Why We Must Think More About Fossil Fuel Policy If We Really Care About Human Beings

Alex Epstein writes, “Save the World with . . . Fossil Fuels? In this book I’m going to try to persuade you of something that may seem crazy to you—something that definitely used to seem crazy to me. I’m going to try to persuade you that if you want to make the world a better place, one of the best things you can do is fight for more fossil fuel use—more burning of oil, coal, and natural gas.

While we are almost universally told that more fossil fuel use will destroy the world, I am going to make the case that more fossil fuel use will actually make the world a far better place, a place where billions more people will have the opportunity to flourish, including: to pull themselves out of poverty, to have a chance to pursue their dreams, and—this will likely seem craziest of all—to experience higher environmental quality and less danger from climate.

I am not going to make the case for more fossil fuel use by making some “climate change denier” argument that fossil fuels’ CO2 emissions aren’t impacting climate; I totally acknowledge that they have contributed to the 1°C warming we’ve experienced over the last one-hundred-plus years, and they will contribute to further warming going forward. But I will argue that the negative climate impacts of fossil fuels will be far, far outweighed by the unique benefits of fossil fuels.

Fossil fuels, which provide 80 percent of the world’s energy, have and will continue to have the unique benefit of providing low-cost, reliable energy to billions of people in thousands of places—a benefit that is desperately needed in a world where some 3 billion people still use less electricity than a typical American refrigerator.[1]

Contrary to claims that solar and wind are rapidly replacing fossil fuels, fossil fuel use is still growing, while intermittent solar and wind energy, after generations on the market, provide just 3 percent of the world’s energy—and that 3 percent is totally dependent on fossil fuels, especially natural gas, for 24/7 backup. Solar and wind are nowhere near being able to replace the energy that fossil fuels provide today, let alone the far greater amounts of energy humanity needs going forward.[2]

One of the key benefits of more fossil fuel use, I will argue, will be powering our enormous and growing ability to master climate danger, whether natural or man-made—an ability that has made the average person on Earth 50 times less likely to die from a climate-related disaster than they were in the 1°C colder world of one hundred years ago.[3]

Because fossil fuel use is so vital to the world’s future, I will argue, today’s proposed policies to rapidly eliminate fossil fuel use would, if fully implemented, have truly apocalyptic consequences—making the world an impoverished, dangerous, and miserable place for most people. And even if fossil fuel elimination policies aren’t fully implemented—which they won’t be, given the expressed intent of China, Russia, and India to increase their fossil fuel use—even widespread restrictions on fossil fuel use that fall far short of elimination will shorten and inflict misery on billions of lives, especially in the poorest parts of the world.

Obviously, you wouldn’t want to participate in the movement to rapidly eliminate fossil fuel use if it actually meant inflicting these kinds of harms on other people, and you would want to fight for more fossil fuel use if it actually made the world a far better place…”

Alex Epstein’s Book: Fossil Future: Why Global Human Flourishing Requires More Oil, Coal, and Natural Gas–Not Less” by Alex Epstein.