On Monday, G7 leaders pledged to wean their economies off fossil fuels by 2100. Coming at the conclusion of their summer summit in Germany, the agreement is non-binding for now.
However, they’re expected to push for a plan with teeth at a meeting in Paris later this year.
The public response to the G7’s announcement has been largely positive, with environmentalists seeing it as a step in the right direction towards battling climate change. But would a world without fossil fuels really be so desirable as G7 leaders suggests? One recent book by Alex Epstein, president of the Center for Industrial Progress, casts doubt on this tired assumption.
Entitled The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels, Epstein’s book argues that carbon-based fuels like oil, coal, and natural gas should be celebrated — not vilified — for enabling the prosperity that industrial societies enjoy today. Demands to eliminate fossil fuel consumption would be disastrous, especially for developing countries just beginning to feel the benefits of modernity:
[A]round the world, hundreds of millions of individuals in industrializing countries have gotten their first lightbulb, their first refrigerator, their first decent-paying job, their first year with clean drinking water or a full stomach. To take one particularly wonderful statistic, global malnutrition and undernourishment have plummeted— by 39 percent and 40 percent, respectively, since 1990. That means, in a world with a growing population, billions of people are better fed than they would have been just a few decades ago. While there is plenty to criticize in how certain governments have handled industrialization, the big-picture effect has been amazingly positive so far. Ours is a world that was not supposed to be possible.
What about the fear that fossil fuel reserves will soon be depleted, necessitating pledges like the G7’s to rely more heavily on alternative energies?
Epstein deftly points out how wrong the so-called “experts” have been, incorrectly predicting the world would run out of fossil fuels in decade after decade. To give just one example, President Jimmy Carter asserted in a 1977 televised address, “We could use up all of the proven reserves of oil in the entire world by the end of the next decade.”
Thirty-eight years later, that assumption seems ridiculous, especially since the United States is in the midst of an energy revolution with the advent of hydraulic fracturing. The size of discovered oil reserves seems to increase constantly. Even more sober estimates, like BP’s claiming the world only has 53 years of oil left, don’t capture the growing reserves of fossil fuels discovered each year.
For example, while BP claims that the U.S. has 44.2 billion barrels of oil in reserves, the oil company Pioneer Natural Resources claims that the Permian Basin in Texas and New Mexico contains 75 billion barrels. Those numbers are likely to only increase as drilling technology continues to advance.
In short, it’s high time the oil and gas industries stand up for themselves against government’s continued attack against fossil fuels. Carbon-based fuels have lifted much of the world out of the grinding poverty that’s characterized most of human history.
That’s not to say that alternative energies like wind, solar, hydropower, and nuclear are bad; the more energy sources, the merrier. However, any society that thinks it can rid itself of fossil fuels is making a very dangerous bet on its future generations.