Saturday, July 25, 2015
On being identified as an "enemy of humanity"
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.