Liberals Fail Again—We Are Not Running Out of Fossil Fuels

    Do not think about, write about or deal with  human behavior without determining the effects of incentives. It’s not their money, of course they’ll waste it.

    Wherein we see, as usual, that the “policies” of the statists, however reasonable and moral they may seem, are nothing but nonsense, unsupported by fact. The assumptions upon which liberalism is based are only sustained by the vaporous beliefs of those who have no responsibility for their actions.

    24 Dec 2014
    National Post
    Alex Epstein

The sustainability myth 3

‘Saying there is only so much matter and energy to create resources from is like saying there is only so much galaxy to explore — true, but irrelevant’

Why would we use solar panels or windmills over and over if they keep giving us expensive, unreliable energy?

Exploring the evidence about mankind’s use of fossil fuels so far, we have seen that the fossil fuel industry is far and away the world leader at producing cheap, plentiful, reliable energy and that that energy has radically increased our ability to create a flourishing society, a more livable climate, and greater environmental quality. On these fronts, so long as we are able to use fossil fuels, the evidence is overwhelming that life can get better and better across the board, as we use fossil fuel technology and other technologies to solve more problems — including those that fossil fuel technology and other technologies create.

One big question remains: What are the long-term prospects for this way of life? While today we are rich in fossil fuel resources and the wealth they help us create, what is in store for the future?

With so much consuming, can this way of life really last? Is it sustainable?

The answer is better than yes. Not only can our way of life last; it can keep getting better and better, as long as we don’t adopt “sustainability” policies.

Earlier, we saw that the amount of unused fossil fuel raw material currently in the Earth exceeds by far the amount we’ve used in the entire history of civilization by many multiples and that the key issue is whether we have the technological ability and economic reason to turn that raw material into a resource.

For years, actually centuries, opponents of fossil fuels — and some supporters of fossil fuels — have said that using fossil fuels is unsustainable because we’ll run out of them.

Instead, we keep running into them. The more we use, the more we create. Fossil fuel energy resources, as we discussed, are created — by turning a non-resource raw material into a resource using human ingenuity. And there is plenty of raw material left.

In the last few years, the shale energy revolution has unlocked vast new oil and gas resources, making the “running out of fossil fuels” claim seem implausible for the foreseeable future. Many environmental leaders have therefore shifted from saying that we’re running out of fossil fuels to saying that our abundance of fossil fuels is causing us to run out of other resources — arable land and water, most alarmingly, but also a whole host of other materials that are crucial for civilizations.

“Consuming three planets’ worth of resources when in fact we have one is the environmental equivalent of childhood obesity — eating until you make yourself sick,” says David Miliband, at the time secretary of state for the environment, food, and rural affairs in the United Kingdom. In response to criticisms of renewable energy plans as utopian and far-fetched, environmentalist Bill McKibben says, “Perhaps it’s the current scheme, with its requirement of endless growth in a finite world, that seems utopian and far-fetched.”

The theory behind these predictions is that Earth has a finite “carrying capacity,” an idea that was spread far and wide in the 1970s. Two of the leading exponents of this view were Paul Ehrlich and John Holdren. In their landmark book, Global Ecology, they wrote: “When a population of organisms grows in a finite environment, sooner or later it will encounter a resource limit. This phenomenon, described by ecologists as reaching the ‘carrying capacity’ of the environment, applies to bacteria on a culture dish, to fruit flies in a jar of agar, and to buffalo on a prairie. It must also apply to man on this finite planet.

These theories were not idle banter — they were used by many to call for drastic restrictions on fossil fuel use, much as we have today.

Ehrlich and Holdren announced, “A massive campaign must be launched to restore a high-quality environment in North America and to de-develop the United States.” This meant an attempt to reverse industrial development — by law: “This effort must be largely political.”

These ideas were viewed highly enough that Holdren’s body of work, which stresses these themes over and over, gave him the prestige to become science adviser to President Barack Obama.


   That seems reasonable–someone who is always wrong advising someone who is almost always wrong.

As we’ve discussed earlier, these predictions were wrong, but why, exactly, were they wrong? The most direct reason is that there are far more fossil fuel raw materials and far more human ingenuity to get them than Ehrlich and Holdren expected. But there is a deeper error here, an error at the root of the whole concept of sustainability. The error is a backward understanding of resources.

The believers in a finite carrying capacity think of the Earth as something that “carries” us by dispensing a certain amount of resources. But if this was true, then why did the caveman have so few resources?

Those who believe in the ideal of human non-impact tend to endow nature with godlike status, as an entity that nurtures us if only we will live in harmony with the other species and not demand so much for ourselves.

But nature gives us very few directly usable machine energy resources. Resources are not taken from nature, but created from nature. What applies to the raw materials of coal, oil, and gas also applies to every raw material in nature — they are all potential resources, with unlimited potential to be rendered valuable by the human mind.

Ultimately, a resource is just matter and energy transformed via human ingenuity to meet human needs. Well, the planet we live on is 100% matter and energy, 100% potential resource for energy and anything else we would want. To say we’ve only scratched the surface is to significantly understate how little of this planet’s potential we’ve unlocked. We already know that we have enough of a combination of fossil fuels and nuclear power to last thousands and thousands of years, and by then, hopefully, we’ll have fusion (a potential, far superior form of nuclear power) or even some hyper-efficient form of solar power.

The amount of raw matter and energy on this planet is so incomprehensibly vast that it is nonsensical to speculate about running out of it. Telling us that there is only so much matter and energy to create resources from is like telling us that there is only so much galaxy to visit for the first time. True, but irrelevant.

Sustainability is not a clearly defined term. According to the United Nations, it has over a thousand interpretations, but the basic idea is “indefinitely repeatable.” For example, the idea of renewability, which is usually synonymous with sustainability in the realm of energy, is that the fuel source keeps replenishing itself over and over without the need to do anything different.

But why is this an ideal? In most realms, we accept and desire constant change. For example, you want the best phone with the best materials, regardless of whether those materials will be there in 200 years and regardless of whether it would be more “renewable” to use two cups and a string.

Why should we want to use solar panels or windmills over and over (leaving aside the fact that they quickly deteriorate and thus require a continuous series of mass-mining projects) if they keep giving us expensive, unreliable energy? Why not use the best, the most progressive form of energy at any given time, recognizing that this will change as we advance and the best becomes better?

At the beginning of this book, we observed that human beings survive by using ingenuity to transform nature to meet their needs — i.e., to produce and consume resources. And we observed that the motive power of transformation, the amplifier of human ability, the resource behind every other resource, is energy — which, for the foreseeable future, means largely fossil fuel energy. There is no inherent limit to energy resources — we just need human ingenuity to be free to discover ways to turn unusable energy into usable energy. This opens up a thrilling possibility: the endless potential for improving life through ever-growing energy resources helping create ever-growing resources of every kind. This is the principle that explains the strong correlation between fossil fuel use and life expectancy, fossil fuel use and income, fossil fuel use and pretty much anything good: human ingenuity transforming potential resources into actual resources — including the most fundamental resource, energy.

Growth is not unsustainable. With freedom, including the freedom to produce energy, it is practically inevitable. We are not eating the last slice of pizza in the box or scraping the bottom of the barrel; we are standing on the tip of an endless iceberg.


  The sustainability assumption is wrong in theory and practice. Naturally, liberals embrace it.

   No resource is “available”—it is available contingent upon price and technology.

Government Job or Respect–Which’ll It Be?
Cheerio and ttfn,
Grant Coulson, Ph.D.
Author, “Days of Songs and Mirrors: A Jacobite in the ‘45.”
Cui Bono–Cherchez les Contingencies



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