NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

The Link between Fossil Fuels and Human Progress

January 19, 2015

Fossil fuels have gotten a bad name from green activists, but Alex Epstein, founder of the Center for Industrial Progress, says they're key to improving economic life and human development.

Over the last four decades, China increased its use of coal and oil by a factor of five. What happened? Epstein says life expectancy rose, and infant mortality dropped by 70 percent. The same thing happened in India, where the infant mortality rate fell by 58 percent. These countries are not outliers, and humans have seen progress across the board. Since 1990, malnutrition has fallen by 39 percent.

Accompanying these advances has been an increase in fossil fuel use. According to Epstein, compared to 1980, the world today uses 39 percent more oil and 107 percent more coal. Natural gas use has increased even more, at 131 percent.

What about renewable energy? Epstein explains that it's a tiny portion of overall energy use, because it's unreliable -- solar energy depends on the sun to shine, and wind energy depends on the wind to blow. Fossil fuels, on the other hand, can meet high energy demands with cost efficiencies that renewable energy lacks. For poor nations, fossil fuels provide cheap electricity, which allows for development and industrialization.

Notably, the spending bill passed by Congress right before Christmas prevents the United States from denying financing to the construction of coal plants overseas. Previously, the Obama administration had announced plans to restrict funding for overseas coal projects except in vary narrow circumstances.

Source: Alex Epstein, "How Opposition To Fossil Fuels Hurts The Poor Most Of All,", January 14, 2015. 


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