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Category — Environmental Improvement

Taking the Environmental High Ground on Fossil Fuels

“You may know that coal has dramatically improved the economies of India and China by allowing them to build super-productive factories that make their people much more well off financially. But you might not know that their environments have gotten much better as well.”

Yesterday I wrote about why it is so important for the energy industry to take the moral high ground in the debate about fossil fuels, and today I want to connect that to the related issue of taking the environmental high ground.

One of the ways in which environmentalists have been able to gain the moral high ground is by accusing the energy industry of polluting the environment and making life on earth worse. On its face that may seem plausible, but as I wrote Tuesday, if you look at key indicators of human health as they relate to the environment, fossil fuels have actually improved our environment and made us healthier than we’ve ever been at any other time in history.

For the same reason the energy industry deserves to take the moral high ground, so it deserves to and should claim the environmental high ground. Here are some thoughts on how to do that.

Taking the Environmental High Ground

Whenever possible in a debate, you want to take the high ground right out of the gate. When discussing fossil fuels, that is particularly true on environmental issues.

Here’s an example of how to do it on coal. Here’s what the industry might say to a college audience:

[Read more →]

August 29, 2013   3 Comments

Fossil Fuels Improve the Planet

[Editor's Note: For the next several days, Master Resource will publish a series of posts with excerpts from Alex Epstein's book, Fossil Fuels Improve the Planet.]

“Humans have the untapped potential to radically improve life on earth by using technology, not to “save” the planet but to improve it for human purposes.”

The basic question underlying our energy policy debates is this: Should we be free to generate more and more energy using fossil fuels? Or should we restrict and progressively outlaw fossil fuels as “dirty energy”?

I believe that if we look at the big picture, the facts are clear. If we want a healthy, livable environment, then we must be free to use fossil fuels. Why? Because for the foreseeable future, fossil fuels provide the key to a great environment: abundant, affordable, reliable energy.

We’re taught in school that the key to a great environment is to minimize our “impact” on it. We think of our environment as something that starts out healthy and that we humans mess up. Not so. Nature does not give us a healthy environment to live in; until the fossil-fueled industrial revolution of the last two centuries, human beings lived in an environment that was low on useful resources and high on danger. [1]

Today’s industrialized environment is the cleanest, healthiest in history. If you want to see what “dirty” looks like, go to a country that is still living in “natural,” pre-industrial times. Try choking on the natural smoke of a natural open fire burning natural wood or animal dung—the kind of air pollution that has been almost eliminated by modern, centralized power plants. Try getting your water from a local brook that is naturally infested with the natural germs of all the local animals—the once-perennial threat that modern, fossil-fuel-powered water purification systems eliminate. Try coping with the dramatic temperature and weather swings that occur in nearly any climate—a threat that fossil-fuel powered air-conditioning, heating, and construction have made extremely rare.

We live in an environment where the air we breathe and the water we drink and the food we eat will not make us sick, and where we can cope with the often hostile climate of nature. That is a huge achievement—an achievement that lives or dies with the mass-production of energy. We can live this way only by getting high-powered machines to do the vast majority of our physical work for us. [2] [Read more →]

August 27, 2013   Comments Off

Nature, Not Only Mankind, Saved by Fossil Fuels

“[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   9 Comments

Challenging Bill McKibben and the Green Establishment: The Environmental Case for Fossil Fuels

I’m debating Bill McKibben this November on the environmental impact of fossil fuels. Here is a preview.

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