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Three Cheers for Fossil Fuel

June 1, 2012

I am sick and tired of listening to people knock fossil fuel as though it were an unnecessary evil, which must be replaced with eco-friendly alternative sources of energy. Fossil fuels – coal, oil and gas — are God’s gift to mankind. Before the fossil fuel revolution, the vast majority of the world’s people existed as slaves, serfs, peasants, or subsistence farmers, living hard, short lives without luxuries or freedom, never traveling more than 20 miles from the place they were born. The widespread use fossil fuels caused a massive expansion of human freedom and revolutionized agriculture, manufacturing, and travel.

Those who value human freedom and wellbeing should rejoice in the massive changes that have occurred in the last two centuries – the lower cost of food, clothing and virtually every thing else in relation to income, the increase in mobility, in entertainment, in health care. Virtually every major improvement in the lives of ordinary men and women can be linked in some way to the increase use on fossil fuels. The industrial revolution could not have been possible without the fossil fuel revolution. Without electricity made possible by fossil fuels much of what we take for granted would be severely limited.

Before 1800 human beings relied on wood for heat and beasts of burden for agriculture and travel. The introduction of the steam engine and then the gasoline engine freed people and animals from backbreaking labor. PETA with its concern for animals should applaud the fossil fuel revolution.. Least you think that before the fossil fuel revolution the environment was cleaner and purer, consider the pollution from burning wood, the loss of forests, the piles of animal waste in streets, the lack of sewage treatment, the polluted waterways.

I am not opposed to wind, water, solar, nuclear, or biofuels, but these combined aren’t going to replace fossil fuels any time soon. Of course, we should use fossil fuels prudently. Of course, we should eliminate excess pollution, but for the near future nothing is going to replace fossil fuels as an inexpensive, easily portable source for the energy to fuel our world. We aren’t going to have jets flying on wind power or batteries. Those electric cars that certain people are pushing aren’t going to solve the problem, after all where does the electricity to charge those batteries come from? Mostly, from generators that use fossil fuels.  On the other hand, amazing improvements in battery capacity and silicon chip technology are continually reducing the amount of energy needed to charge ever more powerful electronic devices. Meanwhile, theU.S.has enough fossil fuel to last a century or two.

The anti-fossil fuel crowd is constantly carping about our carbon footprint, but use of the word ‘carbon’ distorts the issue. It is not carbon (black soot) that is being released today. In theUSwe have largely solved that problem; even with coal-burning electricity-generating plants, the smoke is scrubbed. What they are really opposed to is carbon dioxide — a harmless gas, breathed out by every living animal and absorbed by every living plant. Carbon dioxide makes up only 0.03 percent of the earth’s atmosphere – not 3 percent, not 3 tenths of one percent, but 3 hundredths of one percent.

However, if you think that an increase in the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is a problem then there is a simple solution that won’t send us back to the preindustrial era or jack up the cost of power – plant trees. All plants, but especially trees, absorb carbon dioxide. Trees are decorative. Let’s cover our cities in green — trees on every street and in every parking lot, window boxes filled with plants, roof top gardens.

That would be a real green revolution.

One Comment leave one →
  1. June 3, 2012 10:36 am

    Yes, planting trees helps absorb CO2, but, careful, it also tends to decrease albedo (whiteness) leading to more solar energy absorption.

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