Listening to climate change activists, one gets the impression that we could transition to a fossil fuel-free world in the near future. Besides the virtual impossibility of quickly moving away from coal, oil and natural gas, the source of 85% of global primary energy, we need to ask, do we really want to do this?
That the average person finds it difficult to do a sensible cost-benefit analysis is not surprising. Practically all we hear about fossil fuels from mainstream media, government and special interest groups is their supposed cost, but not their very real and important benefits.
Leading the list of alleged problems is that carbon dioxide emissions from using these fuels will heat the atmosphere over the next century and create disastrous consequences. Most people recognize that the weather bureau cannot accurately predict our weather a week in advance. Yet, we are supposed to take seriously forecasts for the year 2100?
The reports of the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC) summarize thousands of studies from peer-reviewed scientific journals that demonstrate that emissions of carbon dioxide from human activities are not known to cause dangerous climate change. Yet the public tend to base their opinions on the emotions generated by misleading stories about such things as dying polar bears, a species which has actually quintupled in population in the last half century.
Regardless, even experts find it challenging to conduct a proper a cost-benefit analysis on climate change and fossil fuels. In 2011, writing for the Dublin, Ireland Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI Working Paper No. 392), M. Ceronsky and associates concluded that: “The complexity of climate science and economics makes conducting any of these cost-benefit analysis a difficult and perhaps even an impossible challenge.”
Martin Weitzman, Professor of Economics at Harvard University, went even further in a 2015 paper in Review of Environmental Economics and Policy when he said: “The economics of climate change is a problem from hell…trying to do a benefit-cost analysis of climate change policies bends and stretches the capability or our standard economist’s toolkit, up to and perhaps beyond the breaking point.”
What we can do is better appreciate the many hidden benefits of fossil fuels, advantages that few people ever consider. For example, in addition to the 19.4 gallons of gasoline distilled from each 42-gallon barrel of oil are 22.6 gallons of liquid from which we produce all the plastic that goes into our cars, computers and toys and, until recently, plastic straws now outlawed in various jurisdictions. The asphalt that creates our roadways are petroleum products, as is synthetic rubber, much of our fertilizers, pesticides, detergents, furniture, ball point pens, motorcycle helmets, skis, epoxy paints, electrical tape, fishing rods, soft contact lenses, fan belts, artificial limbs and even hearing aids. Do we really want so many important products eliminated from our lives for the sake of supposedly protecting the climate decades hence?
But wait, there is more.
Fossil fuels made it possible to replace horses as the primary means of transportation. This saved millions of acres of land previously dedicated to growing feed for horses, allowing a dramatic expansion of our nation’s forests. Increased atmospheric carbon dioxide has further advanced forest growth and will soon make it possible to grow plants in regions currently too dry to do so.
Electricity is clearly one of the greatest inventions in human history. 80% of all electricity in the world is produced from burning fossil fuels. No alternative energy can be relied on for continuous power.
Fossil fuels revolutionized society by making transportation faster and less expensive, and safer for everyone. The increase in product mobility has been a boon for everyone. There are no areas of life not improved by it.
Speaking at the America First Energy Conference in Houston in November 2017, Dr. Roger H. Bezdek, of Management Information Services, Inc., summed up: “What has fossil fuels done for us recently? They are the foundation of our current economy. They created (and sustained) the modern world. They permit the current high quality of life we all enjoy. Over the past two centuries life expectancy has more than doubled, populations increased eightfold, real incomes have increased worldwide more than eleven-fold.”
Bezdek, an internationally recognized energy analyst, will be speaking in Panel 2: Energy and Climate Economics, that may be viewed on line starting at 11 a.m., Eastern on July 25 at the 13th International Climate Change Conference (ICCC-13) in Washington, DC.
America without fossil fuels would be a nation with the standard of living of the 19th century. So, if you think life was great in 1860—a time without electricity, airline travel, widespread internal combustion engines, refrigeration, air conditioning, cell phones, Internet and computers—then, yes, stop using fossil fuels. But don’t impose your standards on the rest of us.
Dr. Jay Lehr is Senior Policy Analyst with the Ottawa, Canada-based International Climate Science Coalition (ICSC). He will be receiving the Dauntless Purveyor of Climate Truth Award from The Heartland Institute at ICCC-13. Tom Harris is ICSC Executive Director and a policy advisor to The Heartland Institute.