20 Wonderful Vaclav Smil Quotes

Vaclav Smil is a Czech-Canadian scientist and policy analyst that is known for his many books on energy from “Energy Myths and Realities’ to ‘Making the Modern World.’ Here is a look at some of the most defining Vaclav Smil quotes to remember.

“A good many times I have been present at gatherings of people who, by the standards of the traditional culture, are thought highly educated and who have with considerable gusto been expressing their incredulity at the illiteracy of scientists.”

“A useful analogy is to see traditional societies as relying on instantaneous (or minimally delayed) and constantly replenished solar income, while modern civilization is withdrawing accumulated solar capital at rates that will exhaust it in a tiny fraction of the time that was needed to create it.”

“Apple! Boy, what a story. No taxes paid, everything made abroad—yet everyone worships them. This new iPhone, there’s nothing new in it. Just a golden color. What the hell, right? When people start playing with color, you know they’re played out.”

“China’s ruling party, as firmly in control of the government as ever, attracts foreign companies and enormous direct investment by guaranteeing the stability of a police state and by supplying a docile workforce that labors with minimum rights.”

“Despite the decline in consumer spending brought on by the greatest economic downturn since World War II, the difference between jobs in manufacturing and in retail had reached nearly three million workers.”


“Energy is the only universal currency: one of its many forms must be transformed to another in order for stars to shine, planets to rotate, plants to grow, and civilizations to evolve.”

“Everyone [in higher education] was what I call drillers of deeper wells. These academics sit at the bottom of a deep well and they look up and see a sliver of the sky. They know everything about that little sliver of sky and nothing else. I scan all my horizons.”

“I believe that without the preservation and reinvigoration of manufacturing, the United States has little chance to extricate itself from its current economic problems.”

“I wrote this book because I wanted to narrate the great, and a truly nation-building, story of US manufacturing”

“It’s probably the craziest place to grow rice. Look at the evaporation in the summer — it’s 40 degrees Celsius and doesn’t see rain for months.”

“Later studies estimated that at least 6.4 Mt of plastic litter enters the oceans every year; that some 8 million pieces are discarded every day.”

“Life’s great dichotomy is between autotrophs, organisms that can nourish themselves, and heterotrophs, or life forms that must feed on other organisms.”

“Material for the records. The rubber was soon replaced by shellac, and that material was used.”

“No matter how complex or affluent, human societies are nothing but subsystems of the biosphere, the Earth’s thin veneer of life, which is ultimately run by bacteria, fungi and green plants.”

“Once or twice I have been provoked and have asked the company how many of them could describe the Second Law of Thermodynamics.”

“Romania was the greatest exception with GDP up strongly by about 55% but with the country’s material consumption expanding 2.5 times during the decade, a clear case of rising inefficiency of material use and increasing dependence of economic growth on higher material inputs.”

“The world now consumes in one year nearly as much steel as it did during the first post-World War II decade, and (even more incredibly) more cement than it consumed during the first half of the twentieth century.”

“They don’t have it and they don’t manage it right, but they somehow manage it a little bit better every year so the crisis never fully happens.”

“We create the modern world’s material wealth with no more than a quarter of all energy we use.”

“You get up and, first thing in the morning, you do your 500 words. Do it every day and you’ve got a book in eight or nine months.”

Vaclav Smil discusses today’s fossil fuel civilization and energy transition as society shifts to a low carbon future.

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