“Every year on Earth Day we learn how bad humanity’s economic development is for the health of the planet. But maybe this is the wrong message. Maybe we should instead reflect on how human progress, even use of fossil fuels, has made our environment cleaner and healthier. Alex Epstein of the Center for Industrial Progress explains.”
The more energy you have, the more intricate, powerful and complex you can make a system. Just as human bodies need energy to be ordered and functional, so do societies. In that sense, fossil fuels were a unique advance because they allowed human beings to create extraordinary patterns of order and complexity—machines and buildings—with which to improve their lives.
The result of this great boost in energy is what the economic historian and philosopher Deirdre McCloskey calls the Great Enrichment. In the case of the U.S., there has been a roughly 9,000% increase in the value of goods and services available to the average American since 1800, almost all of which are made with, made of, powered by or propelled by fossil fuels.
Still, more than a billion people on the planet have yet to get access to electricity and to experience the leap in living standards that abundant energy brings. This is not just an inconvenience for them: Indoor air pollution from wood fires kills four million people a year. The next time that somebody at a rally against fossil fuels lectures you about her concern for the fate of her grandchildren, show her a picture of an African child dying today from inhaling the dense muck of a smoky fire.
Notice, too, the ways in which fossil fuels have contributed to preserving the planet. As the American author and fossil-fuels advocate Alex Epstein points out in a bravely unfashionable book, “The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels,” the use of coal halted and then reversed the deforestation of Europe and North America. The turn to oil halted the slaughter of the world’s whales and seals for their blubber. Fertilizer manufactured with gas halved the amount of land needed to produce a given amount of food, thus feeding a growing population while sparing land for wild nature.
To throw away these immense economic, environmental and moral benefits, you would have to have a very good reason. The one most often invoked today is that we are wrecking the planet’s climate. But are we?
Solar power is pretty awesome — when its use is determined by free minds in a free-market.
Solar Roadways seem to take the problem of generating solar power, and put it into conditions that maximize cost.
I may have missed a few points. Read this.
Those solar-panel-covered shade structures that are popping up in church parking lots all over Tucson are looking smarter by the minute. The solar panels are mass-produced in China for a couple dollars a watt, and the structures are simple cantilevered steel I-beam ramadas. No fancy computers are needed, no worries about damage from tires, no hacking into can happen, and they are not blocked by pedestrians, cars, trees or buses.
Save your $5 for a good cause.
Under capitalism, in the “long run”, it is the rational decisions that eventually win. If people wish to put their own money into making roads solar, that is their right. Not a smart choice given the present context; but their choice none the less.
Lawrence Livermore National Lab (LLNL) has published flow charts (also referred to as “Sankey Diagrams”) of energy use. This allows energy to be “visualized as it flows from resources (Coal, Oil, Natural Gas, etc.), through transformations (electricity generation) to end uses (Residential, Commercial, Industrial, Transportation).”
Walter Hickey over at Business Insider makes a few poignant observations:
- Renewables — Hydro, geothermal, wind and solar — are still absurdly tiny in the grand scheme of things, despite significant investment and recent growth.
- The amount of rejected energy — that’s energy lost in transportation — should make every American wince. It’s just shocking how much energy is lost due to grid inefficiencies, heat waste, and exhaust.
- Petroleum runs cars and industry, but nowhere near as much electrical generation as one might expect.
- Natural Gas use has grown, driven almost entirely by use in electrical generation. Coal use has demonstrably shrunk.
- Nuclear power declined since 2011, which is disappointing due to how inexpensive it is.