S. crude oil output would peak around 1970, and his bell-shaped curve indicated that production would return to its 1940 level by 2015. This isn’t what happened, of course. Instead, thanks to the shale oil boom, American oil extraction began to reverse its post-1970 descent a little over a decade ago, eventually forming a bimodal distribution rather than the normal distribution that Hubbert originally put forward.

Few questions could be more consequential than that of the planet’s maximum sustainable human population size, also known as its carrying capacity. Many within the peak oil community have pegged this figure at less than two billion. Their reasoning is that this is how many humans existed before the advent of the fossil-fueled agricultural revolution that caused the global population to increase so drastically within our lifetimes. Smil would appear to be unconvinced by this argument, as he makes no mention of it and finds a number of considerably higher estimates to be credible. In the end, he concludes that, due to uncertainty over future technological breakthroughs and consumption patterns, “large uncertainties concerning the future national and global trajectories of population growth will remain” for the foreseeable future.

The matter of what comes after growth is dealt with in the book’s final chapter. In keeping with his nearly all-encompassing scope elsewhere, Smil takes an expansive look at this question, covering everything from the almost-instant death processes of microorganisms, to the market saturation points of key technologies, to the steady drop in the total number of U.S. and Soviet/Russian nuclear warheads in recent decades, to the declines of civilizations. However, he stops short of saying anything definite about the future of modern industrial civilization, and again he’s critical of some notable attempts by others to envision future scenarios. (For instance, he raises valid issues regarding the methodology behind the Club of Rome’s landmark 1972 report The Limits to Growth.)

Perhaps the most practical part of Growth is its chapter detailing the various types of growth. As Smil presents the basics of linear and exponential growth, confined growth patterns and collective outcomes of growth, he goes over some common mistakes people make when extrapolating from growth histories. One such error—that of projecting future growth or decline based on a past data set’s fit to one curve or another—has been covered already. Another frequent mistake stems from most people’s failure to recognize the temporary nature of exponential growth. It’s this latter blindness that causes people to fall for financial bubbles, or to naïvely assume that some new technology that’s currently advancing exponentially will continue to do so indefinitely, as opposed to settling into a phase of non-exponential growth the way that all technologies eventually do as they mature.

My one big criticism of Growth is that it cries out for an additional chapter, one focused on the growth of human ecological impacts. Granted, the countless ways in which humanity has long been degrading the biosphere, and the alarming escalation in the rate of this degradation that has taken place during the postwar years, do receive a fair amount of attention in the existing chapters. But when such attention is diffused throughout an entire book, it has to be searched for and doesn’t have nearly the impact it otherwise would. To my mind, this material should have been gathered into its own chapter and bulked up considerably. Smil certainly doesn’t want for original data or thoughts on the subject of humans’ impact on the biosphere; he’s devoted multiple previous books to it.

Smil lets us know early on that this book, like his other writings, steers clear of any “rigid prescriptions” for addressing humanity’s crisis. True to this initial caveat, Smil never ventures far into the realm of potential solutions, instead sticking to broad statements like the following: “I believe that a fundamental departure from the long-established pattern of maximizing growth and promoting material consumption cannot be delayed by another century and that before 2100 modern civilization will have to make major steps toward ensuring the long-term habitability of its biosphere.” Thus, if you’re looking for solutions, Growth isn’t the book for you. If, on the other hand, you want a general look at the topic of growth, only parts of which directly address modern industrial civilization’s prospects for continued growth—and then only in so much depth—this book delivers.

 Mud City Press

24 Comments on "Review: Growth by Vaclav Smil"

  1. Davy on Fri, 13th Sep 2019 6:55 am 

    “Facebook Knows When You’re Boffing Thanks To App Used By Millions Of Women” zero hedge

    “Popular period tracking apps are sending extremely personal information to Facebook regarding women’s health and their sexual practices”

    “”period-tracking apps including MIA Fem and Maya sent women’s use of contraception, the timings of their monthly periods, symptoms like swelling and cramps, and more, directly to Facebook.”

  2. juan paultard madness on Fri, 13th Sep 2019 7:40 am 

    If you enjoy a trolling mad man then read this shit from juanPautard the lunatic south american failure:

    Davy said “Facebook Knows When You’re Boffing Thanks T… said Very compelling blog post.
    Davy said “What Would You Eat To Save The Earth?” https://ti
    Davy said “Vinyl Records Set To Outpace CD Sales For The Fir…
    ANAL REAPER said Here is a shitty comment! FUCKING NIGGERS! FUCKING…
    ANAL REAPER said Ya know. Only faggots and chinks believe this shit…
    Davy said “Socialism Is Destroying America” https://tinyurl….
    Davy said Back on topic dumbasses Nuculer war would be the f…

  3. Davy on Fri, 13th Sep 2019 7:41 am 

    Here juanPaultard Troll this Bitch:

  4. Davy on Fri, 13th Sep 2019 7:41 am 

    “What Is Energy Denial?” resilience

    The unspoken phrase of today’s Earth Day is “Recycle, Occasionally Reuse, and Never Utter the Word Reduce”. A quasi taboo on saying “reduce” permeates the lexicon of twenty-first century environmentalism. Confronting the planned obsolescence of everyday products rarely, if ever, appears as an ecological goal. The concept of possessing fewer objects and smaller homes has surrendered to the worship of ecogadgets. The idea of redesigning communities to make them compact so individual cars would not be necessary has been replaced by visions of universal electric cars. The saying “Live simply so that others can simply live” now draws empty stares. Long forgotten are the modest lifestyles of Buddha, Jesus and Thoreau. When the word “conservation” is used, it is virtually always applied to preserving plants or animals and virtually never to conserving energy. The very idea of re-imagining society so that people can have good lives as they use less energy has been consumed by visions of the infinite expansion of solar/wind power and the oxymoron, 100% “clean energy”.”
    Myth 1. “Clean energy” is carbon neutral.
    Myth 2. “Clean energy” is inexhaustible because the sun will always shine and the wind will always blow
    Myth 3. “Clean energy” does not produce toxins.
    Myth 4. “Clean energy” does not deplete or contaminate drinkable water.
    Myth 5. “Clean energy” does not require very much land usage.
    Myth 6. “Clean energy” has no effect on plant and animal life.
    Myth 7. “Clean energy” production has no effect on human health.
    Myth 8. People are happy to have “clean energy” harvested or its components mined where they live.
    Myth 9. No one is ever killed due to disputes over energy extraction or harvesting.
    Myth 10. One watt of “clean energy” will replace one watt from use of fossil fuels.
    Myth 11. “Clean energy” is as efficient as fossil fuels in resource use.
    Myth 12. Improved efficiency can resolve problems of “clean energy.”
    Myth 13. Recycling “clean energy” machine components can resolve its problems.
    Myth 14. Whatever problems there are with “clean energy” will work themselves out.
    Myth 15. There Is No Alternative.

  5. Davy on Fri, 13th Sep 2019 7:42 am 

    This article highlights my REAL Green Deep Adaptation. It contrasts FAKE, TRUE, and REAL Green. Let’s be clear the movement into renewables is vital and they will fill a niche to help extend the status quo to either a wiser human type or just a longer-term lifeboat for civilization. Those are the only options I have personally concluded from 20 years of study. This conclusion has congealed fully over the last 5 years of extensive in-depth daily analysis of renewables, fossil fuels, systematic networks, and actually living an alternative lifestyle of REAL Green. It is the culminations of 20 years of change away from the status quo. Some parts of this change were drastic and radical and others moderate and sober.

    Radical reorganization of society with draconian changes to population and consumption are needed. Basically, this means forced degrowth and population control. I have concluded that this is not possible systematically nor socially. Globalism has delocalized all locals. Industrial systems are too dangerous to allow a power down. Global populations are not interested in population control. The leadership who controls weapons of mass destruction will not allow it. In fact, many are promoting more children instead of less for dubious demographic reasons of a competitive globalism. Lowered consumption through degrowth will surely mean population losses that are ugly and damaging. Much of the global leadership is solidly pro-growth with the lie of green growth. The math and science stand behind what I just said.

    The other option is lifeboat extension. Can we continue modern civilization on with a slower decline trajectory that is maybe more survivable and longer? Degree and duration of stress to a species in overshoot is the key variable to a bottleneck condition. We are clearly in overshoot. While I realize continued status quo will destroy the planet more I am being honest for those who want to survive. Don’t think you can have your cake and eat it. There are real consequences for what humans have done. There are real trade offs and none of them are nice. We can continue what we are doing “less” bad or we can engage in a change that will destroy the status quo. We will not know what will result from destroying the status quo but we can say it will likely be very ugly for most. I imagine there will be some locals who can scrape together a smaller civilization but it will not resemble what we have. Other places will see mad max destruction at least during some part of the transition. The time value of living dictates most humans will put off this choice if they even had to make it. Almost all of us are cogs to an unstoppable process. Politicians have no interest and the rich who are mostly old facing end of life anyway, have no interest. This leaves a self-organizing process of slow collapse. This is the key take home point for my investigation and life system.

    This leads to my classifications of the current status quo groups facing this end game. We have the majority who are struggling with the status quo making a meager living or in abject poverty. Many of these are drawn to the fake socialistic lies of the left. I am not claiming socialism is a lie just how it is being pitched by the liberal left. Liberal left socialism is a lie because they want you to think you can get something for nothing and or the very rich can pay for it. The liberal left is really just pitching wealth redistribution some of which is right and just but their platform is a farce. The liberal left wants to support the liberal left FAKE Green way of life that has no future which is a partial group. There is the rich and poor conservative who either don’t care or don’t believe there is problem with the planet. They want to be left alone. There is the rich conservative who are actively fighting efforts to lower our collective footprints. The rich liberal FAKE Green Techno fantasy liar are not as bad as the conservative but they are close. The reason is they want fantasy affluence with a FAKE Green guilt reprieve. They want to think they can be rich and clean and thus Earth righteous. This is a lie but at least they are pushing some great tech that will be of use in a transformation needed to slow the collapse process.

    Time may allow us to wise up so the ends are made better by some of the rich FAKE Green platform but other efforts are destroying the social fabric in the name of wealth redistribution and power plays. They are in many cases fascist and cold-blooded killers. We also have the poor children of the FAKE Greens who are radicalizing and becoming the foot soldiers of The FAKE Green liberal elite believing in socialism and radical eco action. The young are our future and there really is not much of a future when you look to the reality of the collapse process and the younger generation. The young person all persuasions today has been completely corrupted but hey let’s respect the fact they will likely be the ones to face the worst of what is ahead so, they deserve to be pissed or apathetic.

  6. Davy on Fri, 13th Sep 2019 7:42 am 

    I preach REAL Green Deep Adaptation. This is about honesty to the situation which means altered meaning. It means realizing going local is the best survival strategy. Avoiding the lost cause of civilization’s narrative of manifest destiny and beating the rush down. It means trying to get below the radar and yielding to higher forces to conserve life energy. It means finding meaning in what is left of the planet and restoring and enjoying what can be found. It means shaping a small community if you can and or building a monastery of things and ideas for those who will come after if a community can’t be found. You basically become a teacher, engineer, and or a monk.

    This REAL Green Deep Adaptation is for the awakened and those who have resources at their disposal. REAL Green does not feel righteous and entitled. REAL Green feels humble and tasked with finding meaning for oneself and others. It means being heroic if you can. It means facing death and the denial of death. The denial of death is the biggest handicap. We try to hang on to a good life of health and happiness but that will not be the case even for the best prepared. REAL Green is about green and honest doom and prep. It is about multiple strategies of a hybrid of the old and new combined in triage effort to rid oneself of as many status quo distractions and traps as possible. It is about learning to navigate a minefield of destruction lifestyles and practices. REAL Green is a way of life and lifestyle of a GREEN warrior type.

    REAL Green is not TRUE Green of the subsistence low foot print human. TRUE Green does not mean a harmonious human type because many would chose affluence if it were available. A very small number of humans are TRUE Green and awakened. It is just not an option for many. The TRUE Green subsistence human type deserve respect because they are already “degrowthed”. Leave them alone and quit trying to do sustainable development that is just a force of corrupt market-based capitalism. If the status quo folds up then the population issues of the TRUE Green subsistence type will be addressed until populations are forced lower by a bottleneck.

    REAL Green is the foot print of an honest modern struggling to find meaning in a collapsing world in regards to family, tribe and one’s home. REAL Green attempts to transmute the unreality of the status quo into meaning. A REAL Green can’t leave the status quo but he can reshape some of it to reality and the result is meaning. REAL Green knows in the end it is the Truth that matters as our higher power.

  7. MODS, please do a minimum to rid the Troll on Fri, 13th Sep 2019 7:45 am 

    We can remove juanPaultard with a few easy steps:

    from clog:
    and fill in, you get that the server is hosted by Cloudflare:
    Cloudflare is one of the last bastions of free speech, under lefties also known as “hate speech”. It is very sad that the admin of this site doesn’t seem to want to take the trouble to log in to his server dashboard and active a few presets, enforcing posters to post under a unique username/password combination. That doesn’t eliminate garbage under fake identities, but at least it stops identity theft and that would make a hell of a difference. If possible, you could also enforce that one IP-address can only post under a single identity. Please admin, invest an hour of your time to get this right.”

  8. Sissyfuss on Fri, 13th Sep 2019 8:11 am 

    I agree MODS. It’s getting to the point that in some comment sections over half the comments are identity theft or personal attacks under pseudonyms. Tiringly infantile. We can do better.

  9. MODS supremacist muzzie jerk on Fri, 13th Sep 2019 10:00 am 

    supertard sis is full on muzzie love mode
    some supremacist muzzies sabotaged free speech
    aided by plenty of muzzie lovers

    only muzzie love and nazi love is allowed now

  10. Davy on Fri, 13th Sep 2019 10:04 am 

    Oops, sorry again everyone. The artical we were supposed to be discussing was about Growth. My above copy and pastes and word salads were all off topic.

    This lame forum needs moderation.

  11. Fuck nut juanPaultar on Fri, 13th Sep 2019 10:06 am 


    MODS supremacist muzzie jerk on Fri, 13th Sep 2019 10:00 am

    supertard sis is full on muzzie love mode
    some supremacist muzzies sabotaged free speech
    aided by plenty of muzzie lovers
    only muzzie love and nazi love is allowed now
    Davy on Fri, 13th Sep 2019 10:04 am

    Oops, sorry again everyone. The artical we were supposed to be discussing was about Growth. My above copy and pastes and word salads were all off topic.
    This lame forum needs moderation.

  12. More Davy Sock Puppeering on Fri, 13th Sep 2019 10:16 am 

    Fuck nut juanPaultar

  13. Davy on Fri, 13th Sep 2019 10:21 am 

    I am spending less time on this lame unmoderated forum to concentrate on my own blog. I do want to thank all those who have attacked me with giving me material for growth. You guys are the best.

  14. Davy on Fri, 13th Sep 2019 10:24 am 

    My 10:21 comment was on topic for a change.

  15. MODS supremacist muzzie jerk on Fri, 13th Sep 2019 11:06 am 

    i spend less time on this forum, i start my blog. i’m ferrying muzzies around in full burqa with the learjet.

    “‘lo allah made you ‘best of humanity’ you wear a dress and pee sitting down, holding up the bathroom line and this is superior hygene technique _as amitted by western doctors_ becuase this is in accordance iwth supremecist thinking”

  16. Duncan Idaho on Fri, 13th Sep 2019 11:07 am 

    Federal Budget Deficit Tops $1 Trillion—With No End In Sight–with-no-end-in-sight/#12ba908263a2

    After 6 bankruptcies, we know what the Fat Boy is good at.

  17. MODS supremacist muzzie jerk on Fri, 13th Sep 2019 11:11 am 

    betto orouke is now saying luke must go and they try this hysteria to grab luke and destroyu whitey supertard founders’ supreme law and will succeed. they tried this in 2008 and it failed with full on gun grabbing blitz during (((supremetard))) birth season, never muzzie ramadan

    hand in your luke, boys

  18. juanPaultar on Fri, 13th Sep 2019 11:13 am 

    “My 10:21 comment was on topic for a change.”

    Wrong Davy. You’ve managed to twist things around so everything is all about you again. It’s not.

  19. juan paultard madness on Fri, 13th Sep 2019 11:29 am 

    Troll loser

    juanPaultar said “My 10:21 comment was on topic for a change.” Wron…
    MODS supremacist muzzie jerk said betto orouke is now saying luke must go and they t…
    MODS supremacist muzzie jerk said i spend less time on this forum, i start my blog….
    Davy said My 10:21 comment was on topic for a change.

  20. MODS supremacist muzzie jerk on Fri, 13th Sep 2019 11:39 am 

    turn in your lukes and grab your ankles, boys.
    if it’s no about full muzzie love, it’s about grabbing luke.

    superatard glenn roberts pbuh

    After several years of observation, it became apparent to the editor that the narcissism and lack of self-reflection is a byproduct of the religion itself. This prompted the site’s focus to shift. TROP hopes that readers explore those things which make Islam so very different.

  21. MODSupremanpaultardJuavy on Fri, 13th Sep 2019 12:57 pm 

    Also, Smil is so fucking boring.

  22. Dredd on Sat, 14th Sep 2019 4:24 am 

    The growth of intelligent life is slowing (The TIME Has Come Today).

  23. MODS on Sat, 14th Sep 2019 4:50 am 

    THANK YOU, MODS supremacist muzzie jerk, for some brutally honest commentary.

    Big Goat likes trolling along.

    Learjet fueled up, ready for takeoff to Big Goat 10000 acre DEEP GREEN permaculture mansion with central air conditioning units 24/7.

    Big Goat desire IDs so he can laser sight the vitriol for each person individually.

    pubh sweet??????

  24. big goat on Sat, 14th Sep 2019 4:53 am 

    Big Goat burns Learjet fuel to care for Mrs. Goat hot flashes.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *