Saturday, July 25, 2015

On being identified as an "enemy of humanity"

Dave: I was referred to a blog called Dialogues On Global Warming, where a friend of mine had been labeled as an "enemy of humanity" because he believes people who use global warming as an excuse for massive social change are mistaken.  In this case, he was pointing out some of the errors of replacing fossil fuels with wind power.  I decided to comment and then attracted a reply.  The dialogue is below.
A brief word on being an enemy of humanity. Energy from fossil fuels has provided the basis for virtually every advance in the quality of human life since the industrial revolution. If it was not for fossil fuels human life would still be full of darkness, disease, arduous physical labor, discomfort, poor nutrition and education, a lack of transportation and communication and a litany of other failings when compared to life today.
The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels is brilliantly laid out in the book by Alex Epstein. The overwhelming evidence of the dramatic benefits of fossil fuel energy is clearly laid out for anyone who takes the time to think and learn. If human life is your standard of value as it is mine, then you will understand the (currently) irreplaceable value of fossil fuel energy.
The scientists, entrepreneurs and industrialists who discovered, commercialized and mass produced this life-giving energy should be celebrated as heroes of humanity instead of being vilified. The true enemies of humanity are those who would force the use of expensive and unreliable energy upon us. By themselves in a free country wind and solar would occupy a niche market and it is only through force that they are more than a tiny fraction of total energy production. These forced initiatives reduce the freedom, choice, health and wealth of humanity, especially the poorest who are most in need of cheap industrial scale energy.
I'm well aware of this book and it is a perfect example of how the fossil fuel industry engages in deceit. The thing that has benefited people is energy, not fossil fuel energy. If we replace coal and oil with something else, people still get the benefits of energy. And, by the way, I find it interesting how you failed to mention the cost of that fossil fuel energy. Where is your concern about the mercury, arsenic, particulate matter, SO2 and other poisons? Why don't you mention all of the cancer, asthma, heart disease and many other ailments caused by fossil fuel energy? Did you show any concern for the environmental devastation caused by the fossil fuel industry?
Oh, please note who suffers the most from all of this - the poor. And, also note the fossil fuel industry has steadfastly refused to pay for the damage. Let the poor deal with it. It's there problem. Right?
Funny how all of that got left out of your message.

I did not evade the legitimate concerns of particulates and SO2 etc. The effects of these on human life are already included in the data on human health, wealth and longevity.  In "The Moral Case For Fossil Fuels" Alex Epstein demonstrates through clear, rational widely available data that as fossil fuel energy production rises so to does every important aggregate measure of human quality of life. People are healthier, wealthier and live much longer because humanity has developed energy from fossil fuels that leverages our ingenuity and ability to do work to improve our environment. Would you rather live in a feces-ridden, disease-filled, place with polluted air, water and food like the pre-fossil fuel medieval times where people burned anything they could find to survive, or a comfortable, warm, modern home built with, from and energized by fossil fuels and with access to a safe, inexpensive supply of food and water also provided by the use of fossil fuels? It is the poorest in society who benefit the most from energy production since access to energy creates a more level playing field in the economy, shifting emphasis from the ownership or control of land towards the use of your mind for further wealth creation. When it comes to the value of your mind, unless prevented by the force of other individuals or government, the only limit is the one you place on it.

Every source of energy we have found so far has some aspects which will seem negative when viewed from certain perspectives. The key is whether people decide such an energy source is presently their best choice, given the full context of their lives. When a population is poor (pre-industrial) they have little wealth and so must use whatever energy sources they can find. If they decide their lives are improved by the use of coal, net of the negatives of mining and inefficient combustion, then that is all they can reasonably do. It is immoral to expect such a population to use natural gas or nuclear when they do not yet have the wealth or knowledge to do so. The damage you refer to is not caused by the fossil fuel industry but by the choice of the individuals who comprise the population to use energy from fossil fuels as the source of preference in their lives. In a free country no one is forced to use a particular type of energy. The minor effects of fossil fuel energy production are a rational by-product of the overall improvement in our environment and as wealth grows we can even reduce or eliminate these.

It is critical to realize that it is only as their wealth grows with the production and use of larger scale energy that the choices available to people increase and their preference will shift towards energy production that has fewer negative effects such as air particulates. When they have enough wealth they may be able to and choose to use a totally non-polluting form of coal combustion or some as-yet undeveloped form of fusion energy. To ask a society to shortcut the logical stages of development is a massive evasion of economic and scientific reasoning and fact. 

In Bjorn Lomborg's book "The Skeptical Environmentalist" he showed a graph using United Nations data of air pollution versus per capita production. The data is shaped like a bell curve, meaning that as production rises with industrialization, air pollution rises. When per capita income reaches a certain level then pollution starts to fall again. This is perfectly rational and should be expected of all developing societies and energy technologies. 

Evading the fact that it is actually the dense, portable, efficient fossil fuels that have been central in the greatest boost in human life in all history is to evade an essential positive aspect of fossil fuels. Sure, let's replace coal with something else, but only when we develop such products in a free market with willing participants. To force people to use more expensive, less convenient, and perhaps even more harmful sources of energy (how much fossil-fuel-powered mining for rare minerals and associated refining, smelting and transportation is required to build a wind turbine of solar panel?) is to substitute your judgement for that of free individuals, in fact dictating what they must do and forcing them to pay for your choices while suppressing theirs. The result is the social system known as dictatorship. Some may prefer it but I certainly do not.

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