Smil has spent his career exploring the fields of energy, environmental and population change, food production and nutrition, technical innovation, risk assessment and public policy and is widely regarded as one of the most important thinkers of our time. He has published forty books and over 500 papers, worked as a consultant for many US, EU and international institutions, and lectured at many conferences and universities around the world.He was named one of Foreign Policy’s Top 100 Global Thinkers of 2010 and received an OPEC Award in 2015 for his research on energy.
Smil’s range of expertise is expansive. In 2013 alone, he published four books on a wide array of global issues. Harvesting the Biosphere looked at the extent in which we exploit the world’s resources for food and raw materials. Should We Eat Meat? provided a systematic look at the evolution of human carnivorism and modern meat production. Made in the USA: The Rise and Retreat of American Manufacturing explained how manufacturing made the U.S. a superpower and how that achievement has been been dwindling. Finally, Making the Modern World: Materials and Dematerialization focused on material foundations of modern civilization and more efficient uses of materials.
Smil is critical there will be a rapid transition to clean energy, believing it will take much longer than many predict. Smil said “I have never been wrong on these major energy and environmental issues because I have nothing to sell,” unlike many energy companies and politicians. Smil notes that as of 2018, coal, oil, and natural gas still supply 90% of the world’s primary energy. Despite decades of growth of renewable energy, the world uses more fossil fuels in 2018 than in 2000. His work points out the modern energy industry constitutes the world’s most massive, indispensable, expensive and inertial infrastructure.