The Wall Street Journal ran an exceptional column March 14 titled "Fossil Fuels Will Save the World" by Matt Ridley, a member of the British House of Lords and author of "The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves."

Ridley accurately states the environmental movement has portrayed fossil fuels as the cause of everything from air pollution to bad weather and climate change, while never pointing out the many benefits.

"The environmental movement has advanced three arguments in recent years for giving up fossil fuels: (1) that we will soon run out of them anyway; (2) that alternative sources of energy will price them out of the marketplace; and (3) that we cannot afford the climate consequences of burning them," Ridley states.

"These days, not one of the three arguments is looking very healthy. In fact, a more realistic assessment of our energy and environmental situation suggests that, for decades to come, we will continue to rely overwhelmingly on the fossil fuels that have contributed so dramatically to the world's prosperity and progress."

Ridley notes fossil fuels accounted for 87 percent of the energy used worldwide in 2013: oil used mainly for transport, gas used mainly for heating, and coal used mainly for electricity.

Remarkably, as the use of fossil fuels increased carbon-dioxide emission have decrease primarily because there has been a switch from burning coal to using natural gas.

Ridley points out that the first argument that we will run out of fossil fuels soon is dead, because we are currently in an oversupply situation with crude oil and natural gas.

"The shale genie is now out of the bottle," he said. "And the shale revolution has yet to go global. When it does, oil and gas in tight rock formations will give the world ample supplies of hydrocarbons for decades, if not centuries."

Ridley calls the argument that fossil fuels are finite a red herring. "The Atlantic Ocean is finite, but that does not mean that you risk bumping into France if you row out of a harbor in Maine," he said.

Ridley said that the argument that alternative energy sources will be much cheaper than fossil fuels has not materialized. As a matter of fact, alternatives — nuclear, hydro, wind and solar — are more expensive and need some sort of government subsidies to be competitive.

Also, renewables take too much space and produce too little energy. "To run the U.S. economy entirely on wind would require a wind farm the size of Texas, California and New Mexico combined — backed up by gas on windless days," he said. "To power it on wood would require a forest covering two-thirds of the U.S., heavily and continually harvested."

The last argument warns that there are enormous climate consequences from the use of fossil fuels.

"Although the world has certainly warmed since the 19th century, the rate of warming has been slow and erratic," he said. "At the same time, scientists are agreed that the extra carbon dioxide in the air has contributed to an improvement in crop yields and a roughly 14 percent increase in the amount of all types of green vegetation on the planet since 1980."

The result of this great boost in energy is what the economic historian and philosopher Deirdre McCloskey calls the Great Enrichment, he said. In the case of the U.S., there has been a roughly 9,000 percent 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.


Alex Mills is President of the Texas Alliance of Energy Producers. The opinions expressed are solely of the author.


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