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Caroline C. Lewis / Sep. 14, 2017

Hurricane Relief: Brought to You by Fossil Fuels

Powering helicopters, generators and utility vehicles, fossil fuels continue to save lives.

In recent weeks, the nation has watched those in Texas and Florida experience major hurricanes, complete with horrific rains and devastating winds, damaging homes, vehicles and even taking lives. No one can deny the heroism of the first responders and regular Americans who have aided their neighbors in the midst of disaster. In addition, one industry has helped the rescue and recovery more than any other: the fossil fuel industry. Powering helicopters, generators and utility vehicles, fossil fuels continue to save the lives of those affected by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

In south Texas, diesel (or jet fuel) helicopters rescued people from their rooftops. Commercial planes, utilizing jet engine fuel, transported refugees from Houston to Dallas for shelter and food. Diesel-powered firetrucks and ambulances rushed to the aid of people, as did the National Guard and the Air Force’s diesel and jet-engine powered planes. After the waters receded volunteers drove their gasoline or diesel-powered vehicles to render aid to those in need.

When the power lines were down and parts of Texas and Florida lacked electricity, back-up generators, powered by diesel, natural gas or LP fuel gave electricity to apartment residents, and patients in hospitals, many for whom a power outage could be deadly as patients on ventilators and dialysis require electricity. (The eight people who died at a Florida nursing home without air conditioning attest to this.)

As Texas and Florida rebuild their damaged cities, they continue to clear the road of debris using diesel-powered cranes and heavy equipment. They use gasoline-powered chainsaws to cut apart the fallen trees blocking the roads and diesel-powered trucks to haul it off. Utility companies use diesel-powered construction equipment to dig deep holes to plant new poles for power lines and stand in diesel-powered cranes to attach the wires.

Hungry evacuees ate bread and peanut butter farmed by diesel-powered farm equipment, slept on cotton blankets harvested by diesel-powered equipment and drank bottled water produced in factories that use fuel not only to run their machines but to create the plastic bottles.

In addition, cell phones, computers and technology equipment have helped to keep people connected, and provided advanced warning systems to help people evacuate or take shelter. And fossil fuels? The microchip, the defining element of all computers and cellphones, is made from silica, a mineral mined by diesel-powered mining equipment.

Fossil fuel divestment campaigns, which seek to destroy the energy industry, advocate for people, corporations and endowments to sell their stock in petroleum-based industries. They shout slogans like “People over Profit” and claim divestment as a moral obligation. Yet they ignore the reality of how fossil fuels, not divestment campaigns, put people over profit by saving lives. How we steward our resources to preserve human life stands as both the truly compassionate approach to putting people over profit and the greater moral obligation.

Some may say, “Great, but we are saving lives at the expense of the environment,” as if we must choose between the environment and saving lives with fossil fuels. However, according to Forbes magazine, air pollution in the U.S. has declined 72% since 1970, in spite of a 47% total increase in energy use during the same span. That’s because our technological advances have improved fuel-efficiency and cleaner internal machinery, causing less petroleum waste by-products in the air.

While wind, solar-powered and electric equipment certainly have their place, their functionality is no match for the fossil fuel-powered equipment that has literally saved lives in recent weeks. No solar-powered chainsaws or helicopters saved the day. Technological advances, research and innovation should continue to take place, and we should always strive to create new products that help make our world a better place. But we should not forget the debt of gratitude that we owe to the petroleum industry for fueling our greatest needs in our time of disaster.

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