[This is part 2 in a series of excerpts of the book The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels by Alex Epstein]
Fossil fuel technology puts everything together: It can get a plentiful fuel source cheaply and convert it to energy cheaply—on a scale that can power life for billions of people. This is why when people choose to use energy to improve their lives, 87 percent of the time they choose fossil fuel energy.30 The technology is that far ahead of the competition. If we want cheap, plentiful, reliable energy around the globe, we absolutely need to use fossil fuel technology. If we want to flourish, we need fossil fuel technology.
And yet opponents of fossil fuel energy claim there are catastrophic consequences to using fossil fuels that will prevent us from flourishing. That will be our subject for the next several chapters.
But before we get there, let’s be clear: If fossil fuels have catastrophic consequences and it makes sense to use a lot less of them, that would be an epic tragedy, given the state of the alternatives right now. Being forced to rely on solar, wind, and biofuels would be a horror beyond anything we can imagine, as a civilization that runs on cheap, plentiful, reliable energy would see its machines dead, its productivity destroyed, its resources disappearing.
Thus it is disturbing to hear politicians talk about restricting fossil fuels as an “exciting opportunity.” John Kerry, our secretary of state, whose job is to represent the mainstream views of America to the rest of the world, described the prospect of outlawing the vast majority of fossil fuels, even if there were no catastrophic climate change, this way:
If the worst-case scenario about climate change, all the worst predictions, if they never materialize, what will be the harm that is done from having made the decision to respond to it? We would actually leave our air cleaner. We would leave our water cleaner. We would actually make our food supply more secure. Our populations would be healthier because of fewer particulates of pollution in the air—less cost to health care. Those are the things that would happen if we happen to be wrong and we responded.31
Actually, the type of “response” governments around the world have embraced—an 80 percent reduction in CO2 emissions over several decades—would, by all the evidence we have, lead to billions of premature deaths.
Fossil fuel energy is, for the foreseeable future, necessary to life. The more of it we produce, the more people will have the ability to improve their lives. The less of it we produce, the more preventable suffering and death will exist. To not use fossil fuels, therefore, is beyond a risk—it is certain mortal peril for mankind.
That brings us to the issue of the major risks cited with fossil-fuel use: climate change and environmental degradation. As we begin to think about risks, we need to keep this in mind: The reason we care about risk is because it is a danger to human life. Thus if something is essential to human life, like fossil fuels, we need to assess all risks in that context.