The undeniable advantages of fossil fuels

It may seem obvious that whenever we are evaluating what to do about a product or technology, we need to carefully consider not just the negative side effects, but the benefits as well. And yet, many of our leading thinkers and institutions fail to do so when it comes to fossil fuels. We are regularly told that fossil fuels must be phased out quickly. Such calls ignore three crucial and undeniable facts about the benefits of fossil fuels:

1. Fossil fuels are a particularly cost-effective source of energy.

2. Cost-effective energy is essential for human flourishing.

3. Billions of people suffer and die for lack of profitable energy.

Fossil fuels are a particularly cost-effective source of energy

Fossil fuels are now widely described as just one of many sources of energy – one easily replaceable by alternatives, especially “renewable” solar and wind power.

But this representation completely contradicts reality. In fact, alternatives such as solar and wind have been trying fiercely to compete with fossil fuels for over 50 years, yet fossil fuels still provide 80% of the world’s energy, four times more than all the alternatives combined. . And, despite calls to do otherwise, the global use of fossil fuels is growing rapidly. China and India, for example, have 288 new coal-fired power plants with a combined capacity of over 300 GW in development as of January 2022.

Why are fossil fuels so dominant and growing rapidly?

Because they are a uniquely cost-effective energy source, providing energy that is (1) inexpensive, (2) reliable, (3) incredibly versatile, and (4) at scale for billions of people in thousands of places .

No other energy source comes close to the profitability of fossil fuels.

And the exceptionally cost-effective energy that fossil fuels provide is not just a modest benefit: it is a benefit that is essential to human flourishing – the ability of human beings to live long, healthy and fulfilled lives.

Cost-effective energy is essential for human flourishing

Just as human beings cannot function without enough food to fuel them, machines, whether automobiles, iPhones or steel furnaces, cannot function without enough “food” – energy.

The essential value of energy and machines for human flourishing is that they amplify and expand our naturally lean productive capacity – our ability to produce the material values ​​we need to survive and thrive, from food to clothing. including housing, medical care and education.

I like to call today’s enormous use of machines to amplify and expand our productive capabilities “the work of the machine.” The work of machines is clearly a major reason why billions of people are now living the longest, healthiest and most opportunity-rich lives in history.

For example, in the United States, the average person uses about 75 times more “machine calories” than food calories, which means that we have, in fact, 75 “machine workers” producing value for us around the clock. and 7 days a week.

Billions of people suffer and die for lack of profitable energy

Here’s a scary fact we hardly ever hear: More than 3 billion people – more than one in three people on Earth – use almost no energy, including electricity. I call these people members of the “powerless world”. As energy expert Robert Bryce has observed, the average person in the world without power uses less electricity than a typical American refrigerator. And 2.4 billion people, mostly in the non-self-governing world, primarily use wood and animal dung for cooking and heating their homes.

The fact that billions of people are suffering and dying for lack of cost-effective energy is a tragedy that can only be significantly resolved in the foreseeable future by a continued increase in the use of fossil fuels.

Thus, one of the main benefits of fossil fuels is to extend and improve the lives of billions of poor people around the world.

The unique, essential, and desperately needed benefits of fossil energy must be discussed at the forefront whenever we consider the side effects of fossil fuels, including CO2 emissions that contribute to global warming.

And yet, leading thinkers and institutions consistently ignore the benefits of fossil fuels. Take the best-selling book “The Madhouse Effect” by climatologist and designated expert Michael Mann. One of the main topics is how rising CO2 levels will hurt food production, but, incredibly, Mr Mann makes no mention of the essential benefit of using fossil fuels for the availability of food – that the availability of food we have today is totally dependent on low-cost, on-demand, versatile, global-scale fossil fuel energy to fuel modern agricultural machinery with oil and to create modern fertilizers with natural gas.

Calls by Mr. Mann and other appointed experts to phase out fossil fuels quickly without considering the benefits of fossil fuels have already led to disaster. For example, European countries have been obsessed with climate challenges speculated on farming, but not on producing enough fossil fuels to cheaply power their farm equipment and produce fertilizers. Skyrocketing fuel, fertilizer and food prices – along with a deadly reliance on Russia – were the inevitable result of their denial of the benefits of fossil fuels.

Until and unless our leading thinkers and institutions fully recognize the massive benefits, life or death, of fossil fuels in the future, they should not be considered credible.

• Alex Epstein, founder of the Center for Industrial Progress and author of the forthcoming book “Fossil Future” (portfolio: May 24, 2022).