Summary: The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels — a Book by Alex Epstein

It’s been pounded into our heads that fossil fuels are evil. Coal combustion pollutes the atmosphere, causing the world to overheat; mining and transporting oil results in spills and possibly disastrous environmental consequences.
Is this, however, true? This book suggests the opposite.
Not only is our usage of fossil fuels advantageous, but there is also, at least for the time being, no viable alternative to coal and oil. The production and usage of so-called green energy, whether wind farms, biomass, or solar, is simply too unstable and costly to supply the world’s energy demands today.

the moral case for fossil fuels book cover

Fossil fuels have been vital to human life, aiding in the reduction of famine by expanding agriculture.

Every day, you hear how harmful fossil fuels like coal, natural gas, and oil are to the environment.
So how do you reconcile the opposing viewpoint that fossil fuels are truly beneficial?
As a civilization, we owe a great deal of our current wealth to the use of fossil fuels, as these fuels have provided enormous benefits.

For example, fossil fuels have helped to address worldwide starvation, with their use effectively reinventing modern agriculture.
Farmers have been able to produce significantly more food as a result of methane-based fertilizers and coal-powered electric irrigation systems. Oil-powered mechanization has improved the amount of farmland that can be grown per worker, and oil-powered transportation networks have allowed us to feed more people.

You may also be unaware of the pervasiveness of fossil fuels. There are at least 50 items in your room that are made from oil. Oil was used to make the insulation in your walls, the carpet under your feet, the computer screen you’re looking at, and even the chair you’re sitting in.
Fossil fuels are also the only source of cheap, plentiful, and dependable energy. For a product to be affordable to a buyer, every step of the manufacturing process must be affordable as well.
While it is difficult to acquire and extract fossil fuels, the entire process — from identifying a source to refining the raw product — is really inexpensive in comparison to other “green” energy resources.

Although the energy from the sun or wind is limitless, the process and materials necessary to use solar or wind power are not only difficult but also expensive. Such energy sources are also unreliable since we have no control over when the skies will clear or the winds will blow.
Overall, fossil fuels are extremely helpful to human life. They’re good for us and benefit society, therefore the advantages should outweigh the drawbacks.

fossil fuel zoomed in

We will soon be able to mitigate the majority of the dangers and negative effects associated with the use of fossil fuels.

Regardless of the advantages, it is clear that utilizing fossil fuels has dangers and potential negative effects.
Is this to say we shouldn’t use them at all? Most certainly not.
Throughout history, people have used whatever resources they had to address challenges. Why can’t we do this today with relation to the use of fossil fuels?
London’s coal-induced pollution was worse than Beijing’s filthy skies today during the Industrial Revolution. However, Thomas Edison’s development of electric power generation and delivery in 1882 remedied this problem by substituting electricity for the usage of coal in dwellings.

Prior to this, coal was the primary fuel, and its advantages vastly exceeded its disadvantages. And this is still true many years later.
There is a lesson here: as a civilization, we should employ whatever the most advanced type of energy is at the moment, even if it comes with hazards. And, for the time being, this means fossil fuels.
And, while there are hazards associated with burning fossil fuels, they may not be as serious as you believe.
Many individuals, for example, are concerned about the use of hydrofluoric acid, a critical ingredient in some types of oil drilling. This acid is so potent that it may dissolve bones!

However, dangers may always be reduced. We may avoid employing such hazardous chemicals by developing new drilling techniques, like as fracking. We may also put stringent safety measures in place for those who have to work with harmful chemicals.
Nuclear power, once the most feared energy source, has never resulted in a single fatality. In reality, the uranium used in nuclear power plants is not even physically capable of exploding, thus worries about nuclear meltdowns at reactors have been totally unfounded.
The same is true for detractors of fossil fuels, who tend to overstate the hazards.

fossil fuels helping agriculture

Fossil fuels do not hurt the environment; in fact, they have made the planet a better place to live.

When analyzing the arguments against using fossil fuels, two major considerations emerge. One, fossil fuels pollute the environment, and two, they contribute to global warming.
Such ideas underpin the argument against the usage of fossil fuels.
But how true are these assertions?
While our world is warming somewhat, it is not doing so at a catastrophic rate — and this shift may even be beneficial.
Much of what is claimed about climate change is incorrect or deceptive. To be sure, our climate has changed, but the changes have not been as severe as many have stated.

In fact, fossil fuels and carbon emissions have had a favorable influence on the ecosystem. Aside from the reality that some regions might benefit from mild warming, fossil fuels enhance our fertilizers.
Temperature rises have made our world more productive, allowing us to grow more food.
Fossil fuels are also non-polluting. In reality, they have made our planet cleaner, safer, and more generally better.
We utilize fossil fuels, for example, to cleanse contaminated water. We may now disinfect and purify water with synthetic compounds derived from plants. We also use plastic pipes to convey our drinking water.

Because of fossil fuels, people are safer across the world. In 1932, there were 5,073,283 climate-related fatalities due to droughts, floods, or extreme temperatures.
In 2013, the figure was 29,404, a 99.4 percent decrease. Machines powered by fossil fuels have allowed humans to build cities and structures that are far more weather resistant.
We now have total power over our climate thanks to fossil fuels. Because of air conditioning and heating technologies, we can now live and thrive in severe environments (fueled by fossil fuels). Even dry areas, such as Southern California, may become attractive places to live.

For the foreseeable future, fossil fuels are a viable energy source.

How many times have you heard that if we don’t transition to renewable energy sources like solar or wind power right away, the planet would perish?
This is completely untrue!
According to research, the planet still retains massive amounts of fossil fuels. These sources are anticipated to last us another 3,050 years! It’s only that many fossil fuel reserves are buried, making extraction difficult with present technologies.
Over the next 3,050 years, humans will almost definitely develop new methods of exploiting fossil fuels. We may even be able to eliminate the use of fossil fuels entirely within that time span.

Even now, scientists are working to improve technologies for harnessing solar energy and nuclear fusion (which is different from current nuclear fission methods for producing energy).
In addition, if oil supplies run out, we may employ coal and gas to generate more energy. This is feasible because all fossil fuels are hydrocarbons, which are composed of the same two elements: hydrogen and carbon.
Even if burning fossil fuels were unsustainable, we would have a difficult time replacing them with any of the existing “green” options.
Solar and wind power are just not feasible choices since they are still prohibitively costly and unreliable.

Energy derived from biomass, or plant or animal materials (such as wood, agricultural waste, grass, and manure), is naturally restricted since it must be cultivated on already scarce cropland. Because of competition for the farming areas, the production of biomass indirectly raises food costs.
Hydroelectric energy, which converts the power of flowing water into electricity using turbines, has its own set of constraints. The issue is locating ideal locations to harness the power of water on a huge scale. While China and Brazil rely significantly on hydropower because they have abundant water supplies, such as huge rivers, the United States has already run out of appropriate rivers for dam construction.

Environmentalists sometimes overlook how much we rely on energy as a global civilization, and how difficult it is already to create enough energy to meet the world’s requirements.
At the time, only fossil fuels can deliver the energy we all require at a reasonable cost.

A Quant Trader | Data Scientist | can I help you? linkedin.com/in/ali-h-askar