Tens of thousands of protesters will be swarming New York this Sunday to encourage the United Nations to call for drastic cuts for fossil fuels. They think they are doing the moral thing in encouraging the UN to oppose the use of coal, oil, and natural gas.
In fact they’re supporting policies that would cut billions of lives short. Literally. Before anyone picks up a protest sign or petitions the UN, they should know these six facts about fossil fuels and human life.
(Comprehensive citations are available in Chapter 1 of The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels, available here.)
Fact 1: The use of cheap, plentiful, reliable energy from fossil fuels is dramatically increasing life expectancy and prosperity in the underdeveloped world.
In the 1970s and 80s, just like today, environmentalists said we had a moral obligation to dramatically reduce fossil fuel use or face disaster. Stanford Professor Paul Ehrlich, one of today’s leading ecologists and mentor to President Obama’s Science Advisor John Holdren, said in 1974:
America’s economic joyride is coming to an end: there will be no more cheap, abundant energy, no more cheap abundant food.
Instead, the world nearly doubled fossil fuel use since 1980, and life expectancy and prosperity have improved across the board—especially in China and India, which increased their use of fossil fuels by a factor of five.
Sources: BP , Statistical Review of World Energy 2013, Historical data workbook; World Bank, World Development Indicators (WDI) Online Data, April 2014
If we deprive them—or future generations—of the right to use fossil fuel energy, we will have blood on our hands.
Fact 2: There is not one modern economy in the world that is powered by solar and wind, because they are inferior, unreliable sources of energy.
You may have heard that Germany has proven that solar and wind are viable sources of energy. In fact, it’s proven that they aren’t. Here is a graph of the production of solar and wind electricity production in Germany for the entire year 2013.
It uses the most precise data available from the European Energy Exchange, and illustrates what common-sense tells us; no country is relying on the sun and wind to produce energy on-demand.
Source: European Energy Exchange AG Transparency Platform Data (2013)
In a given week in Germany, the world leader in solar and number three in wind, their solar panels and windmills may generate less than 5 percent of needed electricity. Thus, Germany can’t and doesn’t rely on solar and wind. As Germany has paid tens of billions of dollars to subsidize solar panels and windmills, fossil fuel capacity, especially coal, has not been shut down—it has increased.
If they and the rest of the world were starved of fossil fuels and forced to try to live on solar and wind, the result would be catastrophe. Yet that’s what you are told is a “moral” goal to protest for.
Fact 3: Our climate has never been more livable.
The “People’s Climate” March webpage shows images of poor people drowning thanks to the behavior of rich people, part of the narrative that using fossil fuels is making our climate incredibly volatile and dangerous.
It would be good to look at some facts, though. As we use fossil fuels, what happens to the livability of our climate?
The key statistic here, one that is unfortunately almost never mentioned, is “climate-related deaths,” which tracks changes over time in how many people die from a climate-related cause, including droughts, floods, storms, and extreme temperatures.
The data are collected by the non-partisan International Disaster Database EM-DAT.
Decades ago, leading environmentalists claims that yesterday’s fossil fuel use would make today disastrous. Bill McKibben wrote in 1989:
The choice of doing nothing—of continuing to burn ever more oil and coal—is not a choice, in other words. It will lead us, if not straight to hell, then straight to a place with a similar temperature.
John Holdren in the mid-1980s predicted that fossil fuel use could kill a billion people through climate-induced famines by 2020.
What has actually happened? The trends are shocking—the climate is far, for more livable than ever before.
Sources: Boden, Marland, Andres (2013); Etheridge et al. (1998); Keeling et al. (2001); MacFarling Meure et al. (2006); Merged Ice- Core Record Data, Scripps Institution of Oceanography; EM-DAT InternationalDisaster Database
In the last eighty years, as CO2 emissions have most rapidly escalated, the annual rate of climate-related deaths worldwide fell by an incredible rate of 98 percent. That means the incidence of death from climate is fifty times lower than it was eighty years ago.
Here’s the truth: climate is always extremely volatile and extremely dangerous, and it will always be changing. The key to climate livability is building a durable, dynamic civilization that is highly resilient to extreme heat, extreme cold, floods, storms, and so on.
Using fossil fuels doesn’t take a safe climate and make it dangerous, it takes a dangerous climate and makes it safe. If we want to protect the underdeveloped world from climate danger, let them use energy—don’t march for policies that would bring them an early death.
Fact 4: Air pollution keeps decreasing.
Air quality has steadily improved in the countries that use the most fossil fuels.
Take the United States. Since 1970, our fossil fuel use has increased 25% and yet according to President Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency, here is what has happened to 6 top air pollutants.
Source: U.S. EPA National Emissions Inventory Air Pollutant Emissions Trends Data
The main cause here is anti-pollution technology that can generate energy from coal, oil, and natural gas ever-more cleanly. As this technology is used more and more in China and India, their pollution problems will decrease, not increase.
And billions around the world can use fossil fuels to replace the scourge of indoor air pollution from wood and dung—power sources they will continue to rely upon if the UN moves forward with its anti-fossil-fuel agenda.
Fact 5: The supply of clean water keeps increasing.
Water quality has improved around the world. One of the most important environmental indicators is “Access to improved water sources,” which measures access to clean water. Although we’re taught to think of fossil fuel use as fouling up our water, access to clean drinking water has gone up dramatically in the last 25 years as countries have used more and more fossil fuels.
Sources: BP, Statistical Review of World Energy 2013, Historical data workbook; World Bank, World Development Indicators (WDI) Online Data, April 2014
Nature doesn’t give us the ample clean water we need. We need a lot of cheap, reliable energy to power powering machines that clean up nature’s health hazards, such as water purification plants. Using fossil fuels supplied it.
If you want to see the clean water numbers plunge back down, then march on Sunday for less energy.
Fact 6: Proposed bans on fossil fuel use would make billions live shorter, less prosperously, and with worse environments.
For decades, leading environmentalists have called for massive bans on fossil fuel use. In the 1970s Ehrlich wrote:
Except in special circumstances, all construction of power generating facilities should cease immediately, and power companies should be forbidden to encourage people to use more power. Power is much too cheap. It should certainly be made more expensive and perhaps rationed, in order to reduce its frivolous use.
In 1998, Bill McKibben endorsed a scenario of outlawing 60 percent of present fossil fuel use to slow catastrophic climate change, even though that would mean, in his words, that
each human being would get to produce 1.69 metric tons of carbon dioxide annually—which would allow you to drive an average American car nine miles a day. By the time the population increased to 8.5 billion, in about 2025, you’d be down to six miles a day. If you carpooled, you’d have about three pounds of CO2 left in your daily ration—enough to run a highly efficient refrigerator. Forget your computer, your TV, your stereo, your stove, your dishwasher, your water heater, your microwave, your water pump, your clock. Forget your light bulbs, compact fluorescent or not.
All of these thinkers still advocate similar policies today—in fact, in his 2010 book People’s Climate March leader Bill McKibben endorses a 95 percent ban on fossil fuel use, eight times as severe as the scenario described above!
This is the leader of the People’s Climate March. Is this something you want to be a part of?
McKibben admits that his goal is not human prosperity but rather reduced human development—a “humbler world” with fewer human beings where there are fewer human beings who are less concerned with prosperity and happiness. In his own words: “Though not in our time, and not in the time of our children, or their children, if we now, today, limited our numbers and our desires and our ambitions, perhaps nature could someday resume its independent working.”
In a “humbler world,” McKibben says, “human happiness would be of secondary importance.”
I believe that human happiness and human life should be of primary importance. If you do, too, then please share these facts with anyone who is truly interested in doing the right thing about our energy and environmental future.
If you’re in New York—I will be—I hope you join me in sharing some of these facts with the people of this city. New York’s unmatched combination of productivity, opportunity, and recreation can only exist with a continuous flow of cheap, plentiful, reliable energy. You can find these facts here or a shorter summary here. Feel free to print them out, hand them out, and email them out as you please. If you decide to go and counter-educate, let me know how it goes by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.