Category — Environmental Improvement
“[F]ossil-fuel-dependent technologies that stretched living nature’s natural productivity and displaced some of its products not only permitted humanity to escape the Malthusian vise, but saved nature itself from being overwhelmed by humanity’s demands.”
The collective demand for land to meet humanity’s demands for food, fuel, and other products of living nature is—and always has been—the single most important threat to ecosystems and biodiversity. Yet fossil-fuel-dependent technologies have kept that demand for land in check.
This positive aspect of the impact of fossil fuels on the environment has been ignored in most popular narratives, which instead emphasize fossil fuels’ potential detrimental effects, including air, water, and solid-waste pollution, as well as any climate change associated with the use and production of these fuels. Because of this oversight, and thus lacking balance, these studies generally conclude that fossil fuels have been an environmental disaster.
Agricultural Advances: Less Land, More Habitat
To obtain a notion of the magnitude of the environmental benefits of fossil fuels, consider just the effect of fertilizers and pesticides on the amount of habitat saved from conversion to cropland because fossil fuels were used to meet current food demands. The Haber-Bosch process, by itself, is responsible for feeding 48 percent of global population and pesticides have reduced losses from pests for a range of food-related crops by 26–40 percent.
Together, these two sets of technologies might therefore be responsible for feeding approximately 60 percent of the world’s population, assuming that pesticides that are not manufactured with significant fossil fuel inputs would be half as effective as those that require fossil fuels. Therefore, had fossil fuels not been used, the world would have needed to increase the global amount of cropland by an additional 150 percent. [Read more →]
January 25, 2013 8 Comments
99.9% of discussion of fossil fuels and our environment ignores the single most important fact about fossil fuels and our environment: fossil fuels have made our environment amazingly good.
The difference between a healthy environment and an unhealthy environment can be summed up in one word, and it’s not “CO2” or “climate” or “temperature.” It’s “development.”
Every region of the world, in its undeveloped state, is full of deadly environmental hazards such as indoor air pollution, bacteria-filled water, excessive cold, excessive heat, lack of rainfall, too much rainfall, powerful storms, disease-carrying insects, lack of sanitation, disease-carrying crops and animals, etc.
And yet some nations, such as the US, have the best air, water, indoor temperature, crops, sanitation, water supplies, storm-protection, disease-prevention, sanitation, and overall environmental quality in human history–while others are plagued by heat waves, cold snaps, drought, storms, crop failures, malaria and dozens of other dread diseases, filth, dung-burning fires, lack of clean drinking water.
The reason for this is development–the improvement of nature to meet human needs. Development means water purification systems, irrigation, synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, genetically-improved crops, dams, sea walls, heating, air conditioning, sturdy homes, drained swamps, central power stations, vaccination, pharmaceuticals, and so on.
Every aspect of development has one common requirement: cheap, plentiful, reliable energy. And we would not have cheap, plentiful, reliable energy without the fossil fuel industry. Fossil fuels have transformed hazardous natural environments the world over into healthy human environments–environments that include an unprecedented ability to explore and safely enjoy nature. [Read more →]
September 28, 2012 13 Comments