How the World Really Works

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I start this article with a quiz. What are the 6 human-made materials that are essential for our modern comfortable, affluent lifestyle? The book “How the World Really Works”, by scientist, Vaelav Smil, says they are low-cost energy, food, ammonia, steel, cement and plastics. Had I taken the quiz, I probably
would have gotten energy and food right and maybe steel, cement and plastics, but never would have chosen ammonia. As the author explains, ammonia makes the list because it is essential to make nitrogen fertilizers without which, worldwide food crop yields would be reduced by half and half of the world’s 8 billion people would starve to death.

The author explains how each material is produced, processed, distributed and transported across thousands of miles and delivered to us. He also explains how that material is essential for our lifestyles. He says we could give up all the information technology produced over the last 70 years and our lifestyle
would not suffer. If we lose one of the essential materials, our lifestyle will suffer catastrophic consequences.

The author does not rank the six materials; however, low-cost energy is essential to make the other five materials; therefore, I rank it number 1. The author explains why Fossil Fuels (coal, oil, gas) will remain essential for our lifestyles for the next 50 to 100 years. All claims to ban fossil fuels in 10 years or by
2050 are totally unrealistic and cannot be done without destroying our lifestyle and the US economy.

We will no longer have the largest economy and strongest military in the world and would be replaced by communist China the sole superpower. Green energy (solar, wind, biomass) technology is not efficient or cost-effective enough to replace fossil fuels. If we are serious about reducing carbon dioxide emissions, there are less costly ways to do so.

Uncontrolled coal bed fires in China produce more carbon dioxide each year than all US vehicles. India and the US also have similar fires, yet no effort is made to extinguish them. About one-third of US energy use is for vehicles, a third for heating and cooling buildings and a third for manufacturing. Technology exists now to make all three much more efficient. All of our electric power should be generated with nuclear power plants that produce no carbon dioxide and are as cost-effective as natural gas power plants. Modular nuclear power units are now available that are safe and cost-effective to install and operate. More realistic environmental rules would be necessary but are blocked by environmental activists. About 85% of France’s power generation is nuclear and has been for many years. The US needs to do likewise.