Vaclav Smil

Vaclav Smil


Profile image by Olibroman at English Wikipedia, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license..


Vaclav Smil is distinguished professor emeritus2Professors,” University of Manitoba. Archived March 20, 2019. URL: at the Department of Environment and Geography at the University of Manitoba. According to his website, Smil does research in energy, environment and population change, food production and nutrition, technical innovation, risk assessment, and public policy.3Welcome,” Vaclav Smil. Archived March 20, 2019. URL:

Smil’s professional speaker bio promotes him as “among the most important thought leaders of our time” and notes that Bill Gates has mentioned Smil on his blog and recommended him to audiences. Gates is described as one of Smil’s “biggest fans” in a 2018 piece in Science magazine, which also notes that Smil and Gates views differ on energy. 

“I am more optimistic than [Smil] is about the prospects of speeding up the process when it comes to clean energy,” Gates has written, while Smil has described Gates as a “techno-optimist” as opposed to himself, as a “European pessimist.”4Biography,” APB. Archived March 20, 2019. URL: 5Paul Voosen. “Meet Vaclav Smil, the man who has quietly shaped how the world thinks about energy,” Science magazineMarch 21, 2018. Archived March 19, 2019. URL:

Vaclav Smil has written “40 books and nearly 500 papers” according to his website.6Welcome,” Vaclav Smil. Archived March 20, 2019. URL: Among those— many of which focus on energy transitions, as well as the history of oil—are articles and books7Energy Myths and Realities: Bringing Science to the Energy Policy Debate (PDF). The AEI Press, Washington, DC (2010). he has written with The American Enterprise Institute (AEI). AEI has received millions of dollars from industry groups including oil giant ExxonMobil and has released studies promoting doubt about the existence of man-caused climate change.8Obama’s Indefensible Pipeline Punt,” The American, November 15, 2011. Arhcived March 20, 2019. URL:

Stance on Climate Change

March 21, 2018

In a profile in Science magazine, Smil constructed his own models of how carbon dioxide emissions might affect climate and found it “wanting.” “I have too much respect for reality,” Smil said.9Paul Voosen. “Meet Vaclav Smil, the man who has quietly shaped how the world thinks about energy,” Science magazineMarch 21, 2018. Archived March 19, 2019. URL:

The Science article writes that Smil “accepts the sobering reality of climate change—though he is dubious of much climate modeling—and believes we need to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels.” Smil, however, is skeptical of a rapid shift to alternative forms of energy.10Paul Voosen. “Meet Vaclav Smil, the man who has quietly shaped how the world thinks about energy,” Science magazineMarch 21, 2018. Archived March 19, 2019. URL:

January 2014

Writing in Global Energy Affairs, Smil said:11“Energy in 2013: Changes and Constants” (PDF), Global Energy Affairs, January 2014. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog.

“[B]ecause the world is so heavily dependent on fossil fuels the greatest challenge may be the way we will cope with global climate change.”

“Unfortunately, our models of global warming cannot tell us with a high level of confidence how rapid that change will be and how high the temperatures will rise in 50 or 100 years: difference of a single degree of Celsius translate into very different environmental and economic consequences. If we knew what was coming with certainty we could decide which one of the two main courses of action – gradual adaptation or an all-out effort aimed at emission reduction – is the more rational choice. But we do not, and this means that our production and use of energy, and hence our economic and social well-being, will continue to unfold in a world of profound uncertainty. That, too, is one constant that will not change for decades to come.”

July 30, 2010

In a book published by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) press entitled “Energy Myths and Realities: Bringing Science to the Energy Policy Debate,” writing in a section on natural carbon sequestration, Smil wrote:12Energy Myths and Realities: Bringing Science to the Energy Policy Debate (PDF). The AEI Press, Washington, DC (2010).

“Global warming will […]  lengthen the growing seasons and intensify water cycling—that is, the overall amount of precipitation will increase—in many regions. This combination will result in higher plant productivity, a trend that was already evident throughout most of the United States during the latter half of the twentieth century. But what the long-term effect of such changes will be is not clear. Will the additional productivity be promptly negated by higher rates of respiration in a warmer world? Will most of its increment be stored in long-lived tissues, such as trunks and major roots, or tissues with rapid turnover, such as foliage and fine roots? And, most fundamentally, will global warming eventually convert forests from carbon sinks to carbon sources?”


According to a review of Smil’s book, The Worst Is Yet To Be, he estimates a temperature increase of 2.5 to 3 degrees Celsius over the next hundred years.13Charles Perrow. “The Worst Is Yet to Be,” American Scientist Vol. 97, Number 1 (January-February 2009). Archived March 19, 2019. URL:

While on sea levels, he says that “a cautious conclusion” would be that they will rise about 15 centimeters by 2050—“clearly a noncatastrophic change.”

According to Smil, the dollar impact of moderate global warming would be a “a trivial sum in all affluent countries.” He supports this with research from William Nordhaus.


“[C]limate change resulting from emissions of CO2 (and from releases of other greenhouse gases) will have an indisputably global effect,” Smil wrote in a 2000 report titled “Energy in the Twentieth Century” in Annual Review of Energy and the Environment.14Vacalv Smil. “Energy in the 20th century: resources, conversions, costs, uses, and consequences” (PDF)Annual Review of Energy and the Environment, 2000.


“Surely, hydraulic fracturing will not invariably poison the air, will not cause spates of local mini-earthquakes, and will not produce flaming faucets in all nearby areas (the three frightening clichés advanced by its opponents) — but the activity, especially if done in thousands of hurried repetitions and sometimes without careful planning, has the potential to be often unpleasant and disruptive, and sometimes outright damaging,” Smil wrote in an article at the American Enterprise Institute’s publication, The American.15Vaclav Smil. “The Natural Gas Boom: Questions and Complications,” The American, June 15, 2014. Archived March 20, 2019. URL:

Peak Oil

“Obviously, there will come a time when global oil extraction will reach its peak, but even that point may be of little practical interest as it could be followed by a prolonged, gentle decline or by an extended output plateau at a somewhat lower level than peak production. At the beginning of 2013, there are no signs that the beginning of this new oil era (regardless of its specific course) is imminent, and forecasting its onset remains an exercise in futility. Only one thing is abundantly clear to me: for the past 15 years I have been quite confident that there is no imminent danger of any sharp peak of global oil extraction followed by an inexorable production slide — and early in 2013 that confidence is greatly strengthened by new facts. Is it too much to hope that even some catastrophists and peak-oil cultists will find it impossible to ignore those numbers?” Smil wrote in The American.16Memories of Peak Oil,” The American, February 21, 2013. Archived March 20, 2019. URL:

Nuclear Energy

“Public unease about safety and problems with costs, liability, and permanent storage do not make a flourishing nuclear industry impossible, but they do demonstrate the enormous influence that mistaken public risk perception can have on government policy and reveal the consistently inept bureaucratic handling of the challenge so far,” Smil wrote at the American Enterprise Institute‘s blog, AEIdeas.17A Realistic Future for Nuclear Energy,” AEIdeas, September 10, 2010. Archived March 20, 2019. URL:

Nuclear energy’s discouraging record is even more unfortunate given that nuclear generation is the only low-carbon-footprint energy option readily available on a gigawatt-level scale. This is why nuclear power should be part of any serious attempt to reduce the rate of global warming. At the same time, it would be naïve to think that nuclear power could be (as some suggest) the single most effective tool for combating climate change in the next ten to 30 years. The best hope is for it to offer a modest contribution.”

Key Quotes


Smil commented in the Pictet Report on carbon capture and storage, or sequestration, as a proposed climate change solution:18Vaclav Smil. “On overhyped inventions, category errors and missed opportunities,” Pictet Report, Summer 2023. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog.

“[M]ass balances and cost considerations are enormously challenging. To sequester just 10% of all CO2 emitted from fossil fuel combustion, we would have to develop a new global industry that could handle the same mass of CO2 annually as the global mass of crude oil production. And the process would have to work in the opposite direction by spending huge amounts of money and energy to force billons of tons of supercritical CO2 fluid underground rather than bringing highly profitable oil above ground.”


“On the long road to complete decarbonization natural gas remains –when properly produced, transported and distributed– the least carbon-intensive fuel and this advantage is strengthened by its high conversion efficiencies,” Smil wrote in a publication titled Natural Gas in the New Energy World (PDF).19Vacliv Smil. “Natural Gas in the New Energy World” (PDF), Naturgy Foundation, 2021. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog.

June 2021

Smil discussed methane leakage is an issue in Crosstalk, a publication of IEEE:

“Without doubt, methane leakages during extraction, processing, and transportation do diminish the overall beneficial impact of using more natural gas, but they do not erase it, and they can be substantially reduced,” he suggested in an IEEE publication.20Vaclav Smil. “Fugitive emissions” (PDF), IEEE Spectrum June 2021. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog.

He concluded:

“To think that the supposedly greenest alternatives, photovoltaics and wind turbines, produce no fossil-fuel footprint and bring only benefits is to ignore reality. So too does the uninformed judgment about the evils of natural gas: It is not a perfect choice—nothing is—but its benefits surpass its drawbacks, and they could be raised even further.”


In an interview with UM Today, Smil said:21CONVERSATION WITH A VISIONARY: Vaclav Smil,UM Today, Fall 2018. Archived March 20, 2019. URL:

Interviewer: “Tell me more about what’s happening on the energy front.”

Smil: “We haven’t made a single correct move in energy.” […]

“Hydroelectricity is the best, the most sustainable—I hate that word, sustainable. That’s the best form of renewable energy there is today, right? Because it runs all the time. Wind—well, you know, even in Manitoba, it’s not there 75 per cent of the time…. People feel constrained to be publicly correct to build a wind turbine farm…. Why do we do these stupidities, right? Well, because we feel renewable energy is only solar and wind, right? Not hydro apparently. Most people don’t think that way.”

Interviewer: “You mentioned you dislike the word sustainability.”

Smil: “Yeah, absolutely hate it [the word sustainability] because there is no such thing. Sustainability cannot be defined. Sustainable for what? Over next year? Over 10 years? Over a millennium? On a local basis, on a planetary basis? I mean, there are so many time and space dimensions to it you cannot define what is sustainable. If somebody is boasting that what they are doing is sustainable, it’s a total laugh. There is no sustainable thing.”

March 21, 2018

In an interview with Science magazine, Smil said:22Paul Voosen. “Meet Vaclav Smil, the man who has quietly shaped how the world thinks about energy,” Science magazineMarch 21, 2018. Archived March 19, 2019. URL:

“I have never been wrong on these major energy and environmental issues because I have nothing to sell.”

 “We have been increasing our global dependence on fossil fuels. Not decreasing.”

November 2015

In an article in the OECD Observer, Smil wrote:23“Energy transitions, renewables and rational energy use: A reality check” (PDF)OECD Observer No. 304 (November 2015).

“A shift to nuclear energy or to modern conversions of renewable energy flows was always inevitable. If fuel resources and technical abilities to recover them at affordable price were the only limitations, we could anticipate at least another century or more of coal, oil and gas. Global warming has made the transition to non-carbon energies a matter of some urgency, but we must nevertheless be realistic about the size and speed of such a shift.”

“A combination of subsidy changes–removing them from fossil fuels, enhancing them for new renewables–mandated production targets and intensified R&D could accelerate the transition to renewables, but it is unlikely to displace all fossil fuels in a few decades, particularly as many low income countries will rely on them for their development.”

“We should not forget that the environmentally least disruptive action is not to turn to new technical solutions to produce more energy in different ways, but simply to do with less. ‘Less is more’ has never been more desirable than in the case of tackling the rising levels of atmospheric CO2.

September 13, 2010

Writing at the American Enterprise Institute‘s blog, AEIdeas:24Myth: The Future Belongs to Electric Cars,” AEIdeas, September 13, 2010. Archived March 20, 2019. URL:

“The myth that the future belongs to electric cars is one of the original misconceptions of the modern energy era, dating back to the introduction of the very first passenger vehicles.”

“’Flipping the switch’ and going electric will not solve America’s automotive dependence on imported oil, either in the near- or long-term. A far better use of resources would be to focus on the development of more efficient gasoline-powered engines; there is no reason the U.S. fleet should not average 50 mpg rather than today’s average of less than 25 mpg.”

September 8, 2010

Writing at the American Enterprise Institute’s blog, AEIdeas:25The True (Slow) Pace of Energy Transitions,” AEIdeas, September 8, 2010. Archived March 21, 2019. URL:

“A new energy myth was created by the country’s most famous Nobel Prize-winner in July 2008 when former Vice President Al Gore claimed that America’s entire thermal electricity generation industry could be replaced by ‘green’ alternatives in a single decade: ‘Today I challenge our nation to commit to producing 100 percent of our electricity from renewable energy and truly clean carbon-free sources within 10 years. This goal is achievable, affordable, and transformative.’ Transformative it would be, but it would certainly not be affordable, and, even if it were, it could never be accomplished in such a short period of time.”

July 30, 2010

In ”Energy Myths and Realities: Bringing Science to the Energy Policy Debate” Smil wrote that judgements about coal as an energy source have been “unfair”:26Energy Myths and Realities: Bringing Science to the Energy Policy Debate (PDF). The AEI Press, Washington, DC (2010).

“While fossil fuels remain the very foundation of modern economic growth, spreading prosperity and a decent quality of life, they are no longer seen in that light. Rather, they are perceived as undesirable, outright dangerous, or even immoral, since their continuing use is thought to pose an unprecedented threat to the survival of modern civilization. Growing fears about rapid global warming caused by emissions of CO2 from the combustion of fossil fuels are behind this increasingly stringent judgment, and these fears feed (mostly unrealistic) visions of an accelerated global transition to nonfossil energies.”

“Coal has always been more polluting in terms of particulate matter and sulfur oxide emissions than other hydrocarbons, and because it also has the highest CO2 emissions per unit of released energy, it is seen as the most undesirable choice. A closer look at coal’s attributes and the history of its use shows that this judgment is unfair and suggests that if the fuel’s conversion were done with the most efficient techniques available today, we would have no reason to view it so negatively.  Crude oil—largely because of the continuing indispensability of refined fuels for the entire transportation sector occupies a more exalted place than coal. Although its considerable environmental impact is a concern, the main worry about oil is that its global extraction may peak in the very near future, and that this peak will not be followed by a prolonged production plateau but, rather, by a steep decline that will bring a multitude of economic and social hardships—in the most extreme versions, the end of modern civilization. That is why the first myth I debunk in this part of the book is the peak  oil myth.”

November 19, 2008

“To think that the United States can install in 10 years wind and solar generating capacity equivalent to that of thermal power plants that took nearly 60 years to construct is delusional,” Smil wrote in The American.27Moore’s Curse and the Great Energy Delusion,” The American, Novembe 19, 2008. Archived March 20, 2019. URL:

May 8, 2008

In a letter to Nature, Smil said he largely agreed with a Nature commentary by Roger Pielke Jr. and others about stabilizing carbon emissions:28Pielke Sr, Roger & Wigley, Tom & Green, Christopher. “Dangerous assumptions,” Nature. 452. 531-2 (2008). 10.1038/452531a. 29“Long-range energy forecasts are no more than fairy tales” (PDF), Correspondence in Nature Vol. 453 (May 8, 2008. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog.

“I largely agree with the overall conclusion of Pielke et al. that the IPCC assessment is overly optimistic,” Smil wrote. “But I fear that the situation is even worse than the authors imply.”

“The speed of transition from a predominantly fossil-fuelled world to conversions of renewable flows is being grossly overestimated: all energy transitions are multigenerational affairs with their complex infrastructural and learning needs. Their progress cannot substantially be accelerated either by wishful thinking or by government ministers’ fiats.”

Key Actions

September 25, 2023 (Upcoming)

Vaclav Smil is set to speak at a dinner event in Vancouver, Canada described as “A pragmatic approach to navigating global challenges and finding a better balance.”30A Reasoned Path: An Evening with Vaclav Smil,” Vaclav in Vancouver. Archived July 10, 2023. Archive URL:

“What will it take to reach net-zero emissions targets, and is it possible to reach net-zero goals by 2050 without phasing out oil and gas? These are among the most important questions facing Canadian businesses, regulators and public officials.” The event description reads.

September 5, 2022

The Los Angeles Times interviewed Smil by email and published an article titled “The energy historian who says rapid decarbonization is a fantasy.31Russ Mitchell. “The energy historian who says rapid decarbonization is a fantasy,” Los Angeles Times, September 5, 2022. Archived July 10, 2023. Archive URL:

“We are still running into fossil fuels, not away from them,” Smil said, suggesting it isn’t possible to rapidly switch to renewable energy and net zero.32Russ Mitchell. “The energy historian who says rapid decarbonization is a fantasy,” Los Angeles Times, September 5, 2022. Archived July 10, 2023. Archive URL:

“Fossil fuels now supply about 83% of the world’s commercial energy, compared to 86% in the year 2000. The new renewables (wind and solar) now provide (after some two decades of development) still less than 6% of the world’s primary energy, still less than hydroelectricity.33Russ Mitchell. “The energy historian who says rapid decarbonization is a fantasy,” Los Angeles Times, September 5, 2022. Archived July 10, 2023. Archive URL:

What are the chances that after going from 86% to 83% during the first two decades of the 21st century the world will go from 83% to zero during the next two decades?” Smil said.34Russ Mitchell. “The energy historian who says rapid decarbonization is a fantasy,” Los Angeles Times, September 5, 2022. Archived July 10, 2023. Archive URL:

Discussing electric vehicles (EVs), Smil suggested “The notion that any EV is a zero-carbon car is nonsense.”35Russ Mitchell. “The energy historian who says rapid decarbonization is a fantasy,” Los Angeles Times, September 5, 2022. Archived July 10, 2023. Archive URL:

April 22, 2022

The New York Times published an interview with Vaclav Smil’s discussing his book, How the World Really Works: The Science Behind How We Got Here and Where We’re Going, set to be published on May 10.36David Marchese. “This Eminent Scientist Says Climate Activists Need to Get Real,” The New York Times Magazine, April 22, 2022. Archived May 3, 2022. Archive URL:

Discussing the idea of decarbonization, Smil said the COP’s goals were unrealistic:

“[A]ccording to COP26, The 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference, held in Glasgow last fall.
we should reduce our carbon dioxide emissions by 45 percent by 2030 as compared with 2010 levels. This is undoable because there’s just eight years left, and emissions are still rising. People don’t appreciate the magnitude of the task and are setting up artificial deadlines which are unrealistic.”

“What’s the point of setting goals which cannot be achieved? People call it aspirational. I call it delusional,” he added. “I’m all for realistic goals. I will not yield on this point. It’s misleading and doesn’t serve any use because we will not achieve it, and then people say, What’s the point? I’m all for goals but for strict realism in setting them.”

Smil responded to the New York Times’ question, “Do you think we are facing a civilizational threat in climate change?”

“I cannot answer that question without having the threat defined. […] What do you want me to say? I cannot tell you that we don’t have a problem because we do have a problem. But I cannot tell you it’s the end of the world by next Monday because it is not the end of the world by next Monday. What’s the point of you pressing me to belong to one of these groups? We have a problem; it will be difficult to solve. Even more difficult than people think.”

Smil discussed whether there is a “a viable path built on burning natural gas that gets us to a future of less warming”:

“You can produce natural gas in the right way. Unfortunately there are too many places around the world where we produce natural gas in the wrong way,” Smil said. “[…] If I were in charge of the planet: The most practical thing to do to reduce the emissions during the last 20 years would have been to rapidly close down as many coal-fired power plants as possible and replace their generation with combined-cycle 60-percent-plus-efficient natural gas plants.”

Smil concluded the interview: ” […] We don’t need pushing to the sides. What we need is the dull, factually correct and accurate middle. Because only from that middle will come the solutions. Solutions never come from extremes. It’s also irresponsible to state the problem in ways where, when you look closer, it’s not like that. There are these billions of people who want to burn more fossil fuel. There is very little you can do about that. They will burn it unless you give them something different. But who will give them something different? You have to recognize the realities of the world, and the realities of the world tend to be unpleasant, discouraging and depressing.”

June 28, 2012

Smil wrote an article at IEEE Spectrum titled “A Skeptic Looks at Alternative Energy.” In the article, Smil contends that in “the world of new renewable energies […] subsidies rule—and consumers pay.” Smil argues that reducing emissions in the Western world would be “utterly swamped” by increases in coal use in China and India:37Vaclav Smil. “A Skeptic Looks at Alternative Energy,” IEEE Spectrum, June 28, 2012. Archived March 20, 2019. URL:

“The ultimate justification for alternative energy centers on its mitigation of global warming: Using wind, solar, and biomass sources of energy adds less greenhouse gas to the atmosphere. But because greenhouse gases have global effects, the efficacy of this substitution must be judged on a global scale. And then we have to face the fact that the Western world’s wind and solar contributions to the reduction of carbon-dioxide emissions are being utterly swamped by the increased burning of coal in China and India.”

November 15, 2011

Writing at The Americanthe journal of the industry-funded American Enterprise Institute—Smil argued against delaying the Keystone XL pipeline. He wrote: “Obama’s delaying consideration of the Keystone XL pipeline is what is called a spherically perfect decision, because no matter from which angle you look at it, it looks perfectly the same: wrong.”38Obama’s Indefensible Pipeline Punt,” The American, November 15, 2011. Arhcived March 20, 2019. URL:

Smil writes that CO2 emissions from the Keystone KL pipeline would be dwarfed by emissions from China, using this as an argument for why the pipeline would have little impact on climate change. He wrote: “If there would be no oil-sand oil produced in Alberta to feed the XL pipeline and then refined in the United States and the products burned in American vehicles, then the Chinese would generate an additional mass of CO2 equivalent to that prevented burden in less than two weeks.”

He concluded: “By preventing the oil flow from Canada, the United States will thus deliberately deprive itself of new manufacturing and construction jobs; it will not slow down the increase of global CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion (OK, by two weeks, perhaps); it will almost certainly empower China; and it will make itself strategically even more vulnerable by becoming further dependent on declining, unstable, and contested overseas crude oil supplies. That is what is called a spherically perfect decision, because no matter from which angle you look at it, it looks perfectly the same: wrong.”

July 30, 2010

Smil wrote a book published by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) press entitled “Energy Myths and Realities: Bringing Science to the Energy Policy Debate.”39Energy Myths and Realities: Bringing Science to the Energy Policy Debate (PDF). The AEI Press, Washington, DC (2010).

In the book, Smil outlines a number of “myths.” The first supposed myth is regarding electric vehicles: “The myth that the future belongs to electric vehicles is one of the original misconceptions of the modern energy era, going back to the very introduction of the first practical passenger cars,” Smil wrote. “[I]t will be decades, rather than years, before we can judge to what extent electric cars offer a real substitute for vehicles powered by internal combustion engines and contribute to more efficient personal transportation in the United States.”

He describes nuclear energy as a “successful failure.” According to Smil: “Nuclear power should be part of any serious attempt to reduce the rate of global warming; at the same time, it would be naïve to think that it could be (as some suggest) the single most effective component of this challenge during the next ten to thirty years. The best hope is for it to offer a modest contribution.”


Social Media

In an interview with UM Today, the University of Manitoba’s magazine, Smil said: “I’m about as private as it gets. I will never have Facebook, you know? I mean, never. Never be on LinkedIn. Nothing! Nothing. You won’t find me anywhere, right? Let’s put it this way. I don’t understand why people are not private.”44CONVERSATION WITH A VISIONARY: Vaclav Smil,UM Today, Fall 2018. Archived March 20, 2019. URL:

However, he does appear to have a seldom-used account on Twitter (@VaclavSmil).


According to his website, Vaclav Smil has “published 40 books and nearly 500 papers” on topics relating to his research.45Welcome,” Vaclav Smil. Archived March 20, 2019. URL:

AEI Publications

Smil also has an author profile at the American Enterprise Institute where he regularly publishes in their publication, The American. Below are some of his AEI Publications:


His books include:46Welcome,” Vaclav Smil. Archived March 20, 2019. URL:

  • Energy and Civilization: A History. The MIT Press (2017).
  • Natural Gas: Fuel for the 21st Century. Wiley (2015).
  • Power Density: A Key to Understanding Energy Sources and Uses. The MIT Press (2015).
  • Making the Modern World: Materials and Dematerialization. Wiley (2013).
  • Made in the USA: The Rise and Retreat of American Manufacturing. The MIT Press (2013).
  • Should We Eat Meat? Evolution and Consequences of Modern Carnivory. Wiley (2013).
  • Harvesting the Biosphere; What We Have Taken from Nature. The MIT Press (2013).
  • Japan’s Dietary Transition and Its Impacts. The MIT Press (2012).
  • Prime Movers of Globalization: The History and Impact of Diesel Engines and Gas Turbines. The MIT Press Cambridge (2010).
  • Energy Myths and Realities: Bringing Science to the Energy Policy Debate. The AEI Press (2010).
  • Energy Transitions: History, Requirements, Prospects. Praeger Santa Barabara, CA (2010).
  • Why America is Not a New Rome. MIT Press Cambridge 2010. 
  • Global Catastrophes and Trends: The Next Fifty Years. The MIT Press (2008).
  • Oil: A Beginner’s Guide. Oneworld Publications (2008).
  • Energy in Nature and Society: General Energetics of Complex Systems. The MIT Press (2008).
  • Energy: A Beginner’s Guide. Oneworld Publications (2006).
  • Transforming the Twentieth Century: Technical Innovations and Their Consequences. Oxford University Press (2006).
  • Creating the Twentieth Century: Technical Innovations of 1867-1914 and Their Lasting Impact. Oxford University Press (2005).
  • China’s Past, China’s Future. RoutledgeCurzon (2004).
  • Energy at the Crossroads Global Perspectives and Uncertainties. The MIT Press (2003).
  • The Earth’s Biosphere: Evolution, Dynamics and Change. The MIT Press (2002).
  • Enriching the Earth: Fritz Haber, Carl Bosch and the Transformation of World Food Production. The MIT Press (2001).
  • Feeding the World: A Challenge for the 21st Century. The MIT Press (2000).
  • Cycles of Life: Civilization and the Biosphere. Scientific American Library (2000).
  • Energies: An Illustrated Guide to the Biosphere and Civilization. The MIT Press (1998).
  • Energy in World History. Westview Press (1994).
  • China’s Environment: An Inquiry into the Limits of National Development. M. E. Sharpe, Armonk 1993.
  • Global Ecology: Environmental Change and Social Flexibility. Routledge (1993).
  • General Energetics: Energy in the Biosphere and Civilization, John Wiley (1991).
  • Energy in China’s Modernization. M.E. Sharpe, Armonk (1988).
  • Energy Food Environment: Realities Myths Options. Oxford University Press (1987).
  • Carbon Nitrogen Sulfur: Human Interference in Grand Biospheric Cycles. Plenum Press (1985).
  • The Bad Earth: Environmental Degradation in China. M.E. Sharpe, Armonk (1984).
  • Biomass Energies: Resources, Links, Constraints. Plenum Press (1983).
  • (In collaboration with P. Nachman and T.V. Long, II) Energy Analysis in Agriculture: An Application to U.S. Corn Production. Westview Press (1982)
  • (In collaboration with W. E. Knowland) Energy in the Developing World. Oxford University Press (1980).
  • China’s Energy: Achievements, Problems, Prospects. Praeger Publishers (1976).

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