Imagine a world without fossil fuel; a world where nature remains untouched. Animal populations increase or decrease following their natural predation cycles, no natural resource is extracted and no pollution whatsoever exists.
This dreamy Eden for anti-humanist environmentalists has “a few” downsides: Phenomenal population decrease from lack of accessible food, from increased infantile mortality due to the lack of modern medicine and from increased disasters that can’t be resisted for lack of modern technology.
The only thing that prevents such an apocalypse are… fossil fuels. For people who value human life above anything else, cheap, abundant, reliable energy in the form of coal, oil and gas (and the people who make them accessible) should be praised. Alex Epstein, founder of the Center for Industrial Progress, gives plenty of reasons why one should appreciate fossil fuels in his brilliant essay The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels.
The core one is the incredible improvement of human life since the Industrial Revolution. Through plenty of graphics, easily accessible online, he shows a clear correlation between increased fossil fuel use and a sharp decrease in infant mortality, diseases, malnutrition and a sharp increase in GDP, life expectancy and access to sanitation and drinkable water.
All of the above could only be possible through cheap, abundant and reliable sources of energy, 87% of which are fossil fuels. Epstein does consider others sources of energy like nuclear and hydro power, which can also be abundant, reliable and cheap. Unfortunately, both suffer mostly from political limitations.
Gloom and Doom that Ignores Human Ingenuity
Indeed, the anti-humanist environmentalists, for whom any human transformation of the natural landscape is evil, fight tooth and nail at virtually any such projects because, according to Epstein, their basic value is human non-intervention in nature.
This explains why, for at least the past 50 years, they have written a litany of books and made speeches about the impending doom our industrial society will bring to both humans and nature… which has never materialized. It hasn’t because human ingenuity knows no border but those that are self-imposed.
This ingenuity has helped the Netherlands, over 90% of which is below sea level, resist the progression of the sea and live where they have for centuries. It also helped humans find new resources and use them more efficiently. Did you know that before 1850, having oil oozing from your property was a curse? And that at the beginning of the “oil age”, most of what was refined was simply dumped?
Nowadays, you can’t go anywhere without finding fossil fuels (plastic, nylon, wax) or finding something that came to be thanks to fossil fuels (transportation, clothes, printing presses). Can you imagine a country like Canada, where agriculture is impossible at least six months per year, being completely cut off fossil fuels during winter when temperatures can easily go down below -20 degrees Celsius?
The Questionable Environmental Problem
And yet, despite all the advantages of cheap, abundant, reliable fossil fuels we have, environmentalist like to focus on the potential dangers they might cause, mainly through catastrophic climate change. For almost 30 years, they have predicted that increased CO2 emissions (from fossil fuel use) will heat up the planet and kill us all.
However, the success rate of climate models to predict future temperatures trends is… almost nil. Yes, you heard that right: According to satellite recordings of temperature (shown by Epstein), 99% of climate models have failed to predict how temperatures would fare.
Besides, why should we reject something only because of its negative sides? If it were the case, then solar and wind power should be rejected outright because of the immense pollution they create through their production cycle – Epstein tells the story of such production in China, and the people he tells the story to claim that we must look at both sides of the equation.
And that’s exactly what one must do when looking at fossil fuels. Their CO2 emissions have had an unexpected positive effect: the planet is getting greener. Since carbon dioxide is plant food, more of it means lusher vegetation and more abundant crops. Also, thanks to cheap, abundant and reliable sources of energy, humans have been able to improve the environment.
Indeed, thanks to exponentially more productive industries, far less land is needed for agriculture and energy, leaving more land available for wilderness. Just imagine how much wood would be needed to provide heat for the U.S. during winter or how much more agricultural land would be needed if the U.S. tried to be self-sufficient…
The Moral High Ground
In short, fossil fuels are what make our modern civilization possible. They are better than so-called renewable energies (solar, wind, biomass and the likes) because they are cheap, abundant and reliable. Who knows, maybe those renewables will one day become cheap, abundant and reliable too, displacing fossil fuels as the main source of energy.
But until that day comes, we need to let markets (i.e. everyone’s decision) decide which source of energy is to be used. Humanists who value human life above everything else must stop making excuses. We have the moral high ground when it comes for caring for others. We are completely justified to use fossil fuels and we must show our pride of it.
Without them, we would look like most Third-World countries, where intermittent electricity (if it exists at all) keeps physicians from properly helping their patients and pushes people to have indoor fire pits, giving them a premature death for inhaling all the resulting smoke.
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