James Shott / August 11, 2015

The Other Side of the Argument: Appreciating Fossil Fuels

Predictions of horrible things happening if we continue burning fossil fuels are fairly common these days. Man is killing the Earth by continuing to use fossil fuels — coal, oil and natural gas — to power electricity generation, make motor vehicles go, and now even to cook your dinner outside on the grill.

This compulsive thinking has driven the Environmental Protection Agency to dictate that the nation reduce the 2005 level of carbon emissions by 32 percent by 2030, despite that doing so will cost thousands of jobs and millions of dollars, all to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the air by one-tenth of a percent.

Almost no one argues that global warming isn’t a reality. However, the current period of global warming has taken a timeout for well more than a decade. Most people know that for thousands of years there have been alternating periods of warming and cooling on the Earth. The important question is, however, whether the low level of recent warming is significant, and more to the point, whether or not the actions of human beings contribute significantly to the slight warming period that is now on hold.

The carbon-mania gripping environmental scaremongers in the U.S. ignores the plain fact that compared to China and India, among others, the U.S. is by far a minor contributor of carbon emissions.

Two things have been forgotten — or perhaps conveniently covered up. One is the long list of predicted global catastrophes that have not come to pass. The other is how much better the lives of human beings are because we have learned how to use fossil fuels to make our lives better.

According to the BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2013 “Historical Data Workbook,” 87 percent of the energy mankind uses every second comes from burning one of those fossil fuels.

People who live in cold climates use fossil fuels to warm their homes, and people who live in warm climates use fossil fuels to cool their homes. Fossil fuels are used to plant and harvest crops that feed people, and are used to transport food from places where food is produced to places where it is needed and wanted. Fossil fuels are used to light the darkness, to entertain us, transport us, diagnose disease, communicate with each other, mass-produce products we need and want, and to provide security in our homes and for the nation.

And we also do not hear how much better the lives of the poorest people living in the direst conditions on Earth could be if we were helping them to use fossil fuels to their benefit the way the developed world does.

Technology enables us to modify the way we use fossil fuels to control our climate to our advantage, and to progressively improve the way we use fossil fuels to do less harm. Because of technological advances our air today is much cleaner than it was a hundred years ago. Technology not only provides many wonderful assets for us, but also improves itself, so that these crucial technologies now cause little harm to the environment.

Imagine where the world would be today if we had never learned to use fossil fuels and to develop those technologies for our benefit. Imagine what would happen if suddenly all of the facilities that burn fossil fuels for electricity production and for other purposes just simply stopped doing so for several weeks.

And perhaps that is what is needed to get the American people to open up to the truth that using fossil fuels not only is good for us, but also is not harmful to the environment to a significant degree.

A major fallacy in the war against fossil fuels is the belief that they are harmful because they are dirty, and “natural” sources of energy like wind and solar power are not harmful because they are not dirty. But both wind power and solar power also have their negative side, in addition to not being capable of replacing fossil fuels any time in the foreseeable future.

The rare Earth elements needed for wind turbines, for example, can be acquired only through an enormous and complex mining process to find and excavate them. And that mining process requires machinery driven by fossil fuels.

Establishing a wind farm on a mountaintop requires a great deal of clearing of wooded lands and the building of roads for access and towers for transmission lines. Enormous solar farms both substantially warm the acres of land beneath them and attract and kill birds.

Many leading environmentalists, including those who predict fossil fuel catastrophe, hold as their most important value what they call “pristine” nature or wilderness nature unaltered by man. They see humans as a plague upon the Earth.

Alex Epstein, author of the excellent book The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels, holds human life as his most important value. When you accept that human life is the most important consideration, then small infringements on nature and the environment that yield great advances and benefits for humans are perfectly acceptable.

That is the sensible way to look at it. That is the human way to look at it.

James Shott is a columnist for the Bluefield Daily Telegraph, and publishes his columns on several Websites, including his own, Observations.

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