Linking health, wealth, and well being with the use of energy

Has Industrialization Diminished the Well-Being of Developing Nations and are Industrialized Countries Responsible?

Guest post by: Indur M. Goklany

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A basic contention of developing countries (DCs) and various UN bureaucracies and multilateral groups during the course of International negotiations on climate change is that industrialized countries (ICs) have a historical responsibility for global warming.  This contention underlies much of the justification for insisting not only that industrialized countries reduce their greenhouse gas emissions even as developing countries are given a bye on emission reductions, but that they also subsidize clean energy development and adaptation in developing countries. [It is also part of the rationale that industrialized countries should pay reparations for presumed damages from climate change.]

Based on the above contention, the Kyoto Protocol imposes no direct costs on developing countries and holds out the prospect of large amounts of transfer payments from industrialized to developing countries via the Clean Development Mechanism or an Adaptation Fund. Not surprisingly, virtually every developing country has ratified the Protocol and is adamant that these features be retained in any son-of-Kyoto.

For their part, UN and other multilateral agencies favor this approach because lacking any taxing authority or other ready mechanism for raising revenues, they see revenues in helping manage, facilitate or distribute the enormous amounts of money that, in theory, should be available from ICs to fund mitigation and adaptation in the DCs.

However, as Henry Shue, an Oxford ethicist and apparently a strong believer in the notion that ICs have a historical responsibility for global warming, notes, “Calls for historical responsibility in the context of climate change are mainly calls for the acceptance of accountability for the full consequences of industrialization that relied on fossil fuels.” [Emphasis added.] But the fundamental premise behind this notion of historical responsibility is that the full consequences of fossil fuel based economic development — synonymous with industrialization — are negative. But is this premise valid?

In fact, by virtually any objective measure of human well-being — e.g., life expectancy; infant, child and maternal mortality; prevalence of hunger and malnutrition; child labor; job opportunities for women; educational attainment; income — humanity is far better off today that it was before the start of industrialization.

That human well-being has advanced with economic development is clearly true for industrialized countries. The figure below for the U.S., a surrogate for industrialized countries, shows that life expectancy — perhaps the single most important indicator of human well-being — and GDP per capita — the best single measure for material well-being — increased through the 20th century, even as CO2 emissions, population, and material, metals, and organic chemical use increased.

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click for larger image

But what about the net effect of economic development on developing countries?

Indeed, human well-being has also advanced for developing countries.  Consider, for example, that:

  • The proportion of the developing world’s population living in absolute poverty (i.e., living on less than $1.25 per day in 2005 dollars), was halved from 52 percent to 26 percent between  1981 and 2005. Ironically, higher food prices, partly because of the diversion of crops to biofuels in response to climate change policies, helped push 130-155 million people into absolute poverty in 2008. This is equivalent to 2.5–3.0% of the developing world’s population.
  • The proportion of the developing world’s population suffering from chronic hunger had declined from around 30-35 percent in 1969-1971 to 16 percent in 2003-2005. It has since increased to 18% —thanks, once again, in part to climate change policies designed to displace fossil fuels with biofuels (see here, p.  10-11). The UN Food and Agricultural Organization estimates that such policies helped increase the number of people in the developing world  suffering from chronic hunger by  75 million in 2007 compared to the 2003-2005 period.
  • Life expectancy in developing countries increased from 25-30 years in 1900 to 41 years in the early 1950s to 69 years today.
  • Child labor in low income countries declined from 30 to 18 percent between 1960 and 2003.

Such improvements in human well-being in both developing and industrialized countries can be ascribed to the cycle of progress composed of the mutually reinforcing, co-evolving forces of economic growth, technological change and freer trade (see here, pp. 29–33).  And fossil fuels have been integral to each facet of this cycle.  Without the energy generated by fossil fuels, economic development would be much lower, many of the technologies that we take for granted and have come on line since the dawn of industrialization (e.g., devices that directly or indirectly use electricity or fossil fuels) would have been stillborn, and the current volume of internal and external trade would be impossible to sustain.  Even trade in services would be substantially diminished, if not impossible, without energy to generate electricity to power lights, computers, and telecommunications.

In fact, no human activity is possible without energy.  Every product we make, move or use requires energy.  Even human inactivity cannot be sustained without energy. A human being who is merely lying around needs to replenish his energy just to keep basic bodily functions operating. The amount of energy needed to sustain this is called the basal metabolic rate (BMR).  It takes food to replace this energy.  Insufficient food, which is defined in terms of the BMR, leads to starvation, stunting, and a host of other physical and medical problems, and eventually death.

Following is a sampling of fossil fuel dependent technologies that have helped advance specific facets of human well-being:

  • Hunger.  Global food production has never been higher than it is today due to fertilizers, pesticides, irrigation, and farm machinery. But fertilizers and pesticides are manufactured from fossil fuels, and energy is necessary to run irrigation pumps and machinery.  The entire suite of technologies that are called the Green Revolution is based on energy. And in today’s world, willy-nilly, energy for the most part means fossil fuels.  Additional CO2 in the atmosphere has most likely also contributed to higher food production. Another factor in keeping a check on food prices and reducing hunger is trade within and between countries which enables food surpluses to be moved to food deficit areas.  But it takes fossil fuels to move food around in the quantities and the speed necessary for such trade to be an integral part of the global food system, as it indeed is.  Moreover, fossil fuel dependant technologies such as refrigeration, rapid transport, and plastic packaging, ensure that more of the crop that is produced is actually consumed. That is, they increase the overall efficiency of the food production system, which also helps reduce food prices and contain hunger worldwide. See here.
  • Health. Having sufficient quantity of food is the first step to a healthy population.  It’s not surprising that hunger and high mortality rates go hand in hand. In addition, even the most mundane medical and public health technologies depend on energy, most of which is derived from fossil fuels.  Such technologies include heating for sterilization; pumping water from treatment plants to consumers and sewage from consumers to treatment plants; and transporting and storing vaccines, antibiotics, and blood. In addition, energy is necessary to operate a variety of medical equipment (e.g., x-rays, electrophoresis, and centrifuges); or undertake a number of medical procedures.  Moreover, economic surpluses generated by greenhouse gas producing activities in the US (and other industrialized countries) have helped create technologies to enable safer drinking water and sanitation; treat diseases such as AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis;  and increase life expectancies through vaccinations and improvements in nutrition and hygiene. See here.
  • Child Labor. Fossil fuel powered machinery has not only made child labor obsolete in all but the poorest societies, but it allows children to be children and, equally importantly, to be more educated in preparation for a more fulfilling and productive life.
  • Equal Opportunity for Women and the Disabled.  But for home appliances powered for the most part by electricity, more women would be toiling in the home. Moreover, power tools and machinery allow women, the disabled and the weak to work on many tasks that once would have been reserved, for practical purposes, for able-bodied men.
  • Education.  Today’s populations are much more educated and productive than previous ones in large part due to the availability of relatively cheap fossil fuel generated electrical lighting. And education is a key factor contributing not only to economic development and technological innovation but also personal fulfillment.

In addition, a substantial share of the income of many developing countries comes directly or indirectly from trade, tourism, developmental aid (to the tune of at least $2.3 trillion over the decades), and remittances ($328 billion in 2008 alone) from industrialized countries.  Much of this would have been impossible but for the wealth generated in industrialized countries by fossil fuel powered economic development.  This economic development also allowed the US (and other developed countries) to offer humanitarian aid to developing countries in times of famine, drought, earthquakes, floods, cyclones, tsunamis and other disasters. Moreover, such aid would have been virtually impossible to deliver in large quantities or in a timely fashion absent fossil fuel fired transportation.  Similarly, it would be impossible to sustain the amount of trade and tourism that occurs today without fossil fuels.

Clearly, fossil fuels have advanced human well-being in both industrialized and developing countries.  The claim that the net effect of fossil fuels has been detrimental to either group is unsubstantiated.

Remarkably, virtually all the technologies noted above were conceived, and developed in the industrialized countries, and enabled in large part by the wealth generated from the direct or indirect use of fossil fuels and other greenhouse gas generating activities.  In fact, because of the diffusion and active transfer of technologies from industrialized to developing countries, the latter are far ahead of today’s industrialized countries at equivalent levels of economic development.

  • In 2006, when GDP per capita for low income countries was $1,330 (in 1990 International dollars, adjusted for purchasing power), their life expectancy was 60.4 years. But the US first reached this level in 1921, when its GDP per capita was $5,300. See here (pp. 20-21).
  • Even Sub-Saharan Africa, the world’s developmental laggard, is today ahead of where the U.S. used to be. In 2006, its per capita GDP was at the same level as the U.S. in 1820 but the U.S. did not reach Sub-Saharan Africa’s current infant mortality level until 97 years later in 1917, and its current life expectancy until 1902.  That is, with respect to infant mortality, Sub-Saharan Africa is 92 years ahead of the US’s pace! With respect to life expectancy, it is 104 years ahead.

Thus, empirical data do not support the underlying premise that industrialization of today’s developed countries has caused net harm to developing countries.  In fact, a major harm to developing countries seems to have resulted, in part from climate change policies instituted in industrialized countries. As noted above, information from the World Bank and the Food and Agricultural Organization suggests that no thanks to climate change policy, two of mankind’s signal achievements of the 20th century, namely, the reduction of poverty and hunger in developing countries, are in danger of being retarded if not reversed.  Although not addressed above, a third signal achievement of mankind is the almost-plateauing of human demand for cropland, which is the major source of threats to species and biodiversity. But this too is in danger of being overwhelmed now that climate change policies encourage the cultivation of energy crops.

Had it not been for progress and economic surpluses in industrialized countries fueled for the most part by fossil fuels, what would the developing world’s level of human well-being be today? For example, Bangladesh’s life expectancy has gone up from 35 years in the 1940s to 61 now. Its hunger and malnutrition rates would undoubtedly be far higher as agricultural yields would be lower. It would be hard to even list all the ways in which Bangladesh and other developing countries have benefited.

As noted at Reason on-line:

Who knows, even if one assumes that the purported damages from climate change indeed come to pass —there are good reasons to believe that the IPCC has overestimated the impacts of climate change (see here and here) — that a full accounting of the benefits and costs from industrialization may not reveal that developing countries owe developed countries for a net improvement in their well-being!

To summarize, industrialized countries indeed have a historical responsibility for industrialization. But industrialization has been a net boon to humanity not only for industrialized countries but developing countries as well. The real problem may well not be climate change but ill-considered climate change policies that would use crops for energy production thereby increasing hunger, poverty, and the threat to biodiversity.

Now it may be argued that I am ignoring the future impacts of climate change which may tilt the balance so that industrialization, instead of being a net positive turns into a net negative. But as noted by the Economist, which supports the notion that greenhouse gases should be curbed, projections about the future impact of climate change are “no more than educated guesses”, and this is being charitable (see, for instance, here, here, here, and here).  Without belaboring this point any further, a little education can be a dangerous thing.

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Graeme Rodaughan
October 12, 2009 5:42 pm

Excellent Article.
Too bad so many people in Media and Politics are busy biting the industrial hand that feeds them.
It also put the lie to recent reports from the various AID NGOs that “Climate Change” is already killing millions – it seems that “Climate Change Policies” are already killing millions with food and energy poverty… Doesn’t it?
BTW (and OT): Arctic Sea Ice is on a rocket upwards REF:

October 12, 2009 5:45 pm

Where are the results of the Caption Competition!!

Steve Fitzpatrick
October 12, 2009 5:48 pm

Indur M. Goklany:
Very informative post. I hope it gets wide readership.

October 12, 2009 6:02 pm

I would think the cause of the inequity can be traced to the liberals keeping the other world countries down. Just think what Africa could be with some coal fired power plants, they have lots of coal, and a few DDT factories to rid them of the scourge of malaria, DDT is easy to make.
A few modern improvements and life for the people would dramatically improve.
Instead these countries are left with burning agricultural waste, because they have no technology to do other wise, live in shacks and have no real health care. They cook and heat with wood or charcoal. In case you want to check on the agricultural fires burning worldwide … here is the site that reduces the data …
I bet all those massive field clearing agricultural fires doesn’t help the global warming hoaxers case, maybe that’s why you didn’t know.
Those countries who took up technology are generally doing quite well, although their governments tend to enslave the people, which keeps them down.

October 12, 2009 6:06 pm

A little known study by the Energy and Security Group, a small woman-owned consulting firm, found that in 91 developing countries, not only does an investment in energy increase material well being, life expectancy, etc., it increases political stability. A quote from the study: “A one ton of oil equivalent per capita increase in energy consumption [i.e., a gallon per day] increases the odds of peace by a factor of 2.5.” Less you conclude that this is some right wing think tank, the firm’s customers include the UN, UN Foundation, World Bank, Organization of American States, U.S. DOE, Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Climate Institute, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. The report can be found at

George E. Smith
October 12, 2009 6:10 pm

I have asuggestion; I am sure the developing and underdeveloped countires of the world will embrace the idea.
We will stop using fossils for either energy or raw industrial materials; and we will destroy all the products we have used those materials to produce; including all the advabces in medical products and procedures; food production; literally everything the industrialized world has developed that has destroyed the prisitne globe; we will destroy and eliminate for ever; so everyone can go back to doing whatever they were doing before we got out of hand.
That sounds fair to me.
Many of the have nots of the world, wouldn’t even have what they have if it wasn’t for wetsern civilisation. So get off our backs; we have used those resources to make it possible for you people to live in whatever you have built for yourselves.
But at the same time; we would welcome you to make use of what we have developed to pull yourselves out of the dark ages.
Well that’s just a suggestion.

October 12, 2009 6:19 pm

Maybe they could just have tea and crumpets at Copenhagen and all go home and get to work.

October 12, 2009 6:27 pm

Great post. The Club of Rome doom-sayers of the late 60’s were completely wrong as was their spiritual father, Thomas Malthus. The exploitation of mechanization and energy has allowed us to practically feed the world and produce everything needed to prolong and enhance life. Until the dawn of the industrial revolution, we needed 90% of the population to be engaged in agriculture to keep the 10% in manufacturing, science, medicine, law, teaching… to keep them fed. Today we do that with a little over one half of one percent. China still has 40% of their population farming. India is 60%. Much of Africa is in the 80-90% range. Green policies are going to kill billions and return the rest of us to subsistence farming.

Pamela Gray
October 12, 2009 6:27 pm

I am an underdeveloped country with just a sandy beach and a few palm trees. The only people around are naked people sunning themselves. You are going to give me money? What’s not to like?

October 12, 2009 6:49 pm

I second both Tarpon and Noblesse Oblige’s sentiments. I’ve often wondered how it is that so much of the bleeding heart portion of the west blindly skims over the fact that the current political climate surrounding energy conservation is a fantastic tool to practice social darwinism on people who are a little more tan than the average northern European. What a nightmare, if, God forbid, Africa has an industrial revolution and starts using their own ample resources and incredibly rich agriculture belt. The mind boggles at the thought of what a little industrial development in the developing world would do to the lifestyle of the hemp-wearing set among the already-had’s.

October 12, 2009 7:26 pm

All very cogent statements, not to mention that inexpensive energy allows for, and naturaly creates a desireable reduction in population explosion, as the need for physical labor for survival is reduced. A sucessfull economy has the capacity to deal with particulate pollution, water needs, and land use issues that are the real enviremental needs of a developed or developing culture.
CO2 currently grows the same amount of food with 20% less land and water then if CO2 were reduced 100 ppm to preindustrial levels.
Elevated CO2 may have already prevented WW3, but if the enviremental extremists/socialist have their way, those policys may well lead the world to such a war. I am not a person prone to exaggeration, but this is the reality and danger we currently face. If not brothers in life, then brother’s in violent death due to economic collapse leading to a world at war.
It is also well know as articulated by the research of Rummel that democracies do not wage war against each other.

Mike Bryant
October 12, 2009 7:33 pm

Indur has done it again… there really is no refuting this article… It is the largesse of the west that has made these gains possible…

October 12, 2009 7:43 pm

I remember the day in my university economics class when my professor spoke of how Julian Simon won the famous bet with Paul Ehrlich and John Holdren. We, a group of 2nd year economics students along with our professor laughed and mocked Ehrlich & Holdren’s ignorance as we understood the concepts of energy consumption, utility and scarcity better than they did. It is nothing less than a triumph of ignorance over intelligence that Holdren is now America’s science advisor.
I will add that people who enjoy this article and want to learn more about how modern societies solve so many of the world’s problems should watch much of this:
Once you learn more you will start to see so many of the cracks in the arguments of the environmental group think. It will also become very hard to find an environmental group that actually helps people. We should all work a little harder at spreading the message that we are all for a more healthy happy and sustainable world but we actually know how to get there.

October 12, 2009 7:44 pm

The last statement was a warning against statist and socialist who assume that only by “forcing others to do what “they” feel is right can the world prosper.
The real strgenth of the US is property rights and liberty from oppression by those power groups who think they know best. I have often wandered why some liberal extremist do not personaly raise their own taxes, why they feel that everyone must before they do. In the history of the world never has a country with so much power, exercised as little as the US. Yes, of course there is corruption in democrats, in republicans, in goverment, and in corporations, why? because it is human nature. This is a reason to limit any group / goverment, and this is, or at least was the strength of the US.
The noble side of human nature thrives in liberty and free choice, vitality is lost in goverment control and statis societies.

Bill McClure
October 12, 2009 8:01 pm

Gee the petty dictaorships of the world just want their bribe.

Evan Jones
October 12, 2009 8:02 pm

He’s carrying on the tradition of Herman Kahn.

October 12, 2009 8:06 pm

Excellent article. Thank you.
Not so long ago, energy consumption was a sign of wealth, the more, the wealthier.
Then this was changed. Developed countries were blamed and blamed themselves for “wasting energy” and causing AGW. Cutting off as only “solution” … and taxes and compensations, of course.
It’s the same pendula mechanism that works in many other cases:
First one extreme, then the other, and truth, means optimum lies somewhere between, where there process stabilizes, sooner or later.
As an engineer, one lesson is obvious:
We can live better AND use less energy.
That’s called “progress”.

October 12, 2009 8:28 pm

Great post. Absolutely correct. Without fossil energy, Man can do very little to improve his (her) lot. This was quite evident before the industrial revolution.
With fossil energy, the situation changes. Here is what I wrote on this on another WUWT thread on March 13 2009, in response to a commenter who stated that skeptics “value our lifestyles more than we value the planet.”
“So, let me just state how my colleagues in various engineering fields, and I to a small extent, have made the globe a safer, healthier, less polluted place, extended life expectancies, and that sort of thing. First, I worked as a chemical engineer in the petroleum and petrochemical industry for 25 years. I am an attorney now, but that is another story.
During those 25 years, I worked first in the chlorine and caustic industry, manufacturing chlorine and sodium hydroxide and hydrogen from salt, water, and electricity. Chlorine is one of modern man’s most important manufactures, valued for its use as a bleach, a cleansing agent, a disinfectant for water, and it greatly improves health all around the world where it is used.
Chlorine is also a major ingredient in plastic, especially PVC and other types of plastic pipe. Such pipe has made plumbing cost-effective in much of the world, greatly improving health. A high-grade of PVC plastic is used extensively in medicine, as an example, to hold a fluid that is fed into a patient’s veins (the IV bag), and the plastic tubing itself. The other major component of plastic comes from petrochemical plants, usually ethylene or propylene.
I cannot even begin to describe the innumerable medicines, drugs, and pharmaceuticals that are made from the petrochemicals we create in the big refineries and petrochemical plants. None of those would be possible if not for the ingenuity of chemists, chemical engineers, and a host of other highly educated and trained professionals.
The overall clean air of this planet is entirely due to petroleum and natural gas. Without them, the population would have choked to death or wheezed in coughing agony during a very short life-span.
Prior to oil use and natural gas, energy was provided by burning coal, and from animal power such as horses, mules, and oxen. The coal smoke and soot, and huge piles of poop left by those animals was a very great problem in cities, and made obsolete by gasoline, diesel, and electric motors. The poop dried, attracted flies, and created toxic dust particles when the wind blew. People inhaled that toxic, polluted air with every breath. But no more, thanks to oil and natural gas.
I could go on and on, describing the very low cost of almost all goods and services due to the extremely cheap energy provided by oil men, the refineries, and power plants. Transportation costs dropped dramatically across the board as trains grew faster, longer, and used less fuel per ton-mile. The same is true for large trucks, and ships.
I could also mention the low cost of food, whether grain or beef, pork, chicken, lamb, or the myriad of fruits and vegetables, all of which are very low-cost as a result of chemistry and chemical plants that produce fertilizers and herbicides. Engineers also design, build, and operate the efficient food processing plants that place low-cost groceries in the stores.
So, I invite you to do some reading, do some research, and find out the facts about what wealth does to improve the plight of the common man. Find out which countries in the world have a long waiting list before being allowing foreigners to enter to work or live or become a citizen. Find out which countries have good medical care, have sanitary water and dispose of waste in a sanitary manner, have sufficient food to eat that does not make the population sicken and die, and sufficient affordable energy to heat and cool their homes to a comfortable level.
I should know. As a chemical engineer, I traveled and worked in more than a dozen countries, from first-world (USA, Europe, Canada, Japan) to third-world (China, East Germany, Poland (pre-demise of Soviet Union), Brazil, Indonesia). I have seen it all, and did my part to improve much of it, along with my colleagues. I have suffered many bouts of intestinal illness in third-world locales.
After you improve your education, then come back and tell me I value my current lifestyle, wealth, over the needs of the planet. As Dr. Thomas Sowell (no relation) of Stanford University’s Hoover Institution has written, increasing prosperity is the only sure and lasting solution to poverty.”

George Gillan
October 12, 2009 9:12 pm

The graph seems to be misleading. For example, it gives the impression that CO2 had increased more than eightfold by 2000.

Roddy Baird
October 12, 2009 9:17 pm

I go on about this all the time. The truth is manifest but offensive to most. (What does that say about the average human intelligence?) The developing world owes a massive debt to the Western European democracies. I don’t seriously suggest collecting on it but there are at least 2 billion people in the “developing” world who owe their very existence to Western European culture.
What else can we infer from the natural world and all the life therein than forge ahead, in complete self interest (of the individual, sure but humans are a social animal and therefore there self interest is much the same as the interest of the group). Seriously, observe life and tell me that is not the case. Therefore humanity should celebrate its success over the last 100 years and all give thanks to the development of European culture and the extraordinary achievements of its pastey adherents (well, I’m pretty pale and pastey as a “pure” Anglo Celtic, sure wish I had darker skin down here in Australia) in increasing the felicity of the entire human race.

John Nicklin
October 12, 2009 10:16 pm

George Gillan (21:12:06) :
The graph seems to be misleading. For example, it gives the impression that CO2 had increased more than eightfold by 2000.

The chart is just for the US, so its plausible that an 8 fold increase has happened. Added to all other emissions globally and averaged out across the globe it would be much smaller. I think.

Roddy Baird
October 12, 2009 10:27 pm

“there” (sigh).
I seem to have some sort of infection, lately, that swaps my “theres/theirs”. Apologies to all for this egregious slip.

Keith Minto
October 12, 2009 11:46 pm

Yes, good, broad summary of how our use of FF has increased our interdependence to everybody’s benefit. With Russian gas powering Europe and Middle eastern oil flowing to every ‘corner’ we certainly need each other and need to be friends with each other.
I have considered that this zealous quest for ‘home-brewed’ energy is a bit of a slap in the face for free trade and mutual interdependence and (so the theory goes),the reduction of conflict due to this global love-in.
Isn’t local renewable power (as minuscule as it is) a slap in the face for free energy trade. It is like a form of protectionism to shun the energy surpluses of another country.
‘Let us stop our dependence on middle eastern oil’ is the common cry………has anybody asked the Saudi’s what they think of this ??, bit of an insult I would think to a good trading partner and friend.

J. Peden
October 13, 2009 12:54 am

Indur, as always, thank you for your very substantial, rational efforts.
Now it may be argued that I am ignoring the future impacts of climate change which may tilt the balance so that industrialization, instead of being a net positive turns into a net negative.
Well, anything’s possible but as we all should know by now, India and China obviously agree with your assessment and have prospectively judged that their failure to industrialize using fossil fuel would involve a much greater disaster to themselves than the one alleged to result from the associated production of fossil fuel CO2.
And to flog another old horse, in allowing significantly underdeveloped countries containing about 5 billion of the Earth’s ~6.5 billion people to develop through the ad lib use of fossil fuels, even the ipcc has in effect agreed that this kind of industrialization will be a net benefit in comparison to its own otherwise hyped AGW “disaster”.
So apart from the many susceptibles who have simply been caught by the naked unbalanced disasterizing of AGW as a controllist propaganda tactic, and others who think industrialization always has a net negative effect on other species which necessarily trumps all its benefits, or causes an “unacceptable” amount of cancer and other human maladies in spite of its counterbalancing benefits, who’s left who will argue that industrialization has been or will likely become a net negative?

October 13, 2009 1:40 am

Roger Sowell (20:28:22) :
Great post. Absolutely correct. Without fossil energy, Man can do very little to improve his (her) lot. This was quite evident before the industrial revolution.
Yours was a great post too, Roger, thanks… G

October 13, 2009 1:45 am

Thank you, Indur Goklany, for expressing so well what we all already knew, but which so many have been fooled into forgetting.

October 13, 2009 3:10 am

J. Peden (00:54:23) :

or causes an “unacceptable” amount of cancer and other human maladies in spite of its counterbalancing benefits,

Thing is, without the benefits of fossil fuels, few would live long enough to contract cancer.

October 13, 2009 4:11 am

Competition (for resources of all kinds ) is necessary for evolution and progress. That means losers as well as winners. Ask any headhunter.

October 13, 2009 4:25 am

Sestina Altaforte:
Damn it all! all this our South stinks of peace.
You whoreson dog, Papiols, come! Let’s to music!
I have no life save when the swords clash.
But ah! when I see the standards gold, vair, purple, opposing
And the broad fields beneath them turn crimson,
Then howl I my heart nigh mad with rejoicing.
In hot summer have I great rejoicing
When the tempests kill the earth’s foul peace,
And the lightnings from black heav’n flash crimson,
And the fierce thunders roar me their music
And the winds shriek through the clouds mad, opposing,
And through all the riven skies God’s swords clash.
Hell grant soon we hear again the swords clash!
And the shrill neighs of destriers in battle rejoicing,
Spiked breast to spiked breast opposing!
Better one hour’s stour than a year’s peace
With fat boards, bawds, wine and frail music!
Bah! there’s no wine like the blood’s crimson!
And I love to see the sun rise blood-crimson.
And I watch his spears through the dark clash
And it fills all my heart with rejoicing
And pries wide my mouth with fast music
When I see him so scorn and defy peace,
His lone might ‘gainst all darkness opposing.
The man who fears war and squats opposing
My words for stour, hath no blood of crimson
But is fit only to rot in womanish peace
Far from where worth’s won and the swords clash
For the death of such sluts I go rejoicing;
Yea, I fill all the air with my music.
Papiols, Papiols, to the music!
There’s no sound like to swords swords opposing,
No cry like the battle’s rejoicing
When our elbows and swords drip the crimson
And our charges ‘gainst “The Leopard’s” rush clash.
May God damn for ever all who cry “Peace!”
And let the music of the swords make them crimson!
Hell grant soon we hear again the swords clash!
Hell blot black for always the thought “Peace”!
Ezra Pound

Political Observer
October 13, 2009 6:23 am

After more than 100 years of trying the Marxist finally got it right. Their whole scheme to redistribute the wealth was failing as long as they tried to use economic arguments to support their world view. Finally they struck upon environmentalism. Who could be against a clean environment? So start out with the most egregious problems – but only in the non-Marxist developed nations. Slowly but surely they would continue to find larger and larger and more costly programs that they could tie to the industrialized nations – toxins, global cooling (particulate emissions), acid rain and now the granddaddy of them all – global warming. And of course the pollutant of choice was CO2. Why? Because it was directly tied to the industrial nations primary mechanism for success – cheap and abundant energy. Change that equation and you change everything?
There is no question in my mind that the global warming scam is nothing more than an attempt by the Marxist of the world to redistribute the wealth of those nations who through their own societial decisions created the environment where individual success could happen – and by virtue of that fact the quality of life for its citizens has dramatically improved. But that is not good enough for the Marxist because they were not the ones who controlled this situation to produce this result. So being impotent in the greatest wonder of mankind – their only thoughts are to destroy it so that they can remake the world to fit their economically failed dreams.

October 13, 2009 7:54 am

For what it’s worth… Here’s a graph relating US GDP to oil consumption…
$US GDP/Bbl of Oil
In 1973 the US derived a bit less than $700 worth of inflation adjusted GDP per barrel of oil consumed… In 2008 the US derived a bit less than $1700 of inflation adjusted GDP per barrel of oil consumed. In 2009 dollars, oil was $40-$50/bbl in 1973… It’s around $70/bbl now. Even with the price spikes to >$100/bbl in 1979 and 1999 – The return on investment for our economy regarding oil has actually improved drastically over the last 35 years because we generate wealth when we consume oil and other energy resources in a market-driven manner.

October 13, 2009 7:56 am

Dave Middleton (07:54:35) : “Even with the price spikes to >$100/bbl in 1979 and 1999″… 1999 should be 2009.

October 13, 2009 8:21 am

I remember this negation of human industry and development began back in the 1960´s in Paris, with the Revolution of Roses and in America with the famous concert of Woodstock. Such a rogue wave of social reaction was itself possible due to the hardwork, effort and sacrifice of the inmediate previous generations.
So do not forget who gave the money for all the “grass” these grown up kids bought.
Peace and love! 🙂

October 13, 2009 8:26 am

I have an idea to give the hemp skirts something to think about. Now here, in Europe at least, we have “poppy day” (11/11 (dd/mm for our US readers)) to remind people of the sacrifices made on all sides during wars past.
How about we introduce “development day (D Day)”?
Here’s the plan…. At midnight on “development day” and for 24 hours thereafter we shut down the grid, ban transport, indeed stop anything that depends on fossil fuels or even any technologies developed after 1750 (we need a cut off date).
So, for 24 hours, we have to live just like the ancestors. No electricity or ICE’s ([I]nternal [C]ombustion] [E]ngines not the cold stuff). No sewerage processing or indeed fresh water. No imports, no movement of goods and services. No radio, no TV, no XBox, and iPod…. nothing.
We could of course refine it a little such that Hospitals and emergency services are exempt. Nobody wants to see innocent people die on “development day”. It is, after all, intended as a quick reminder of what has been achieved since [insert cut off day]. It may however remind those with “guilty” feelings just how much they owe to those who made my chances of contracting Cholera something akin to my chances of contracting a national lottery win. [bows head on DD to John Snow and Joseph Baseljet]
Guardian reading, hemp wearing, feelings of guilt could be abolished in 24 hours. Who knows, we could even hold national elections the following day in order to “keep it real”.

Ron de Haan
October 13, 2009 8:31 am

3×2 (08:26:16) :
Shock treatment for idiots?

Ron de Haan
October 13, 2009 8:39 am

This excellent article bears proof of the fact that the entire process aimed at a reduction in the use of energy is against the interests of humanity.
It is wrong and it should be fought with al our might.

October 13, 2009 8:56 am

@ 3×2 (08:26:16) :
I have an idea to give the hemp skirts something to think about. Now here, in Europe at least, we have “poppy day” (11/11 (dd/mm for our US readers)) to remind people of the sacrifices made on all sides during wars past.
How about we introduce “development day (D Day)”? ……………… ”
Not necessary. There are already many thousands of people in remote areas of the world that live in such conditions their entire lives. The uncontacted tribes in the deep Amazon for example. But if you intend for your scenario to create a lasting appreciation and understanding among the target audience, it should last for at least 1 month, preferably for an entire year, in order to understand the full impact of the seasons.

Ron de Haan
October 13, 2009 9:00 am

Not Evil Just Wrong underlines all the aspects presented by Indur Goklany:

October 13, 2009 9:32 am

So much has been said about the crippling poverty that inflicts great swaths of the undeveloped lands and how cheap and available energy is the only route out of this pit. And yet, one of the greatest orators of the AGW scare is a man who should very much no better. Barack Obama should take a leaf out of his own book :
“. . . and in return she invited me into her hut. It was a cramped, pitch-black space with a five foot high ceiling. The woman told me her family cooked, slept and kept newborn calves in it. The smoke was blinding, and after a minute I had to leave, fighting the urge to brush away the flies that formed two solid rings around the babies puffed eyes.” (Dreams from my father, B. Obama, 1995
Could there be a more graphical image than this?

October 13, 2009 12:04 pm

I believe the USA ought to pay “reparations” for our carbon usage. Of course, it will be a negative number…
Oh, and we ought to start paying the “3rd World” right after they pay us for ending the European Colonial era (starting with our revolution and extending through about WWI) and and preventing the Fascist / National State Socialist takeover of the world (WWII) and that little effort of about 1/2 Century duration to prevent Communist Dictators from ruling the world (“Cold War”).
Once they have paid up their dues for those freedoms, then heck, they can start sending us the “negative reparations” for all that modernity has brought to the world. You know, little things like vaccines, food, the green revolution, food preservation by freezing, aquaculture and hydroponics, water desalinizing, water purification in general, bug spray and malaria control, antibiotics, air conditioning, anything at all computerized or networked, oh and all telecommunications, and while we’re at it any aviation or automotive and trucking benefits, $Billions (or is it $Trillions now?) of foreign aid…
The good thing is that if they do hoodwink anyone into signing up for some kind of ‘guilt tax’ for having worked harder with a more functional political and economic system: now that we are socialists too and are busy breaking our system to be like theirs; we can just pay them off by running the printing presses faster. By the time they see any money (in about a half decade at fastest), the dollar ought to be just about enough to buy a “penny candy”… Oh, wait, last time I was at the grocery store the candy at the checkout counter WAS a buck; too late…
If I had any money I’d be peeved about it, but I don’t have money any more, I’ve turned it all into “stuff”… The nice thing is that with the online trading systems of today, it takes about 4 mouse clicks and 20 seconds to turn any amount of money you have into any other major currency in the world or into gold, silver, copper, wheat, cows, real estate, trees, etc. Mine is now in substantially that kind of thing. I hold cash only for very short periods of time (3 days while a trade “settles” mostly).
The only US bonds to hold, IMHO, are “Inflation Protected Securities” that trade as whole bonds or as a fund (ticker TIP ) but you would be better off in other currencies (except the British pound that is falling even faster than the dollar). My favorites are the Aussy dollar (FXA), the Euro (FXE), the Swiss Frank (FXF) and the Japanese Yen (FXY) in roughly reverse order 😉 Or, if you don’t mind the big bounces both ways, Gold (GLD) and Silver (SLV) or even copper (JJC).
I’d say to dump dollars and run to that kind of stuff if the Copenhagen thing happens, but I’ve already been saying to do that for the last 6 months to a year anyway. The chart at the end of this link lets you compare gold and various currencies. Just pick a time interval and click on it.
and the “6 month” race shows Brazil (BZF), Australia, and Canada (FXC) currently winning the “currency race”.
Shows metals rising pretty much across the board against the dollar.
So heck, print up all the pretty paper they want and send it to them. It’s not like it is good for anything. (I remember when it used to say “Redeemable in Lawful Money” which meant gold or silver as per the constitution. Now we need to print on it “Redeemable in Hot Air”… in keeping with AGW.)
A $trillion here, A $trillion there, pretty soon we have the Bolivar…
SIDEBAR: For decades, flakey little countries all over the world who played with the “Socialism Shiny Thing” and printed buckets of their own currency would drive their paper into being worth less than nothing. After a while, folks caught on and stopped holding “The New New Replacement Peso” (or Bolivar, or Zimbabwe dollar, or whatever).
Eventually, their central bankers reputations would be so bad folks would not even accept it at first issuance. They became “just a bad joke”… And then they would adopt a “dollar peg”. The only way to gain credibility in the world was to peg their currency to the dollar at a fixed amount. (Some, like Ecuador and Liberia even just junked the idea of a national currency all together and use the US$ as their currency).
Well, just to give you an idea how bad the “buggerage” of the dollar is looking to the rest of the world, on Bloomberg or CNBC today there was a news crawler stating that these icons of intemperance, these worst of the worst money offenders on the world stage, these serial currency abusers: Were considering dropping their peg to the dollar to preserve their reputations and the value of their currencies
You just can’t make this stuff up…

October 13, 2009 3:36 pm

What an excellent essay. It should be compulsory reading in all educational establishments. Thank you. I have long wanted to write thie piece (or try to) but have neother the facts not the talent. Now it is written for me.
3 x 2:
Co-incidentally I have been thinking almost exactly the same thing for a while. A day of no-carbon consumption would be enough for a taster. I’m not sure I would make any exemptions. It would need to be really real. With enough advanced warning those planning elective medical procedures could avoid it. Emergencies? Well, there won’t be any will there! Not during an idyllic no carbon event that would be so beneficial to humanity. But if there are, well, I can’t think of a better way of making headlines when the ‘presses’ start to ‘roll’ again.

October 13, 2009 4:32 pm

Keith Minto
re Saudi’s opinion of reduced fossil fuel usage:
“Saudi Arabia has led a quiet campaign during these [UN climate talks in Bangkok] and other negotiations — demanding behind closed doors that oil-producing nations get special financial assistance if a new climate pact calls for substantial reductions in the use of fossil fuels.” (emphasis added)
source: AP Oct 8, 2009 via
Cry me a river!

October 13, 2009 6:32 pm

“Food prices may rise 121% by 2050 due to climate change, Business Standard. A report released on Wednesday by the International Food Policy Research Institute outlines the threats to agricultural security posed by climate change. Food prices already expected to increase significantly by 2050, could rise further as the effects from climate change continue to enfold…”
“The report concludes a 50% drop in wheat yields by 2050 and a 17% dip in rice production. Decreased yields and higher demands from expanding populations can together drive prices up as much as 194% in some areas.”
Climate Matters @ Columbia University, 9 October 2009

Evan Jones
October 13, 2009 6:35 pm

That is entirely disconnected from reality and flies in the face of all recent experience. Not only does it assume the very worst, but it also assumes there will be no adaptation: the “dumb farmer” theory.

October 13, 2009 7:57 pm

Roger Sowell (20:28:22) :
Very interesting. Don’t forget that there was an effort by Greenpeace (and others) to ban chlorine. See, e.g., Patrick Moore’s “Why I left Greenpeace” at:

October 13, 2009 8:26 pm

evanmjones (18:35:47)
I quote other people’s conclusions to gain standing. If you doubt them let me count the ways. We’ll ignore the effects of rising sea levels on fertile river deltas.
“Global warming dries out farmland…by 2080 as much as a fifth of Africa’s farmland will be severely stressed.”
Mountainl snow melts relatively early in the summer. When the mountain glaciers are gone, there will be no more ice meltwater in the rivers in the latter part of the growing season.
“…compounded by another problem. The higher-yielding, pest resistant seed varieties invented in the 1960’s were designed to thrive in stable climates. Old-fashioned (lower yielding) seeds are actually better at dealing with variable weather…”
“In India the gains from the Green Revolution are already shrinking because of local pollution, global warming, and waning resistance to pests and disease.”
Economist, 17 September 2009

Evan Jones
October 13, 2009 8:36 pm

Comment not directed at you, only the quote.
Even if what you quote occurs (which I seriously doubt), all sorts of adaptation will have occurred. And if severe warming does occur, a huge amount of non-arable land will have become usable (which I also doubt).
(Bad politics is a – far – greater threat than even a serious climate shift.)
There were all sorts of countable reasons why the Club of Rome had to be right. But they were very, very wrong.

October 13, 2009 9:29 pm

evanmjones (20:36:02)
I’m old. I remeber the Club of Rome’s ‘Limits to Growth.’ Certainly mercury was among the limiting 10. Maybe gold.
But, as was pointed out later: they neglected to mention oil. Which becomes topical now, wilth recurrent mentions of ‘Peak Oil.’
So there are different ways of being wrong.

October 13, 2009 10:51 pm

Yeah I remember The Limits to Growth as required reading in my Masters course (Mineral Economics), mostly so we could discuss their mistakes. Barnett and Morse adequately addressed them in “Scarcity and Growth” of course.
That’s why I found it distrurbing that the CSIRO (peak Australian research body) had jumped on the Club of Rome bandwagon with their review of the forecasts:
As they say in the conclusion we are all doomed because we are following the Club’s trajectory for “global collapse before the middle of the century.” Hope you guys haven’t got any plans after 2050 then…
Any respect I had for CSIRO has well and truly been flushed now that they have jumped on the populist “science” bandwagon.

October 14, 2009 3:29 am

Francis wrote:
““Global warming dries out farmland…by 2080 as much as a fifth of Africa’s farmland will be severely stressed.”
Computer model prophecy.
““…compounded by another problem. The higher-yielding, pest resistant seed varieties invented in the 1960’s were designed to thrive in stable climates. Old-fashioned (lower yielding) seeds are actually better at dealing with variable weather…”
Where did you get the idea that climate is or ever has been stable?
““In India the gains from the Green Revolution are already shrinking because of local pollution, global warming, and waning resistance to pests and disease.”
It is normal among alarmists to toss the phrase “global warming” into every list. At school, they used to have a list of things where the child was asked to show the “odd man out” or name the item that does not belong to the others.
Ok children, which of these does not belong in the sentence above?
1. local pollution,
2. global warming,
3. waning resistance to pests.
And if you want to win a gold star, please say why.
Answer: 1 and 3 have clear and specific cause and effect but 2 is made up by propagandists.

October 14, 2009 9:20 am

@ Indur Goklany (19:57:04) :
“Very interesting. Don’t forget that there was an effort by Greenpeace (and others) to ban chlorine.”
Thanks for writing this excellent article, and thanks to Anthony for posting it. Excellent reading.
Greenpeace’s position on chlorine is quite puzzling, and if implemented would have far-reaching and devastating results on the health of populations.
Here is another excellent summary of the benefits of chlorine:
It should be noted that chlorine production is very energy-intensive, consuming great quantities of electricity.

October 14, 2009 9:53 am

“The third most important product from an energy perspective is the production of chlorine and caustic soda. Chlorine is produced through electrolysis of a salt-solution. Chlorine production is the main electricity consuming process in the [U.S.] chemical industry, next to oxygen and nitrogen production. We estimate final electricity use at 173 PJ (48 TWh) and fuel use of 38 PJ. Total primary energy consumption is estimated at 526 PJ (including credits for hydrogen export). The energy intensity is estimated at an electricity consumption of 4380 kWh/tonne chlorine and fuel
consumption of 3.45 GJ/tonne chlorine, where all energy use is allocated to chlorine production. Assuming an average power generation efficiency of 33% the primary energy consumption is estimated at 47.8 GJ/tonne chlorine (allocating all energy use to chlorine).” (emphasis added)
This is from researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, 2000.

George E. Smith
October 14, 2009 2:45 pm

Well so what’s new about that. Many many years ago, Scientific American Magazine (I refuse to call it a Journal) published a special one subject issue on energy.
There was a very interesting paper (article) that reported on world food production versus world energy input; for all kinds of societies from the most primitive nomadic hunter gatherers, to the most sophosticated high tech green revolution intensive agriculturists.
For example they studied a typical Eskimo society that lived on seals etc, and examined how their food production increased with the increasing use of energy; such as energy in the form of explosive powder in the cartridges for the rifles they used to shoot seals, instyead of harpooning them with a whalebone tipped spear. Also the energy in the fuel for their snowmobiles they used instead of dog sled packs, so they could cover more territory faster and find more seals.
Well the final data presentation was a graph of food production output, versus energy input to the food system; for societies all over the world.
Virtually ALL of those data points fell on a single straight line. More energy input translates directly into more food production, and from the most primitive to the most sophisticated, the same relationship still holds.
There were two anomalous point on the graph; places where food production was abnormally high for the amount of energy input. Those two coutries were France and New Zealand, both of which were considerably more efficient, at converting energy into food.
No it wasn’t that they know something that others don’t (they do anyway); but it was that both of those countries enjoy unique agriculturally friendly weather patterns so they grow food very readily. In the case of NZ they just have the right climate, and plenty of mild weather and rain.
The problem of course for world food supplies, is that collectively NZ and France don’t amount to a hill of beans in terms of world food needs. Efficiency they have; but they don’t have production capacity to be a major impact on the world food needs.
So energy is the key to more food. Energy in the form of farm machinery, irrigations sytems; chemical fertilizers, and pesticides, or herbicides. Yes organic farming will doom millions to starvation.
Now this realization that energy input equals food output; is much more sinister than it looks at first glance.
How ’bout those bio-fuels industries !? OOoops ! Energy input equals bio-fuels output; how crazy is that; why not just use the energy you already have, instead of wasting resources to convert it into some less efficient form of energy; all of which raises the carbon footprint, and further lowers the world’s total proven energy reserves.
So you green weenies; why don’t you start running your bio-fuels projects off the energy that you get out of your project; before you even think about supplying bio-fuels for any other needs. Then if you have anything left over after your run your plant off yopur output, you can sell it an make a fortune; and even I will sing your praises.
But please don’t ask us to waste any of our precious energy reserves to subsidize your energy wasting schemes.

Don Shaw
October 14, 2009 9:07 pm

This is a great article. It never ceases to amaze me that the liberals and the MSM have have managed to propogate the image that our free enterprise energy system (that has had a huge positive impact on the quality of our lives.) is so evil and needs to punished and taken over by the Government. They manage to demagouge the energy supply system that has materially improved the quality of our life in so many ways as indicated in the article. This includes heating our homes, our transportation fuels, and the many other conveniences such as plastics and chemicals used in so many ways including medical. The infrastructure that delivers our energy daily is massive and was built by private industry and it has only failed us once with gas lines, when run by Jimmy Carter during the oil embargo.
We need to keep in mind that almost every country that nationalized the oil like Mexico and Venezuela have failed to effectively manage their resources after nationalization. When I worked with Pemex decades ago the Mexican Engineers told me that findiing new oil ended when the Foreign Oil companies were kicked out. PEMEX is one of the most corrupt organizations in the world. A similar situation exists in Venezuela today and their oil output is declining.
A little bit of history. During WW2 the oil industry had a major impact on our sucess in winning the war. Under request from our military, they developed a new process that provided our air force with an ample supply of aviation fuel. Without the fuel, we would have never beat the Germans in the Air and Europe would now bw speaking German.
The government take over of our energy system with Cap and tax will destroy our economy and the free enterprise system that has served us so well.

October 16, 2009 4:58 am

Francis (21:29:17) : I’m old. I remeber the Club of Rome’s ‘Limits to Growth.’ Certainly mercury was among the limiting 10. Maybe gold.
But, as was pointed out later: they neglected to mention oil. Which becomes topical now, wilth recurrent mentions of ‘Peak Oil.’
So there are different ways of being wrong.

And we ran out of natural gas in 1980 (!) per the Club folks. My answer to them is here:
FWIW, I’ve run into a couple of articles claiming the Club of Rome is behind the AGW “movement” as well.
So much money they have, and such tiny minds…

October 16, 2009 5:42 am

George E. Smith (14:45:15) : So energy is the key to more food. Energy in the form of farm machinery, irrigations sytems; chemical fertilizers, and pesticides, or herbicides.
The limit case to this is hydroponic greenhouses. We can get at least a factor of 10 time more food production with already demonstrated technologies at modest added cost. See the “stuff” link above for details, it includes food. This is not a hypothetical. A large fraction of “store tomatoes” come from greenhouses and a large fraction of “specialty” lettuces come from hydroponic greenhouses. The extra control gives a better product and at lower costs compared with field grown (there are automated systems for floating the lettuces in styrofoam boards to the different stages including packaging…)
Yes organic farming will doom millions to starvation.
Um, I think you are wrong on this. Organic farming still uses tractors, irrigation, fertilizers, and yes, even pesticides; just very specific classes of them. It can be very energy intensive (the one I visited used a propane powered burner to do in weeds rather than a spray…) but the yields are not lower. In some cases they are actually higher.
Where it sucks is in the labor component. It takes about 10 times the labor, and that is why the costs are often higher. (Not all crops are higher in costs, but many).
Google “French Intensive Gardening” or “Marais System” for details on how to get much more food out of not so much dirt without a lot of energy inputs.
It is just faster and easier to do it with less labor and more petrochemicals. It is a labor cost issue, not a land productivity issue.
How ’bout those bio-fuels industries !? OOoops ! Energy input equals bio-fuels output; how crazy is that;
It isn’t a zero sum or negative sum game. Plants are, effectively, solar collectors. The energy gain can be as high as 8 times (for Brazilian sugar cane). That we do it stupidly (using only the corn grain and plowing under the stalks) is not cause to slam the whole approach. Brazil gets a large part of it’s energy this way and it does run closed loop. CZZ Cosan is a publicly traded company doing it in Brazil (and I own shares in them). They are not small. Their land holdings are about the size of the old West Germany IIRC.
The ‘problem’, IMHO, is that plants are not a very efficient solar collector. You can get 10x to 100x the energy per acre with mechanical solar collectors (thermal or photovoltaic). Their feature is that they produce fuel rather than electricity. As we move to electric and plug in hybrid vehicles, this ‘feature’ will fade and biofuels with it.
So you green weenies; why don’t you start running your bio-fuels projects off the energy that you get out of your project;
As noted above, they do exactly this in Brazil. There is also a site (who’s location I’ve forgotten) that is doing it with corn ( and maybe soy? it was a while ago that I read about them..). They co-located the major parts and run closed cycle. Plants harvested, cattle fed distillers grains and silage, bio-diesel from plant oils run the trucks and tractors, fermented cow poo runs the digesters and distillation, fermented corn makes alcohol that is sold. All with net energy gain. (They are smarter about using more of the energy in the plant, not just the corn kernels).
Just because a bunch of folks do it stupidly does not mean it can not be done right and smart.
But please don’t ask us to waste any of our precious energy reserves to subsidize your energy wasting schemes.
And this, I agree with completely. The “subsidy” part of it is entirely political and as with all political subsidy, causes stupid actions.
Oh, and algae yield about 10 times the energy per acre as other crops with far lower energy inputs. We could easily power the whole country on algae derived fuels, if we cared to do it, with very high net gains.
Why don’t we?
Because it costs about $80 / bbl of oil equivalent and OPEC sells oil for less than that. When the price gets high enough for folks to start building alternatives, Saudi pumps a bunch of oil and crashes the price until folks are out of business; then up it goes again…
It isn’t a technology problem, it is a political / market manipulation problem.

October 16, 2009 9:33 pm

E.M.Smith, re OPEC selling oil for less than that.
We can bank on the fact that OPEC (at least the Saudis) know this very well, and do all that they can to keep the price of oil just below the point where petroleum alternatives are economically attractive.
And we (the West) are playing into their hands by building / constructing high-mpg cars, hybrid cars, implementing renewable fuel mandates, and pushing energy conservation (where it reduces oil consumption). Each of these moves has the effect of reducing the demand for oil, thus ensuring that OPEC does not have to keep producing more and more and more. We are prolonging the drama, and postponing the end date further into the future.
OPEC has control of the oil production, and can just as easily cut production as to increase it (probably much easier to reduce). Thus, even if (and that is a BIG IF) the West reduces oil demand by a considerable percentage (10, 20, even 30 percent), all OPEC will do is reduce output by a commensurate amount, and maintain the price of oil.
An even better strategy is for OPEC to do as you wrote, allow the price to increase (and increase their revenues), then periodically flood the market and crash the prices. This makes investors nervous about long-term prospects for their alternative energy projects – especially alternatives to oil. This allows OPEC to maintain a slightly higher long-term price for oil.
I describe some of this in my posts on The Grand Game. (see the middle of the post)

November 19, 2009 4:49 pm

Excellent article! Bravo!

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