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.
Whether you’re drinking clean drinking water, listening to a thunderstorm with pleasure instead of fear, or going to the Grand Canyon, you should be thanking Big Coal, Big Oil, and Big Gas.
And when you hear heartbreaking stories of children with diseases that we once had but no longer do–malaria, tuberculosis, even the plague–you should commit yourself to bringing about a world that produces more energy. Much more energy–at today’s global level of energy production, only 2.5 billion people out of 7 billion could use as much energy as Europeans do.
Energy Poverty, not CO2, Is the Problem
But to listen to the environmental establishment, the cause of the problems of the bad environments is not the blatant deficiency in energy and development. The alleged problem is the energy that makes development possible: the 85% of energy production that comes from fossil fuels. Generating power from fossil fuels increases the trace percentage of CO2 in our atmosphere. (Revealingly, “environmentalists” find reasons to oppose the other, CO2-free, sources of practical power, nuclear and hydroelectric.) That CO2 is, amazingly, the villain in all our environmental ills.
That the good environments exist is an inconvenient truth. If acknowledged, one could not pretend that the environmental problems of North Mexico vs. the environmental health of South Texas were caused by today’s climate.
Consider this highlight clip from Bill McKibben, “the nation’s leading environmentalist” according to The Boston Globe, in which he blames certain increases in malaria, dengue fever, cholera, and salmonella on CO2-induced climate change.
What about a lack of development, of proper sanitation, and, above all, of the wonderful synthetic malaria-killer that is DDT? More broadly, what about a lack of the cheap, reliable fossil fuel energy that has underlain all of Western industrial and technological development?
It doesn’t even get a mention–let alone the starring role it deserves in any discussion of improving our environment.
Unfortunately, it rarely gets a mention by the other side, either. Advocates and producers of fossil fuels have largely failed to make the environmental case for fossil fuels, and thus ceded the environmental high ground to McKibben and the rest of the catastrophic global warming movement.
McKibben’s Challenge to the Fossil-Fuel Industry
This concession reached a gory climax in July, when McKibben published the article “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math,” in which he called for a movement to condemn and dismantle the fossil fuel industry. He called the fossil fuel industry “Public Enemy Number One to the survival of our planetary civilization.” “[W]e need,” he has said in his popular book Eaarth (the extra “a” represents a damaged planet) “to cut our fossil fuel use by a factor of twenty over the next few decades.”
The article was a sensation. It received 120,000 “Likes” on Facebook–which an exultant Center for American Progress blogger described as “monster social media numbers of the kind usually reserved for pieces on HuffPost about Kim Kardashian in a bikini.” And it was celebrated by citizens and intellectual elites alike.
McKibben had declared the fossil fuel industry to be immoral, an environmental menace–he had declared open war on the fossil fuel industry–the war was celebrated by the media–and yet the industry was silent. Keep in mind McKibben is no piker–this is a man who in 2009 organized 5200 simultaneous protests for 350.org.
… and My Challenge to McKibben
Someone needed to say something. And not just on a corner of the Internet the environmental establishment could evade, but somewhere that the truth could not be ignored–a public debate, recorded for posterity and promoted around the world.
So I challenged McKibben to a public debate. I stated my reasons on YouTube, and I offered McKibben $10,000 and a venue at Duke University (thanks to the Program on Values and Ethics in the Marketplace). To his credit, he quickly accepted.
Thus, on November 5, at Duke University, McKibben will be arguing that “fossil fuels are a risk to the planet.” I will be arguing that “fossil fuels improve the planet.”
This is the first debate ever where a world-class environmentalist will be challenged by the powerful environmental case for fossil fuels. It is an opportunity to show the world how the truth about fossil fuels stacks up against the best the other side has to offer.
But this opportunity will only exist to the extent we can marshal the resources to get the word out.
Please help promote this debate–especially if you are in the free-market energy community or fossil fuel industry. Our official website is www.fossilfueldebate.com, and you can also visit our Facebook page. For more info on how to get involved, you can reach me at [email protected].