Category — Fossil Fuel Utility
“We love energy with conviction, while they hate it with confusion.”
- Alex Epstein
On Sunday, February 17th, 350.org and the Sierra Club hosted the “Forward on Climate” rally on the National Mall in Washington D.C. It was billed as the “largest climate rally in history.” Just like the anti-Keystone XL rally in 2011, protesters pushed the Obama administration to continue to block the Keystone XL pipeline, which would bring crude oil from Alberta, Canada, to U.S. refineries.
But unlike the 2011 rally, Sunday’s protesters were challenged by Alex Epstein and his Light Brigade, an “educational counter-protest” whose members wore bright yellow t-shirts and shared their sincere appreciation for life-giving energy. I am proud to say I was part of that group.
Alex et al. did a great job of explaining to an adamantly anti-oil crowd just how much better their lives are because of oil. It was interesting to watch people realize that their whole day was predicated on oil – the polyester clothes they were wearing, the ibuprofen they took that morning, the computer chips in their phones, their plastic water bottles, the synthetic rubber in their shoes, not to mention the gas in the cars they drove to get there (even an abridged list is mind-boggling).
However, one key point that unfortunately never sank in with anyone we talked to is that the climate has become dramatically safer with fossil fuel-driven industrial improvements. It seemed like no one cared about that crucial fact. [Read more →]
February 25, 2013 7 Comments
“[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
[Ed. note: Part II tomorrow by Dr. Goklany will examine how fossil fuels saved nature, not only mankind, given population growth and the increasing demand for energy.]
“What was instrumental in powering the grand transformation that began with Industrial Revolution? The answer is fossil fuels that upended a world that was dependent on living nature for virtually its entire well-being–and thus nature’s Malthusian vise.”
For most of history, outside of conflict, human existence was defined by climate, weather, disease, and other natural factors. Virtually everything that humanity depended upon was the recent product of living nature.
What economic historian Edward Wrigley calls “the organic economy” supplied humanity with all its food, fuel, clothing, and skins, and much of its medicine and material products. Living nature also supplied the sustenance for the animals—oxen, horses, donkeys, camels, even elephants—that humans drafted as beasts of burden to transport themselves and their goods, till the soil, and provide mechanical power.
Organic Fuel, Poverty Energy
Food for human beings and feed for animals were then, as now, the direct or indirect product of recent plant photosynthesis. Virtually all fuel was obtained via woody products. Houses were built from logs and other vegetation supplemented by clay, earth, and stones. The few worldly goods humans possessed were also mostly from recent photosynthetic products (e.g., wood, natural fiber, skin, or bone), barring the occasional trinket or luxury good made of some exotic metal or stone.
No wonder that the gods who controlled the weather and rain— Zeus, Jupiter, Indra, Thor—were the mightiest in the pantheons of ancient civilizations. [Read more →]
January 24, 2013 18 Comments