Have Fossil Fuels Diminished the World’s Sustainability and Resilience?

Guest essay by Indur M. Goklany

The recent Papal Encyclical on the environment’s endorsement of “changes of lifestyle, production and consumption, in order to combat…warming,” and drastic reductions in carbon dioxide and other emissions is based on the notion that “it is not possible to sustain the present level of consumption in developed countries and wealthier sectors of society…” and that the “exploitation of the planet has already exceeded acceptable limits” (paragraphs 23. 27). It also reflects the Pontifical Academies of Sciences and Social Sciences’ Declaration which asserts that “Unsustainable consumption coupled with a record human population and the uses of inappropriate technologies are causally linked with the destruction of the world’s sustainability and resilience” (p. 1).

But these assertions are fundamentally flawed. The world is not less sustainable and resilient today than it was before the Industrial Revolution. In fact, it is probably more sustainable and resilient today than previously. This is shown in the following, which is a lightly edited extract from the Global Warming Policy Foundation’s The Pontifical Academies’ BROKEN MORAL COMPASS, which addresses this and other claims found in both the Encyclical and Declaration.

Humanity’s sustainability and resilience

If the world were less sustainable and resilient today, global population would be smaller today, worse off than in the past, or both. But the world’s population is at a record level. Equally important, human wellbeing is at or near its peak by virtually every objective broad measure. Consider that:

  • Between 1990–92 and 2014–16, despite a global population increase of 35% (or 1.9 billion), the population suffering from chronic hunger declined by 216 million.[1],[2] Consequently malnutrition also declined. Since reductions in hunger and malnutrition are the first steps to better public health, age-adjusted mortality rates have declined and life expectancy has increased.[3]
  • Even in low-income countries, life expectancy, probably the single best indicator of human wellbeing, increased from 25–30 years in 1900 to 42 years in 1960 and 62 years today.3
  • People are not just living longer, they also are healthier. This is true in the richer as well as the poorer segments of the world. Healthy life expectancy — that is, life expectancy adjusted downward to account for years spent in a less-than-healthy condition (weighted by the severity of that condition) — was 53 years in 2012 in low-income countries, far exceeding their unadjusted life expectancy in 1960 (42 years).[4]
  • Between 1950 and 2013, the average person’s standard of living measured by GDP per capita, increased from $2100 to $8200 (in 1990 international PPP-adjusted dollars).3,[5] This statistic understates the relative increase in the standard of living because long term changes in GDP per capita do not properly account for the fact that some goods and services available today — e.g. cell phones, the Internet, personal computers — were simply unavailable at any price a few decades ago. Nor do they account properly for improvements in the quality of others; compare the bulky, grainy black-and-white analogue TVs of yesteryear with the light, 80-inch HD 3-D colour models of today.
  • More importantly, the global population in absolute poverty declined from 53% to 17% between 1981 and 2011.[6] There were about 847 947 million fewer people living in absolute poverty in 2011 than in 1981, although the developing world’s population increased by 2.5 billion.[7] Not accidentally, the most rapid reductions in poverty occurred in east and south Asia, the areas with the fastest economic growth, all fuelled by fossil fuels.
  • Education and literacy, once the domain of the clergy and the wealthy, have advanced. Between 1980 and 2012, enrollment in secondary schools in low-income countries increased from 18% to 44%.3
  • The average person has never had greater and faster access to information, knowledge and technology to help them learn, adapt and solve whatever problems they face. Mobile (cell) phone subscriptions have risen from 0% of population in 1997 to 55% in 2013 in low-income countries, while Internet users rose from virtually nil to 7% of the population over the same period.3
  • These indicators reflect the very factors that enhance resilience and adaptive capacity, no matter what the threat.[8] And as humanity’s vulnerability to adversity has declined, the negative consequences of climate and weather, in particular, have been reduced. Thus the more narrowly focused climate-sensitive indicators have, predictably, also improved. Specifically:
  • Global death rates from all extreme weather events have declined by over 98% since the 1920s.[9]
  • Crop yields have improved steadily across the world. From 1961 to 2013, cereal yields increased by 85% in the least-developed countries and 185% worldwide, and show no sustained sign of decelerating, let alone reversing.[10]
  • Despite population increases, which theoretically should have made clean water less accessible, the number of people with access to a safe supply has actually increased worldwide. Between 1990 and 2012, the population with such access increased from 75.9% to 89.3% (that is, by 2.3 billion additional people).3 Concurrently, an additional 2.0 billion people got access to improved sanitation.3
  • The global mortality rate for malaria, which accounts for about 80% of the global burden of vector-borne diseases that may pose increased risk under global warming,[11] declined from 194 per 100,000 in 1900 to 9 per 100,000 in 2012, an overall decline of 95.4%.[12],[13]

Thus, trends in the broad indicators of human wellbeing and the narrower climate-sensitive indicators show that, despite population growth, sustainability and resilience have advanced markedly, in direct contrast to the academies’ claims. To illustrate, Figure 1 shows that, globally, both life expectancy and real GDP per capita — representing public health and the standard of living, and perhaps the two most important measures of human wellbeing — have been increasing in parallel with carbon dioxide emissions. Similar graphs can be produced showing improvements in the various indicators of human wellbeing with economic development. [14],[15]

But these are no mere correlations.

The improvement in human well-being have been enabled directly or indirectly through the use of fossil fuels or fossil-fuel powered technologies and economic growth.14,[16],[17],[18] This is because every human activity —whether it is growing crops, cooking food, building a home, making and transporting goods, delivering services, using electrical equipment for any purpose, studying under a light or going on holiday — depends directly or indirectly on the availability of energy (see below) and, in today’s world, energy is virtually synonymous with fossil fuels; they supply 82% of global energy used.[19] Even human inactivity cannot be maintained for any length of time without energy consumption. A human being who is merely lying around needs to replenish his energy just to maintain basic bodily functions. The amount of energy needed to sustain inactivity is called the basal metabolic rate (BMR). It takes food — a carbon product — 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, possibly, death.[20]


Figure 1: Long term trends in population, standard of living, health, and carbon dioxide emissions, 1760–2013. The GDP per capita (in real, purchasing power adjusted dollars) is probably the best measure for the standard of living. Likewise, life expectancy is probably the best measure for overall health. In general, longer lives have also translated into healthier lives. Sources: Updated from Goklany (2011).


Nature’s sustainability and resilience

It may, however, be argued that the increase in humanity’s sustainability and resilience has come at the expense of the rest of nature. Indeed, this was the case for millennia, with an approximately linear relationship being seen between land clearance on the one hand, and human population and standard of living on the other. This was because virtually everything humanity needed and used — food, fuel, clothing, medicine, mechanical power, and much of its housing, shelter, material goods, energy and transportation — was obtained directly or indirectly via the services or products of living nature. The slow rate of technological change meant that if living standards had to improve or the population increased then, barring favourable weather, the increase in demand for food, fuel or any other good would have to be met mostly through additional land clearance. Thus, initially the Industrial Revolution saw population increases accompanied by higher conversion of land per capita to agricultural use. However, this trend was eventually reversed due to a host of fossil-fuel-based technologies. Firstly, these technologies increased the productivity of land to provide the needed goods and services. Secondly, they began to displace the goods and services that humanity traditionally obtained from nature.14,[21] Specifically:

· Food. Synthetic fertilizers and pesticides derived from fossil fuels, non-existent in 1900, increased crop yields during the 20th century. Together they are responsible for at least 60% of today’s global food supply. Crop yields were also augmented by other technologies such as drilling, pumping and distribution of irrigation water, that were also fossil-fuel powered. The amount of food produced (or consumed) per acre of cultivated land was further stretched by reductions in post-harvest and end-use losses enabled through fossil fuel derived technologies such as refrigeration, faster transportation, plastic packaging and storage, and more efficient processing methods.14

· Fibre. About 63% of the world’s fibre production is of synthetic fibres, which are made from fossil fuels. Of the remainder 79% comes from cotton, which is also substantially dependent on synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.[22] Synthetic fibres were little more than curiosities until the 1900s. Synthetic fibres also diminished the need to hunt and trap various species for furs and skins helping defuse a major threat to biodiversity.[23]

· Fuel and energy. Biofuels (mainly wood) provided 52% of global energy in 1900. Today their share is down to 11%, whereas the share of fossil fuels has increased from 42% to 82% over that period.[24],[25] Along the way, fossil fuels displaced animal power for transporting goods, people, and doing other work on and off the farm. Feeding these animals used to consume a substantial share of agricultural produce. In the US, for instance, 27% of the land harvested for crops in 1910 was devoted to feeding the 27.5 million horses and mules. Thus displacing animal power with fossil fuels freed up land to feed people and limit habitat loss.14 Habitat loss is generally considered to be the single largest threat to biodiversity, although invasive species have been responsible for a large share of extinctions in the last few centuries, particularly in insular areas.

· Materials. Biomass was responsible for 74% of material use in 1900 but only 30% in 2009.24 This was enabled by the invention of new materials (e.g. plastics, new alloys) and the application of new, often energy-intensive processes to old and not-so-old materials (cement, iron, steel, engineered woods) to extract, manufacture, fabricate and transport them.

Thus, fossil fuels allowed humanity to vastly increase the quantity of goods and services that it obtained from the rest of nature while limiting land conversion. The trend towards greater land productivity is reinforced by the fact that higher carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere increase the rate of vegetation growth, and the efficiency with which plants use water. Nitrogen deposition from fossil-fuel and fertilizer use further increases the biosphere’s productivity. Together, these factors have enabled humanity to meet its growing needs without adding proportionately to its already considerable burden on the rest of nature. Consequently, as shown by Figure 2, the amount of land used for humanity’s needs per capita had peaked by the second half of the twentieth century: between 1990 and 2012, although global population increased 33%, the increases in global cropland (3%) and agricultural area (2%) were ten-fold smaller.10 That is, habitat conversion to crops and other agricultural land has almost plateaued globally.


Figure 2: Global habitat conversion to agricultural uses, 1760–2012. Agricultural uses, since time immemorial, have been the major cause of habitat conversion. Sources: Kees Klein Goldewijk et al., “The HYDE 3.1 Spatially Explicit Database of Human-induced Global Land-use Change over the Past 12,000 Years,” Global Ecology and Biogeography 20 (2011): 73–86; FAO, FAOSTAT, http://faostat.fao.org/, visited May 16, 2015.

Equally important, despite a 52% population growth10 and any land clearance and degradation, satellite data indicate that the productivity of global ecosystems increased 14% from 1982 to 2011. [26] They also show that 31% of the global vegetated area has become greener while 3% has become less green. All vegetation types — tropical rain forests, deciduous and evergreen boreal forests, scrubland, semi-deserts, grasslands and all other wild ecosystems —have increased their productivity. The IPCC Working Group II’s Fifth Assessment notes that, “[d]uring the decade 2000 to 2009, global land net primary productivity was approximately 5% above the preindustrial level, contributing to a net carbon sink on land … despite ongoing deforestation” and land-use change (emphasis added).[27] These increases have been attributed to higher carbon dioxide levels; nitrogen deposition from fossil-fuel combustion and fossil-fuel-derived fertilizer use, and possibly a more favourable climate.[28], [29] Thus, at least over the past thirty years, fossil fuels have helped the planet increase its productivity above its pre-industrial level; that is, the planet’s ability to sustain plant and animal biomass has increased.

To appreciate the scale of the positive effect of fossil-fuel technologies in limiting and reversing habitat loss, consider that fossil fuels currently are directly or indirectly responsible for at least 60% of humanity’s food and fibre. Thus, absent fossil fuels, global cropland alone would have to increase by at least 150% (or 2.3 billion hectares) just to meet current demand. This is equivalent to the combined land area of South America and the European Union.14,[30] That would have further exacerbated the greatest threat to biodiversity, namely, the conversion of habitat. To put into context the land saved by fossil fuels in this way, consider that the area exceeds the total amount of land set aside worldwide in any kind of protected status (2.1 billion hectares).[31]

Conclusion: fossil fuels have enhanced the world’s sustainability

Contrary to the Pontifical academies’ claim, empirical trends show that sustainability and resilience – both of humanity and of rest of nature — have advanced rather than diminished. Moreover fossil fuels have been an integral reason for these advances.

The divergence between the academies’ claims and empirical reality is due to their omission, for whatever reason, of any examination of a host of indicators of human wellbeing and global biological productivity. Less charitable souls may note that these indicators are not arcane, and that their favourable trends have persisted for decades and have been repeatedly noted by researchers. 15,[32],[33] They may therefore wonder if the academies’ oversight is wilful: a sin of commission. But it could also be due to wishful thinking rooted in confirmation bias, or to plain ignorance, although the latter seems implausible given the qualifications of the members of the academies.

Curiously, the academies claim to have demonstrated a causal link between this alleged decline and “Unsustainable consumption coupled with a record human population and the uses of inappropriate technologies”. This claim is obviously risible, given that one cannot establish such a link when the phenomenon concerned, namely the alleged reduction in the world’s sustainability and resilience, has not been observed.


[1] FAO (2015), http://www.fao.org/hunger/key-messages/en/, visited June 7, 2015.

[2] This occurred despite the diversion of land and crops from production of food to the production of biofuels in large part in response to climate change policies. According to one estimate, such diversions helped push 130–155 million people in 2008 into absolute poverty, exacerbating hunger in this most marginal of populations which, in turn, may have led to 190,000 premature deaths worldwide in 2010 alone. Goklany IM (2011), Could Biofuel Policies Increase Death and Disease in Developing Countries? Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons 16 (1): 9–13.

[3] World Bank (2014), World Development Indicators.

[4] World Health Organization (2014). World Health Statistics 2014, Part III Global Health Indicators, p. 68.

[5] Maddison A (2010), Statistics on World Population, GDP and Per Capita GDP, 1-2008 AD, University of Groningen, 2010, http://www.ggdc.net/MADDISON/Historical_Statistics/vertical-file_02-2010.xls.

[6] World Bank (2014), PovcalNet, at http://iresearch.worldbank.org/PovcalNet/index.htm?1, visited May 15, 2015.

[7] The threshold for “absolute poverty” is conventionally defined at $1.25 a day (or about $460 per year) in 2005 PPP-adjusted International dollars.

[8] Goklany IM (2007), Integrated Strategies to Reduce Vulnerability and Advance Adaptation, Mitigation, and Sustainable Development, Mitigation and Adaption Strategies for Global Change DOI 10.1007/s11027-007-9098-1.

[9] Goklany IM (2011), Wealth and Safety: The Amazing Decline in Deaths from Extreme Weather in an Era of Global Warming, 1900–2010. Reason Institute.


[11] Institute of Medicine (US) Forum on Microbial Threats. Vector-Borne Diseases: Understanding the Environmental, Human Health, and Ecological Connections, Workshop Summary. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2008. Summary and Assessment. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK52939/.

[12] WHO (1999), “Roll Back Malaria.” World Health Report 1999.

[13] WHO (2013), World Malaria Report 2013, Annex 6B.

[14] Goklany IM (2012), Humanity Unbound: How Fossil Fuels Saved Humanity from Nature and Nature from Humanity. Policy Analysis, No. 715, Cato Institute, Washington, DC.

[15] Goklany IM (2007) The Improving State of the World, Cato Institute, Washington, DC.

[16] Belke, Ansgar, Frauke Dobnik, and Christian Dreger. “Energy consumption and economic growth: New insights into the cointegration relationship.” Energy Economics 33.5 (2011): 782-789.

[17] Fei, Li, et al. “Energy consumption-economic growth relationship and carbon dioxide emissions in China.” Energy policy 39.2 (2011): 568-574.

[18] Historically economic development and energy use have gone hand-in-hand. However, in recent decades the grip keeps relaxing because of technological change and the expansion of the service sector (itself a result of technological change). Hence, the declining trend in GDP per energy use.

[19] International Energy Agency (2014), Key World Energy Statistics 2014. p. 6.

[20] Goklany IM (2011), Economic Development in Developing Countries: Advancing Human Wellbeing and the Capacity to Adapt to Climate Change. In: Patrick J. Michaels, ed., Climate Coup: Global Warming’s Invasion of Our Government and Our Lives , Washington, DC: Cato Institute, pp.157–184.

[21] Goklany IM (1998), “Saving Habitat and Conserving Biodiversity on a Crowded Planet, BioScience 48 (1998): 941-953.

[22] Discover Natural Fibres Initiative (2015), World production of Natural and Manmade Fibres,2008–2013, at dnfi.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/Fiber-Production.xlsx, visited 1 June 2015.

[23] Goklany IM (2009), Technological Substitution and Augmentation of Ecosystem Services. In: Simon A. Levin et al. (eds.), The Princeton Guide to Ecology (Princeton University Press, Princeton, 2009...

[24] Krausmann, F. et al. (2009) Growth in global materials use, GDP and population during the 20th century. Ecological Economics 68, 2696–2705. Data on material and energy use downloaded from http://www.uni-klu.ac.at/socec/inhalt/3133.htm on 1/13/2013.

[25] International Energy Agency (2014), Key World Energy Statistics 2014. p. 6.

[26] Zhu Z and Myneni RB (2014), A Greener Earth (?), Global Vegetation Monitoring and Modeling, Avignon, France, February 3 to 7, 2014.

[27] IPCC AR5 WG2, Chapter 18, p. 989.

[28] See also: IPCC WG1, AR5, p. 502.

[29] Donohue RJ, Roderick ML, McVicar TR, Farquhar GD (2013), Carbon dioxide fertilisation has increased maximum foliage cover across the globe’s warm, arid environments. Geophysical Research Letters, 2013; DOI: 10.1002/grl.50563.

[30] This calculation ignores additional habitat conversion that would be required to maintain biomass plantations and livestock needed to fulfill current demand for fuel, energy and materials. It also assumes that crop yields can be maintained at the current average level. This is unlikely because the most productive lands are already being used.

[31] UNEP-WCMC (2014) Protected Planet Report 2014. UNEP-WCMC: Cambridge, UK.

[32] Simon JL, ed. (1995), The State of Humanity, Blackwell, Boston.

[33] Ridley M (2010), The Rational Optimist.

132 thoughts on “Have Fossil Fuels Diminished the World’s Sustainability and Resilience?

  1. Sooo what happens in the future when the supply of fossil fuels starts to decrease? Don’t misunderstand me I am not against fossil fuels just wondering about the future overall.

      • That is a solution for electricity. Not for liquid transportation fuels. Vehicle electrification is only a partial substitute. Doesn’t help air, ag, construction, forestry,…

      • Sorry Climate Heretic, but you are mostly wrong. Electric vehicles, and Hydrogen/fuel cell vehicles (made with electricity), can satisfy most ground use. Thus Nuclear power of some sort may do the job for them. Aircraft are a different story, and probably would need fossil based fuels a while more, but that is a small fraction of all uses. It may be possible for aircraft to use bio based fuels, or synthetic fuels, since that is a relatively small (compared to present total) need.

      • >>It may be possible for aircraft to use bio based fuels.

        You could always make that hydrogen-powered airliner that Boeing was talking about. But you will not catch me on one.


      • That is a solution for electricity. Not for liquid transportation fuels. Vehicle electrification is only a partial substitute. Doesn’t help air, ag, construction, forestry,…

        The situation you suggest is hydrocarbons being completely gone in any industrial volume. That is a pretty extreme conjecture; but with technology like the aforementioned molten-salt reactors one could have the energy to pretty much make any chemical.

        Once one has a hydrogen feedstock via electrolysis, most the products distilled from earth oils are accessible through direct manufacture. Only reason nobody does such on an industrial scale is the energy input – first to get the hydrogen, then more depending on desired chemical outcome.

        It is also worth pointing out that, ultimately, there are more hydrocarbons in this solar system than free oxygen to burn it all – and that ratio is not even close.

      • LW, you might wish to peruse chapters 5 and 6 of my book Gaia’s Limits. I did all those calculations in detail. Biofuels, vehicle electrification where possible, using gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel breakdowns including fleet upgrades ( auto hybridization/electrification, Boeing 787, intermodal freight, additional rail electrification…). The numbers do not add up to your Polyannish conclusions. Check all the references, do your own caculations, then get back with more than mere belief based assertions. Show where my calculations are wrong. Please, because then I would become more optimistic than the evidence presently allows.
        The shame of CAGW is it has resulted in a war on coal, plus overinvestment in intermittent electricity renewables when nuclear is already a better solution IF there is a problem. Diverting attention from issues to which there is not any present solution, specifically food calories and affordable transport fuels in the next 2-4 decades.
        I did not want to go into it, but Golkany’s citations about the green fod revolution do not hold true for the future, for very fundamental reasons. Dwarfing and disease resistance work– once. Not twice. China is #1 and India #2 for world production of both wheat and potatoes. Go look at yield curve progess for those staple crops in those countries, using FAOSTAT or the in country sources. Both crops in both countries yield plateaued since about 2000. Merely the tip of the food iceberg.

      • This comment for Leonard Weinstein.

        Molten salt reactors have the ability to operate at high temperatures which makes them well suited to driving strongly endothermic chemical reactions. The thermal dissociation of water into hydrogen and oxygen is an example of such a process and once one has hydrogen it can be process into liquid fuels.

        Using 90 year old technology (Fischer Tropsh) one could react carbon monoxide with hydrogen to produce analogs of fossil fuels for powering aircraft.

      • Thorium and Uranium are just as finite as fossil carbons. What happens when they run out?

      • “””””…..Once one has a hydrogen feedstock via electrolysis, most the products distilled from earth oils are accessible through direct manufacture. Only reason nobody does such on an industrial scale is the energy input – first to get the hydrogen, then more depending on desired chemical outcome…….””””

        So Xinucha,

        I’m intrigued to learn just where you get all of the electricity to produce hydrogen via electrolysis.

        Water is the ending refuse obtained from the combustion of hydrogen to do useful work. So H2O is one of the lowest points in the stored chemical energy list of resources. You can go a little bit lower by adding salts to the H2O which gives you sea water, as a more complete garbage output.

        Likewise carbon dioxide is the refuse left over from using carbon as a chemical energy source.

        Now both Hydrogen and carbon are very common chemical energy sources widely used in the production of electricity.

        So I’m all ears. Explain for us where the original energy input to run this perpetual motion machine comes from ??

        Basically, we don’t have significant hydrogen mines on earth. We do have large garbage dumps for the end product which fills the earth’s oceans.

        Oddly enough, we do have significant stocks of carbon materials in the form of coal, but those are rapidly being placed off limits by the current US and other world regulatory bodies.

        Something is wrong with this picture.


      • @Dornier & Ristvan:

        We never run out of energy. Period. Nor of motor fuels.

        Uranium from seawater it practical today, just undercut in price by land uranium mines. Thorium is greater.



        Furthermore, garbage can be used as fuel feedstock. This has been done. (LAX ground vehicles were running on it instead of petrodiesel). We are in no danger of running out of garbage.

        ANY carbon source works, even the megatons of corn stalks we plough under. Price is higher than from oil, but livable. About $4 to $5 per gallon last I looked.


        Oh, and worries about things like iron for rebar are silly too


        we run out of energy and rebar and materials when we run out of rocks.

      • And if you have loads of cheap power then hydrocarbon synthesis starts to look attractive if you want transportable high energy density fuel. See Fischer-Tropsch Synthesis.

        Sunfire in germany are doing some stuff but they are concentrating on wind and solar for their energy inputs. What’s needed is a cheap nuclear source. Then pretty well CxHy be synthesised from scratch.

      • E.M.Smith, cornstalks are plowed under in order to enrich the soil. Start burning them instead and you will need a new source of fertilizer for farmlands.

    • As fossil fuels become more scarce, their price will rise. As prices rise, alternative fuels will become more competitive and will gradually be adopted. We don’t have to force the issue now. It will evolve naturally. In the very least, however, fossil fuels can give us more time to improve our knowledge and technology. That, in turn, will help us find better, more sustainable, more reliable, and possibly cheaper energy sources over time. Why rush the process because of inconclusive assumptions of pending doom?

      • Well we once enjoyed nothing but free clean green renewable sources of energy; mostly in the form of food stuffs.

        But it was nowhere near able to sustain our population. We spent every waking minute, up in the fig trees gathering fresh figs. But we had to compete with the smaller monkeys who were better able to get the choice figs.

        eventually, we found it easier to let the monkeys get those figs, and then we smashed their brains in and ate them instead.

        But it wasn’t until we discovered and harnessed fire, and eventually fossil fuels, that we were able to sustain any significant population at all.

        So we can return to that Shangri la idyllic existence, but only at a few percent of the current population.

        So those who choose to forgo using fossil fuels, better start telling us who they want to get rid of, because solar energy isn’t going to do it.


      • @ Louis Hunt –
        You might consider the reverse of what you say. Namely, when a better source of fuel (energy) is obvious the demand for the current one will decrease and its value will fall. In the mid-1800s urban places faced a horse problem. I will skip the details because those are available on the web. However, as a major source of transport horses did not become scarce or costly. They were replaced rather quickly when something better – motor transport – became effective. A catchy phrase, often heard, is “the stone age did not end for lack of stones.”

      • Rising price is a proxy for energy of extraction. When prices rise, EROEI falls. Eventually the effort involved in extraction isn’t justified in the energy returned by the effort. That is when society hits the wall of depletion.

      • I see the EROEI canard is floated again…

        Every oil refinery has negative EROEI. Yet we use them. Why? Because the FORM of the energy matters. We want clean motor fuels.

        Long after negative EROEI on oil wells hits, we will be pumping oil from them. Using whatever energy is cheapest, be it solor or nukes. BTW, this is already done today. Oil fields in California use electric motors powered by a mix of Palo Verde nukes, solar, coal, etc.

        Since we never run out of nuclear power, this can continue for a few hundred years. (then we may need to use methane clathrates instead…for a few thousand years… )


    • Long before that happens we get to witness mass migrations of humans for reasons of extreme poverty, tribal and religious wars, and basic loss of clean water supplies in million plus cities all over the world.

      • We can already witness those things now, and it’s not because of climate change or a shortage of fossil fuels. Go to the southern U.S. border to see mass migrations of the poor. Go to the Middle East to see tribal and religious wars going on at a fever pitch. Go to Detroit to see water shutoffs and to California to see water shortages happening right now. It’s nothing new. History is full of such things.

      • The point is that these crises are not getting enough attention while AGW marches on with income redistribution and other grand policy distractions.

    • In the near term, supply constraints will cause rising prices, which will incent & fund further innovation and effort to exploit more expensive sources not utilized today. When those sources start to fade, humans will likely be all over the solar system, acquiring carbon compounds and other resources from new sources. Static, linear analysis un-touched by economic understanding, will mislead you into thinking that “Peak Oil” is a legitimate concept.

    • That is not as rhetorical a a question as it may look to a logical mind.
      The short answer is that with science and engineering skills mankind will find an intelligent answer. The answer will be because there will be a viable replacement for the abundant natural fuel supplies.

      These may well diminish – but there is no sign of that for the immediate future, health and prosperity..

      What should be happening is that countries with excess supplies should have the sovereign right to sell without threat of invasion and theft by countries prepared to kill and destroy rather than pay a fair market price.

      • So just what will this viable replacement be ? Remember that we need viable replacements for not only the energy of fossil fuels, but also the chemical diversity that comes from them.

        And what is going to make all of these people do the “right thing”, and share their resources ?

        History has demonstrated that those sitting on the resources have done just that; sat on them.

        So it has taken others to discover and develop those resources into viable products.

        And the arguments over what is a fair exchange rate will always be there.

        I can’t see human nature changing that much.

        In the USA right now, we appear to have about half of the population who see no need to put in a day’s work doing anything productive, as they can live very well on handouts taken from those who do put in a day’s work, only to have it taken from them.

        And those clamoring for the end to fossils, are among the leaders of the pack who are largely doing nothing that is productive.

        That’s just my opinion of course. Others; maybe by a 97% concensus, will probably disagree with me.


      • george e. smith
        July 6, 2015 at 1:17 pm

        Well as you note, fusion worked in ‘the bomb’. Maybe we should be looking at some way to use partially controlled bombs for energy. We managed to do subsurface testing in the 50s. Perhaps we could set off bombs to melt a large ‘bottle’ in a deep mine in granite around which we mine out a helical decline that could conduct water around to pick up the heat. Periodically set off smaller bombs to keep it hot. Not more fanciful than many geoengineering ideas by the blognoscenti.

        There was a suggestion years ago that such a ‘bottle’ might be made below the oilsands that would collect oil through fractures.

    • molten salt reactors and eventually fusion technology (don’t bother responding if all you got is “well it hasn’t happened yet”) anybody of a scientific worldview understands that it is. at this point, an engineering problem only with lots of good science to be discvered.

      • So what is this scientific world view that sees it as an engineering problem (fusion technology) ?

        I think it is a giant leap of faith to talk about ” technology ” , which may indeed be the point at which it becomes an engineering problem.

        Right now it is just a science problem, with no proven science that it is doable.

        So there is no fusion technology to engineer at this point. Well that is excluding the bomb, which has been engineered, but doesn’t yield controlled fusion energy.

        So that leaves your “molten salt” reactors.

        My BIL actually worked on the heat exchanger for the molten salt Nevada solar thermal project at Tonopah. No suitable metal solution was found, and the whole contraption was made out of ceramics. Just try your hand at making shutoff valves out of crockery, and getting them to actually seal off the working materials, specially if they are allowed to freeze.

        So fossilsage, wake us up, when they do get to work on the engineering.


      • Well I don’t know but Lockheed/Marietta announced just this year they are prepared to build a “proof of concept” device just this year. The last time I had any close information on this was 40 years ago when LLL was working on laser driven ablative implosion. They have not thrown their hands up yet and said it’s all a waste. Unfortunately there are reams of science and engineering that remain classified so we don’t really know what the state of the art is.

      • Now, now, the field of ceramics is not “crockery”. There are ceramics being used to melt and hold glass, for instance.

      • “””””…..

        July 6, 2015 at 2:14 pm

        Well I don’t know but Lockheed/Marietta announced just this year they are prepared to build a “proof of concept” device just this year. The last time I had any close information on this was 40 years ago when LLL was working on laser driven ablative implosion. …..”””””

        Well The National Ignition Facility in Livermore is still doing Laser whackamole experiments which potentially result in some fusion reactions with a DT fuel mix.

        Well actually the real ” fuel ” that has to be provided is a complex and precise implosion ablation “capsule which has to be manufactured to contain the small amount of DT fusion raw material.

        This capsule and its contents have to be squished very uniformly using that incredibly large laser at Livermore.

        Then the whole system has to be cleaned out of the resulting garbage, and a new capsule needs to be ordered and manufactured, so that it can then get squished.

        This is quite unlike any continuous energy source currently used for large scale commercial energy utilities.

        The late Charles H. Townes, gave a keynote speech on laser inertial confinement at a large conference on fusion energy (I believe in Texas).

        In that speech that laser pioneer told the assembled conventioneers, that laser implosion was a suitable mechanism for studying the properties of plasmas at very high molecular densities, compared to the hot near vacuum conditions in other plasmas.

        But he essentially told them in so many words, that they were all crazy if they thought laser implosion was at all practical as a continuous source of thermo-nuclear fusion energy.

        It really is a transient tiny “bomb” that duplicates the H weapon, at a miniature scale, but is not a stable continuous controlled energy supply mechanism.

        I’ll be happy to cheer and raise my arm in a beer toast to Lockheed Marietta, or izzat Lockheed Martin, as soon as their demo “proof of concept” prototype plant is up and running in a continuous thermo-nuclear controlled fusion process.


      • It would seem 95% of the universe is missing so dark matter and dark energy were invented. Tesla found and used this missing energy, but it could not be metered, it was free so it was hidden. Come the time we need energy as all times in the past will come the man or woman with the solution. We are bathed in energy it powers the heavens and our puny planet.

    • “Sooo what happens in the future when the supply of fossil fuels starts to decrease?”

      We should put our trust in our great-great-grandchildren and their great-great-grandchildren. As happened when our forebears worked out that burning coal was more efficient that choking on smoldering animal dung. As an experiment, try making a 1000 kilograms of steel using only iron ore and animal dung.

      • We should put our trust in our great-great-grandchildren and their great-great-grandchildren.
        a very wise statement. our great-great-grandchildren will look at peak oil the same way we look at peak wood for the fire.

    • When fossil fuels start to decrease, if they ever do, it will primarily be because there are cheaper alternatives. Molten salt reactors and other gen III, gen IV, gen V nuclear technologies can also supply heat for the Fischer-Tropsch reaction- Carbon monoxide and hydrogen to petroleums and water. Reactors can also generate hydrogen through numerous methods that are self sustaining, up to and including thermoreforming water into hydrogen and oxygen. The US NAVY is proposing producing jet fuel from CO2 in seawater. Similar processes could be powered by nuclear reactors to convert CO2 from other sources into fuel using combined cycles with nuclear reactors providing the heat energy needed.

    • It is not strength or intelligence that determines who or what survives but adaptability.

      One cannot adapt to an unknown or vaguely speculated environment. Adapting to new environments requires a good idea of the what, when, where and hows of the new environment. Currently, speculating on the future of fossil fuels is better suited to Hollywood screenplays.

      Put another way if the same wish-washy doomsday logic was applied to picnics, then no one would ever go on a picnic because the weather will be unfavorable in some unspecified way at some unknown point in time.

    • We have at least 300 to 400 years in which to worry about that problem.
      The solution will likely something we haven’t even dreamed of yet.

    • First, stop calling them “fossil” fuels. There’s ample evidence to suggest that the assertion that those fuel deposits are NOT caused by dead stuff from a long time ago, as the so-called “fossil” fuels are actually the result of natural geologic processes (and is constantly being generated) independent of the existence of life.

      Secondly, your question is answered by week two of econ 101. Simple supply and demand. If supply decreases RELATIVE to demand, prices increase. Changes in prices have all sorts of very cool ripple effects. As prices rise, producers and consumers have enormous incentive to economize (hence the study of economics). This occurs in several different ways. Ultimately, though, if the price of the energy extracted from fossil fuels exceeds the price of extracting energy from other sources, then those others sources are tapped.

  2. Great points! Without fossil fuels there would be no modern society, and the technology and manufacturing required to transition to renewable energy would not be possible. So when the Pope refers to the earth and everything in it as a “gift from God,” and then refers to “highly polluting fossil fuels” as an evil that should be avoided, there is an obvious disconnect in his reasoning. Fossil fuels come from the earth. So by his own argument, fossil fuels are a gift from God. How then can they be an evil if they are used to better the lives of human beings, most of whom are poor?

    • Everything on earth is a gift from God, except fossil fuels. Those are a gift from the Devil. However, with prayer and a large donation to the Church one can exorcise the Devil from the fossil fuels, yielding sustainable holy fuels.

  3. So, higher life expectancies caused an increase in CO2?

    Sustainable development = what the market can bear.

    The Pope and the warmists want to change the market. Why are we listening to the Pope who supposedly doesn’t watch TV, or read newspapers, and clearly doesn’t pay attention to the skeptical blogosphere?

    The deaf, dumb, and blind are leading the blinded…. nowhere…. fast.

    • The Pope seems to agree with you:

      “…the Church does not presume to settle scientific questions or to replace politics.”

      But he centers his entire encyclical around the idea that the science is settled, and we need to conform to “a very solid scientific consensus” that requires us to “recognize the need for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption, in order to combat this warming or at least the human causes which produce or aggravate it.”

      He also wants us to fight global warming by giving up fossil fuels and eliminate poverty at the same time. Without fossil fuels, poverty would become much worse. So there are a number of areas where the Pope wants to have it both ways and ends up contradicting himself.

      • If you dare to look at the big, BIG picture; it may well be that the much-touted “balance of Nature” includes not only human development, but all of the technologies we bring to bear WITHIN that development. The increase in population is balanced by the increase in food production, & c. made possible by fossil-fuel based technologies. I see nothing in this incompatible with the most basic assumptions of Naturalists, which is what we called “environmentalists” when they were still passive observers, not yet politicized.

        I found this article quite fascinating and refreshing; many thanks for posting!

  4. Reblogged this on Climate Change Sanity and commented:
    The GWSF posted Indur M Goklany’s “The Pontifical Academies’ Broken Moral Compass”. This essay was written as a refutation of the climate change section of Pope Francis’s Encyclical. Goklany’s response is some 19 pages long and may be the best illustration of why we do not believe in catastrophic man-made global warming. I recommend that you read it. It can be read by clicking on http://www.thegwpf.org/content/uploads/2015/06/Vatican-compass.pdf

    Goklany posted a summary of his essay on the WUWT blog. I am reblogging the WUWT posting.

  5. In short, fossil fuels have been and continue to be a godsend to mankind. And Warnunists hate that.

  6. Thanks, Indur M. Goklany. Good post.
    No, fossil fuels have extended and improved the world’s sustainability, made it possible.
    Energy poverty is not the right answer to anything. The Pope is simply wrong. And he is wrong because of his own personal leftist ideology and that of his advisers.
    The church of global warming is being absorbed and becoming dominant inside the catholic church. Their loss.

    • The Pope’s strings are being jerked by the U.N. and its currently steamrollering Progressive meme; either get in line or go unheard. As in ostracized, you know, like they do to US? If he wants to remain “relevant,” he has to parrot the party line. Since he’s no fool, and likely a good deal-maker, he’s done exactly that.

      Now; since most of the world does not look to religious leaders for weather reports, let alone policy decisions, I think the best thing WWUT can do about the Papal encyclical is let it die as a news item–let it become a relic of last month rather than continuing to give it live by quoting it and making it an object of contention.

      Lacking a lightning rod, most storms are short-lived and any damange not memorable . . .

      • It’s a safe bet that the Pope’s Letter will be used to advance the COP 21 agenda.

        So the discussion about its contents will need to continue.

  7. So basically, it is demonstrated that the positive externalities of fossil fuels exceed the negative externalities.

    This is an argument I have used many times at the Guardian. The riposte is always the same. The positive externalities are for any energy source – not just fossil fuels.

    Then the debate degenerates into an argument over the relative costs of energy sources.

    • The most important positive externalities come ONLY from superrenewable (carbon) fuels, because the life of the Earth is all carbon based life. Only carbon fuels directly increase the carrying capacity of planet Earth for Life.

  8. I agree with Climate Heretic that the development of LFTR’s is the next important step in human energy consumption. It is true that we would still need fossil fuels for various uses, even if we generate all of our electricity from nuclear sources. Yet, the amount we would need would be just a fraction of current consumption and would likely last for hundreds, if not thousands of years. Developing alternatives for almost all fossil fuel uses would certainly occur over that length of time. It really isn’t an issue, if we develop molten salt reactors.

    In fact, most of the concerns of the modern environmental movement are much ado about nothing. Furthermore, there proposed solutions to their imaginary problems would almost always do more harm than good to the causes they allegedly support. Environmentalism has become a fact-less, emotional rant from Gaia worshipers, and the Pope has chosen to drink their Kool-aide instead of his sacramental wine. This does not bode well for the Church.

    • I wonder how his encyclical is playing in the less-developed countries. On the one hand, they would likely welcome the income redistribution. On the other, they wouldn’t like the limitations on energy.

      • they would likely welcome the income redistribution.
        income redistribution in less-developed countries always follows the same model. the rich man on the hill hires the police to steal money from the poor living below. that is the reality of income redistribution.

        it has been the same throughout the ages. the wealthy baron on the hill lives in his castle, surrounded by fighting men. the peasants are left alone on the plains below to plant and harvest. once the harvest is in, the baron and his men ride out for a days hard work, taking from the peasants whatever they please. food, women, gold, whatever can be gained by threat, torture, or pain of death. Come the spring, those peasants that survive the winter begin the cycle one again.

  9. >>Synthetic fertilizers and pesticides derived from
    >>fossil fuels, non-existent in 1900, increased crop
    >>yields during the 20th century.

    Well there’s ya problem. And how long is that going to last?

    Cue Richard Courtney, spouting the fantasy meme: “but the world’s resources are inexhaustable…..”. Yeah, I seem to remember the Easter Islanders chanting that a few centuries ago.


    • ralfellis,
      If you believe that mankind will not develop viable alternatives (not ancient wind and intermittent solar) to fossil fuels, you and others of similar ilk should resort to living like a cave man. First you should ration the excessive consumption of fossil fuels by the elites especially those in the US government who have the largest footprint of anyone. Then we should end the useless global warming meetings in far off expensive locations wasting fossil fuels, by those who blame the peons for the problem. They need to lead by example, no fossil fuels for them, they are the problem not the solvers!
      For me I believe if we let the free market system work without excessive interference from the government we will develop viable alternatives such as coal replaced wood ending deforestation, and crude oil which Rockefeller refined and marketed to replace whale oil then horses with hors@#$ everywhere which provided a society capable of feeding many more, move around, and transport goods to the peons not just the elites. Except where corrupt governments impede implementation..
      We have probably a century or more of fossil fuels if you consider coal, etc. you can stop consumption now, I believe the ingenuity of mankind unfettered by regulations will solve the problem in plenty of time just as Rockfeller and others have done in the past. .

      • >>If you believe that mankind will not develop viable
        >>alternatives (not ancient wind and intermittent solar)
        >>to fossil fuels, you and others of similar ilk should
        >>resort to living like a cave man.

        Hey it is not me who is opposed to alternatives. There is a cabal of deists on this site who think g-d will provide infinite oil, no matter how much we drain the Earth’s resources – those who reject peak oil at any time in the future.

        Trouble is, that is dangerous thinking. The lead-time on some of these ‘alternatives’ might be anywhere between 20 and 50 years, so it would be nice if we started researching and planning those ‘alternatives’ now, not in 2050.


      • ralfellis commented: “…The lead-time on some of these ‘alternatives’ might be anywhere between 20 and 50 years, so it would be nice if we started researching and planning those ‘alternatives’ now, not in 2050.”

        We are researching and planning now and in fact have viable alternatives at hand. Unfortunately those alternatives aren’t acceptable to the Environmentalists. They would rather catastrophically impact all the people now than wait for energy replacements they approve or the time to integrate them. I don’t see the world standing by while people die and go into poverty to assuage the Environmentalists though.

      • Nobody had to pass a law against the primary use of horses for transportation. When superior technologies emerge, the marketplace will be more than happy to use them.
        Anyone’s demands that we revert to a LOWER standard of living, utilizing inferior technologies, simply ain’t gonna happen outside of a few woodsies in Oregon. It’s a non-starter. If ANYONE was truly serious about “cleaning up the air,” we’d be building nuclear plants hand-over-fist! Preferably not hanging on the shore where tsunami are commonplace. ;-)

      • Ralf,
        there are some deists on this site who act as if the sun was infinite, providing “renewable” energy to our planet forever. But that strawman isn’t true: the sun has a finite lifespan.: it isn’t “renewable.”

        Meanwhile, finite CO2, a vital reactant in the multi-billion year old process of photosynthesis, is at a mere 400 parts per million atmospheric concentration. Yet people act as if it infinite and “renewable.”
        Why is it so?

        Do the carbon and oxygen molecules get rearranged by energy, perhaps, in some kind of cycle?

        Doesn’t the same kind of cycle explain why hydrocarbon-fueled methanogens, probably the most enduring organism on the planet, have flourished on Earth for billions of years without exhausting the “finite” supply?

        Why does Earth need a special pleading and a fantastically complicated biological epicycle to account for hydrocarbons?
        Why are Earthly hydrocarbons not renewable – like they are on Titan?

      • Ralfellis,
        Why set up a stupid strawman similar to the tactic the administration always employs when they are loosing the argument?
        Could you quote who and how many have claimed”…g-d will provide infinite oil, no matter how much we drain the Earth’s resources ” On the other hand the warmist constantly claim we already reached peak oil for years even when fracking has produced a glut of fossil energy. Recently peak oil was caused by Government restricting drilling. Do you know that oil/gas finds/production has fallen significantly on fertile federal lands under the current Administration, while private land production in the US has boomed.
        If you are depending on the USA government to produce an alternative energy source with their wasteful expenditure of $ 21.4 Billion every year on Solyndras, Range fuels, electric cars. etc. ( http://www.whitehouse.gov/…/legislative_reports/fcce-report-to-congress.pdf ). Read the report, the money is just spread around wastefully among numerous agencies and multitude of useless programs, no focus as the DOE had when it was pushing coal liquefaction, coal gasification, etc. (which I happened to work on successful programs)
        Any time the government distributes money to the bundlers, GE and other special interests, you can be certain the results will be poor at best. Can you name one major contribution the DOE has made to alternative energy breakthroughs? How many years have they been wasting our tax dollars.
        I am all for new energy sources, but having consulted on numerous recent projects, I have not seen much worthwhile to date, mostly bankruptcies with the taxpayer holding the bag. Solar, wind, and biofuels will never cut it regardless of how much taxpayer money you waste. Time to move on to other opportunities.
        Are you going to walk the talk?

      • Truism. If you have to lie about your opponents beliefs, you have already lost the argument.
        A grand total of nobody has claimed that God will provide energy in the future.
        Secondly, nobody denies that peak oil will occur, they just deny that it will happen as soon as you want it to happen, and they deny that it will be the catastrophe that you are praying for.

    • Easter Islanders chanting that a few centuries ago.
      Easter Islander were worried about fossil fuels, so they chopped down all their trees instead for fuel. Once that was exhausted they died of exposure.

    • @Ralfellis:

      Eastman chemical still uses coal, but most chemical companies use natural gas for chemical feedstock.

      In several hundred years when they run low, we can start using the vastly larger deposits of tar and oil sands and shales. A few thousand years later, methane clathrates. (though recent Japanese advances might move clathrates before shales…). Oh, and we can also use garbage (done already in pilot plant and commercially) or plant biomass if desired. Finally, we can also use GMO tech to move nitrogen fixing genes from beans to other crops. After all that, if needed, we can use HTGCR nukes for process heat for the next million years or three. (While nukes can be running far longer than that, humans will have evolved into some other species by then, so not my problem what that species does…)

      I think that is enough planning horizon for synthetic fertilizer sources…

    • First off, the Easter Islanders were doing alright until the Europeans and their diseases arrived.
      Secondly, while any one resource may indeed be exhaustible, thanks to human ingenuity, resources in general are inexhaustible. The reality is that there are many things that can be used to create and or conserve energy, and more are being invented all the time.

  10. “it is not possible to sustain the present level of consumption in developed countries and wealthier sectors of society…” This is partly a call for redistribution of wealth from the rich to the poor, and partly a justification for austerity, for those in the developed countries with a less-than-average “level of consumption”. It won’t succeed in making the rich guilty. Hopefully, the less fortunate will reject the encyclical too.

    • This “encyclical” HARDLY has the force of law. It doesn’t even have credible moral force. It’s a propaganda move, pure and simple, and is already last month’s filler “news.” The more we talk about it, the more life we give it. By next Christmas there will be more people talking about the latest Kardashian scandal . . .

  11. This article is near perfect.
    Two important omissions:
    (1) I did not see any statement that rising levels of CO2 will end life on Earth as we now it, and investment bankers will soon be taking gondolas to their Wall Street offices, and
    (2) The pope is a scientific and economic illiterate: He hates fossil fuels and capitalism — the two things that have brought more people out of poverty than anything else. He is an embarrassment, counterproductive, and should resign — anyone who believes in creationism, a coming global warming catastrophe, hates fossil fuels, and favors marxism — is an enemy of the poor, the very people he should focus on helping.

  12. This Pope has missed the “tells” about the social mania of climate obsession; he has fallen for the Galileo fallacy, by taking sides in a science debate; he has diminished the Church by behaving in a transparently political fashion. And his diatribes against the so-called wealthy demonstrates an amazing lack of factual knowledge and much bigotry.
    All around he has ill-served the role he was called to fill.
    The Church will be decades recovering from this Pope’s hubris and naiveté.

  13. I read elsewhere that the birth rate goes down with increases in economic wealth. Therefore, using fossil fuels to reduce poverty will help with the “excess population” problem.

    • It started with Adam Smith in “Wealth of Nations”: (I paraphrase): “A poor woman in the Highlands of Scotland, will bear on average 18 children, while a rich woman in London can scarce bear two.” Birth rates decline with wealth; I do not believe there is an exception to the rule.

  14. But, just wait when we hit the tipping point of global warming … everything will turn into rat feces as the oceans start to boil… just wait and see.

  15. Everything living depends on nature. Even animals selectively use other animals and plant life for nourishment and habitat. If left alone without man animals and plants could conceivably cause more extinctions and harm to earth than man does today. Only man has the technology and smarts to protect earth and conserve resources and in the process extend life on earth. And we’re doing a damn good job of it too. People first.

  16. The Pope’s was born in 1936, so is now 78 years old. His education included the equivalent of a degree in Chemistry, so is scientifically literate, unlike most of the UK and USA politicians. He also has the benefit of advice from the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. So the Pope is quite reasonably placed to evaluate scientific research and include it in his Papal Encyclicals.

    Indur’s article quite rightly points out that fossil fuels have played a significant role in providing energy for man over the last century. However, his analysis is primarily backwards-looking, rather than examining the current issues and which way they are going to pan out.

    Now it is true that fossil fuels were good in the past, but you can have too much of a good thing, as London discovered in 1952 when a period of pea-souper fogs over four days caused by coal burning claiming 12,000 lives, with an estimate of 100,000 further people made ill.

    But that’s history, isn’t it? Well, er, no actually, not really.

    The current estimate is that coal smog pollution costs 3.2 years on average for 660 million Indians living in areas of poor air quality. If that is not enough, to add on another 500 million Chinese who lose 5.5 years on average. Both of these are mainly due to pollution due to coal burning. Other countries have similar problems but are not so large.

    That is almost 5,000,000,000 years of life lost per annum by air quality problems in just those two large nations – and most of these are due to coal burning. The world population is 7bn.

    Air pollution mainly caused by coal burning causes an average loss of life of 8 months or more of the global population

    If fossil fuel burning was the only game in town, then it might be worth sustaining such a huge loss of life for the other benefits provided by the high availability of energy.

    Renewables are coming to maturity and are now cheap enough to replace most (but not yet all) fossil fuel electricity generation

    Units of wind power from the USA interior at around 4.5 cents / kWh (which includes PTC)are now cheaper than the cost of fuel (plus other variable costs) for gas-fired generation. Utility solar PV prices are forecast by the CEO of First Solar to be just over 3 cents / kWh by 2025. Incidentally he is now selling solar PV into projects delivering power as low as 4 cents/kWh.

    A wind project at Turkana, Kenya is under construction and will deliver wind power at around 3.4 cents/kWh. It is expected to achieve a capacity factor of 62%. http://www.ltwp.co.ke/

    Wind and solar are variable methods of generation, so we need cover from fossil fuel generation for around 30-40% of the time.

    There are now places which are 100% powered by renewable electricity. El Hierro in the Canary Isles is one of them (wind power plus pumped hydro storage). Georgetown in Texas is due to become another.

    Keep producing chemicals from fossil fuels for now

    Fossil fuels are ideal feedstocks for chemicals. That’s what they should be used for in the future, not burning to produce energy we can easily get elsewhere.

    Indur’s deliberate blurring of the boundary between using fossil fuel as chemical feedstock, and burning it to produce energy is disingenuous.

    There is no reason to continue using fossil fuels to supply the energy required by society to function at a high level. There is more reason to continue using fossil fuels as chemical feedstocks.

    As Shiek Yamani once said

    The stone age did not end because we ran out of stones.

    • Your analogy is inapt for too many reasons to recount fully here. Metallurgy depends on finite FF. Modern society is a bit more advanced than stone age hunter gatherers, none of which could exist in cities. And so on. Cute slogan, not persuasive at all.

      • Much of Europen forests were cut down to make iron.The coal forge saved the trees. (Yes, my smith ancestors did some of the cutting… smelting with charcoal… better to use fossil trees as coal..)

        Also, motor fuel hydrocarbons work best. Made from oil, coal, biomass, garbage, any old carbon source will do. Just use the cheapest first, and now that is oil.

        “Saving” oil for chemical feedstock is silly. Look up synthesis gas. Made from any carbon source. We can, and do, make plastics from plants. Rayon, viscous sponge, cellophane, and more. Look up bioplastics. It is a bogus reason not to use oil. (Partly as gasoline and Diesel are just a special case of chemical product.).

      • Rud,

        There’s absolutely nothing to stop us from eliminating fossil fuels from 60-70% of power generation, and from moving domestic heating to electric heat pumps and in the 2025-2030 timescale moving from fossil fuels to EV technology. The technology is all there, and the economics are either already favourable or neutral or in the case of EV Li-ion batteries will be resolved by volume manufacturing techniques.

        In fact for Europe, incorporation of North African wind power from the Trade Winds (not correlated in any way with European wind), from an extended European Supergrid pretty much halves the gap which has to be filled with fossil fuel generation (with or without CCS). Also Europe uses 8 TWh of power each day, and the capacity of the Norwegian hydro lakes is 84 TWh, so conversion of Norwegian hydro into pumped storage would also reduce this gap. Most likely the gap can be brought well below 20% of power generation using techniques already known.

        The CEO of First Solar is saying publicly he is not concerned when the ITC for solar drops from 30% to 10%. He says that this drop is compensated by only18 months of solar PV price reductions in the First Solar production plan.

        The consensus is that EV’s will be the car of choice when battery technology gets down to $150 kWh. The Tesla Powerwall is already down to $350 / kWh installer cost. Once the Gigafactory is in full production in 2020 Tesla expects its prices to come down by 30%. That brings it to $250 / kWh. At a conservative rate of progress in lowering manufacturing costs and increasing volumes (which can now be home storage systems and are not so dependent on EV volumes), it could be up to another 5-10 years before the final 40% reduction is achieved. But this is inevitable.

        Sure, eliminating the last 10% of fossil fuel use may require attention to detail and development of new technologies, such as cheap power storage (Isentropic?) That’s why the G7 promised zero fossil fuel use by 2100, not 2050. But eliminating 90% is pretty straightforward and indeed mostly the change is inevitable for economic reasons

    • The green scams do not work. If your objective is to significant reduce CO2 emissions, the only solution is nuclear power and Stalin like restrictions on everyday life such as banning tourism air travel.

      P.S. The developed countries have run out of money to spend on everything. See Greece for an example as to what happens at the end of deficit spending.

      The cult of CAGW policies will triple the cost of electricity (German electrical costs are three times higher than US electrical costs) and force the destruction of virgin forest to grow food to convert to biofuel for no significant reduction in CO2 emissions. The green scams do not work. All the pain for no gain.


      The key problem appears to be that the cost of manufacturing the components of the renewable power facilities is far too close to the total recoverable energy – the facilities never, or just barely, produce enough energy to balance the budget of what was consumed in their construction. This leads to a runaway cycle of constructing more and more renewable plants simply to produce the energy required to manufacture and maintain renewable energy plants – an obvious practical absurdity.

      (William: Green scams fail without including the cost and energy input for battery systems. To reduce CO2 emissions below 20% with wind and solar requires battery systems. Ignoring astronomical costs to install battery systems, the energy required to construct the battery systems exceeds the energy ‘savings’ to use wind and solar.

      The green scams do not include the cost and energy to replace worn out wind turbines and battery systems.)

      A research effort by Google corporation to make renewable energy viable has been a complete failure, according to the scientists who led the programme. After 4 years of effort, their conclusion is that renewable energy “simply won’t work”.


      Recently Bill Gates explained in an interview with the Financial Times why current renewables are dead-end technologies. They are unreliable. Battery storage is inadequate. Wind and solar output depends on the weather. The cost of decarbonization using today’s technology (William: Solar and wind power rather than nuclear) is “beyond astronomical,” Mr. Gates concluded.

      • That is absolute rubbish!! You are just cherry picking remarks by a few individuals who happen to have particular view rather than doing a basic analysis of cost trends, modern renewables EROI.

        Or even a proper analysis of the German power grid which, incidentally, now has lower spot power prices than most of the US grid. The current cost of the German renewables subsidies is around 2.4 Eurocents / kWh, but unfortunately all of this is loaded on to domestic customers as industry does not pay this. Mainly the German domestic power prices reflect deliberate carbon taxing and inefficient local distribution companies – nothing directly to do with the cost of renewables. The tax element is political policy.

        With hindsight the Germans could have got to the current position much cheaper. However, one thing they did was to move solar PV panels from almost one-offs to mass-market commodity items, which is why the prices have dropped 80% over the last 5 years. Germany kicked this off and with German philanthropy may regard this as well worth the cost.

        And the other thing you probably don’t understand about Germany is how efficient they are. This applies to energy efficiency where they lead the world. So although kWh prices are high, the power bills are not that much higher than in the USA. That’s why the anti-renewables camp do not quote German electricity bill levels, only kWh prices.

        In terms of grid reliability with over 30% of German electricity units coming from renewables, the German grid beats just about every other grid in the world. The last few years have seen around 16 minutes outage per consumer per year, and some of that is due to the local distribution network. The corresponding figure for the USA grids is measured in hours!!!

        Even with the planned reduction in the 30% Federal PTC subsidy, US utilities are already planning a lot of renewable generation. The EROI is highly favourable compared with a lot of recent oil discoveries.

        Do not believe the out-of-date numbers produced by anti-renewables posters. Go seek out the most recent numbers for yourself.

    • It is how coal is burnt that causes smog and air quality problems. I am not sure how you can use coal as a chemical feedstock. Oil is a feedstock but you don’t use the word oil anywhere in your comment. Why the confusion between oil and coal? And if something is economic it will be used but you would be fooling yourself if you ignore the cost of spinning backup power in your calculations on the true cost of renewables. You use the word disingenuous – clearly you know what that means.

      • 4 eyes:

        Coal was used first, and Eastman Chemical still uses it. Gassified to synthesis gas (heat, a little oxygen, sometime some water for a water shift to more hydrogen). Oil was used by most companies when it was very cheap (similar reaction, less water shift as it is already H2 rich). Then gas became preferred during the Arab Oil Embargo of the 1970s. In the 90s, some folks used biomass and garbage, but fracking has made natural gas cheapest by far (and simpler, no water shift as it has surplus hydrogem).

        look up “synthesis gas”, “water gas”, and “producer gas”. (Also “gobar gas” and gasogen for other interesting old tech…)


        for the brave… with mechanical skilz…

    • The problem of pollution from coal plants has been solved. India and China due to poverty have chosen to not apply those solutions.
      Your desperate attempts to pretend that all coal plants are as polluting as those in India and China indicate that you are either a liar, or hopelessly ignorant.
      Secondly, if these magical alternative energy sources you believe in actually are economically viable, then people will switch to them of their own free will. Nobody spends more than they have to.
      So once again, no need to grow the power of govt to force these false solutions on people who don’t want them.

      • Mark W,
        Good point, (“if these magical alternative energy sources you believe in actually are economically viable, then people will switch to them of their own free will) the last time I checked the price of electricity in Germany is approximately double that in the US.
        Also if renewables are so cheap, why is the price of electricity going up in California so dramatically. And why do we have to spend so much money on Batteries and grid upgrades to compensate for a failed energy source.
        Mandated renewable energy in NJ often costs circa 50 cents per kwh on the renewable market versus circa 8 cents for fossil and nuclear which we are shutting down to satisfy the looney environmentalists.

  17. California issued a ‘flexalert’ a few days ago because all the hey-you-beaut wind farms and solar power stations could’t keep up with demand. Now with one nuclear power plant recently shut down and the water level in Lake Meade almost too low for providing hydro power, the long-range planning prowess of Californian government might … just might … be brought into question. And this, we are told is the World’s 7th largest economy.

  18. The issue of air pollution is one that can only be addressed by economies which are advancing. For the most part, air pollution in the U.S, for example is a relatively minor, and localized issue. It is in fact fossil fuels, especially coal, which allow for economic expansion. If India has a problem with air pollution, it is up to India to decide, not us, whether, when and how to clean it up. Renewable energy is both hugely expensive and unreliable, as well as having environmental issues of its own.

    • By comparison with the impacts of fossil fuel generation, renewables hardly figure on the scale of environmental impacts. And that is the right comparison too.

      As far as the cost of renewables goes, here is a chart.

      By the way, the black bars below coal and gas are the DoE’s estimates of the variable costs (mainly fuel). Notice how the unsubsidised cost of the best wind beats the fuel costs of gas, and work out what that means.

  19. Very nice review of human and natural well being and resilience, Indur. The the correlation between CO2 and human and natural well being is certainly more convincing than the CO2/temperature correlation that is believed to support the need for drastic curtailment of civilization and the global economy.

  20. “Thus, trends in the broad indicators of human well being and the narrower climate-sensitive indicators show that, despite population growth, sustainability and resilience have advanced markedly, in direct contrast to the academies’ claims.”

    But the green blob plans on putting an end to the well being of mankind if they can find a way to do so. It is in their religion to hate mankind.

  21. 25 appearances of the Orwellian phrase “fossil fuel” in Golkany’s essay, 45 mentions of it in comments.
    What a load of magically upgraded dead garbage that story is:

    The era of extraordinarily profitable popular delusions didn’t come to an end with Mackays book.

  22. So…the Pope whines about how CO2 is going to turn earth into hell…and then pops into his private jet fleet to fly to South America to gad about talking about how he is going to save everyone by making all the South American people live like poor peasants all over again with zero CO2 footprints.

    Charming man, no?

    • I expect the pope offsets his CO2 emissions.Guys that care like him, Gore and me tend to do that.

    • J. Philip Peterson: “…If Alaska became like Texas, and not a “National Park”, we would have oil and natural gas well into the next century…

      This is one of those things that most people associate with “conspiracy theory” when the talk turns to AGW, the IPCC/UN, and Agenda21. Alaska wasn’t the only geography rich in natural resources ‘nationalized’ for the good of the people under the guise of land conservation. And the US isn’t the only country.

    • We won’t need any fossil fuels in the next century. In fact we will need precious few of them beyond 2050.

  23. CAGW Statists’ claims that fossil fuels have destroyed the Earth border on the insane…

    The moral, ethical, economic and philosophical argument in support of using fossil fuels is irrefutable.

    If fossil fuels were banned by 2050, as some ill-informed political hacks suggest, and replaced by their pitiful “alternative” energy sources like wind, solar, bio-fuel, geo-thermal, etc., (which are laughably: inefficient, diffuse, intermittent, unreliable and terribly expensive) billions of people would die and people’s standards of living would plummet.

    Thorium Molten Salt Reactors (MSRs) will most likely replace a huge portion of energy requirements by 2050 and will be approximately 50% CHEAPER/kWh than natural gas/coal fired plants. MSRs will generate 200 TIMES less nuclear waste per year compared to Light Water Reactors, as expensive fuel-rod reprocessing isn’t required–just dump in more dirt-cheap/abundant thorium and gigawatts of energy are produced..

    China’s first test Molten Salt Reactor goes online THIS YEAR and China’s truncated timeline for a commercially viable MSR design for large-scale rollout is 2023…

    The irony is that if the $100’s of billions currently wasted on wind/solar were used to develop and build MSRs, future energy needs would be secured and the already disconfirmed CAGW hypothesis would be moot…

    And political hacks wonder why only 12% of Americans think they’re doing a good job….

    • We need to build a GigaWatt of new nuclear power generating capacity each day. Better still we need to build at least ten small MSRs or LFTRs per day.

      The USA used to be able to build two 14,000 tonne “Liberty Ships” per day.

      We should be able to produce at least ten 100 MWe LFTRs a day, equivalent to one “Standard Candle” Gigawatt nuke. Such small nukes could be built on assembly lines and delivered to site on one 40 foot truck. They could be installed on small ships that could moor near third world ports so as to deliver cheap and reliable electricity to the third world.

      Will the USA create a new and better Mesmer plan? Don’t hold your breath but some nation will display the kind of leadership that we no longer aspire to.

      • The Chinese can now build a 30 story building in 15 days:

        In the US, it probably takes 15 days just fill out the EPA application form to enable an EPA to consider conducting a two-year study of the environmental impact of a 30-story office building…

        And for a nuclear plant???? Are you frigging kidding me?

        For EACH proposed MSR construction site, I suspect there will be YEARS of NIMBY public hearings, YEARS of EPA studies, YEARS of NRA evaluations, YEARS of litigation from eco-wacko groups fighting tooth and nail to prevent construction of every potential site, 100’s of various federal, state and local government agencies to sign off on: site selection, pre-construction, construction and post-construction, labor unions will be a pain, eco-wakco protestors: chaining themselves to fences, blocking construction traffic, die-ins on roads leading to the construction site, etc… A complete nightmare….

        There are WUWT readers that are nuclear engineers that could shed more light on the years of red tape required just to get ONE nuclear site approved and then the construction red tape must border on the insane… And this has to be done for 100’s of MSR sites over the coming decades…

        And we wonder why our economy and society are going to hell….

        China is going to eat our lunch… AGAIN…

    • While there is nothing wrong with nuclear energy per se, no country in the world has yet solved the political problem of what to do with waste.

      • Climate Pete,
        Nuclear Waste isn’t.

        What you are talking about is unburned fuel with about 100 times the energy content extracted in the first burn.

  24. One thing thing that would harm civilizations resilience is a colder world like the LIA , that would hurt our civilization (or an asteroid, ouch) !

    • Another thing that would serious cause hurt would be allowing the atmospheric CO2 level to drop down below 350ppm again.

      The world’s food comes from one and only one chemical reaction, PHOTSYNTHESIS. !

      And that requires a base level of about 250-300ppm to even start being reasonably productive.

      We should be aiming for INCREASED levels of atmospheric CO2 to feed the world’s increasing population.

      • Unfortunately CO2 is not the only thing plants need to thrive. Water is another essential – and one which is going to be notable by its CO2-induced absence in the soil in some of the places which need it the most.

        Further, high levels of CO2 also tend to make some crop plants more susceptible to insect disease.

        And the higher temperatures caused by higher CO2 levels also make it easier for crop pests to breed.

        Higher CO2 is not unadulterated good news as you seem to think it is.

      • Climate Pete commented : “…Water is another essential – and one which is going to be notable by its CO2-induced absence in the soil in some of the places which need it the most….”

        Another false theory based on another false theory. You’re making this stuff up as you go. This is why the
        warmist crowd has no credibility. Grubering only works for a short time span. When it goes on for….. 30 years?….people tune in the truth. You probably think the average person believes the explanations for fiddling with historical temperature data are valid, that CO2 is a pollutant and not essential to life, or that “97%” of the scientists believe AGW is responsible for….well everything. Right? Time for a reality check.

  25. People who work in 3rd world countries will tell you that one of the main protagonists against any kind of development, is often religion. (An exception is where religious motive is channeled into doing hard work, Weber’s ‘work ethic’).

    And the reason religion is often a stumbling block to development is always the same: they don’t want people thinking for themselves, they don’t want them doing too well, because this threatens the main strength of the church and religion, it is easier to convert and control the gullible when they are ignorant, reliant and poor.

    • You use the expression … “3rd. world countries”.
      There is NO SUCH THING or place.
      There is only one (world) and you are on it.

      Such a term is often used these days but it is plainly wrong, quite insulting and derogatory.
      I suggest using “developing” or “under-developed” (countries).

      PS: The first sea-going, luxury cruise ship was built by “Egyptian” engineers for Caligula, whilst we in these (British) islands were still using coracles to cross ponds.


    • thingadonta:

      You say

      And the reason religion is often a stumbling block to development is always the same: they don’t want people thinking for themselves, they don’t want them doing too well, because this threatens the main strength of the church and religion, it is easier to convert and control the gullible when they are ignorant, reliant and poor.

      sarc on/
      So, a “stumbling block to development” was the the deep religious adherence and convictions of Isaac Newton, Friar Mendel, Michael Faraday, Henry Bessemer, etc., etc., etc.. Heaven must know how development would have advanced if they had not been held back by the “stumbling block”.
      sarc off/


    • I think you have hit the nail on the head there, thingadonta. Fossil fueled progress poses an existential threat to the RC Church, which is dying in the West, & thriving only in the poorer & less educated parts of the world.
      “The poor are a goldmine”.
      So the Church moves to protect itself. It’s been in business ~1700 years & is the survivor par excellence.
      Always Fascist in character, with top down control from an “infallible” leader, it has decided that its best chance for survival is to ally with the Fascists running the West, never mind the risible “science”

      The Fascists running the West are the Corporatocracy, comprising the biggest banks, multinational corporations & their owned media. If anyone labours under the illusion that Socialism led to the plight of Greece, they should youtube JohnPerkins Confessions of an economic hitman.

  26. All through the ages, man has been very good at recycling. One man’s dump is another man’s treasure. At some point in time all materials will be able to be recycled. It’s not too late to invest in Waste Management.
    Having said that I’m not to worried about sustainability.

  27. Every microdot of Sustainability and Resilience has been purchased by some amount of fossil fuel. More than 90% of what we have learned in the last 150 years was LITERALLY enabled, brought to us, coordinated or a direct result of the generation of power either as an industrial or infrastructure energy.

    From Rockefeller’s lamp oil to natural gas demand load turbine generator stations the material has bought us a foothold against the night, against death, against tyranny and against oblivion. Fossil fuels have put man on the moon and the bottom of the ocean to return home again. They salvage wrecks, grow foods, cure disease and save lives every day. Five billion people wouldn’t be alive today without them.

    Coal, Oil, Coke, Natural Gas, Tar, Charcoal.

    The only thing that has gotten us further from our origin than fossil fuel is the tree itself: fossil fuel.

  28. We seem to be finding more and more oil and more and more gas and at the unlikeliest places. No peak yet. But you all are still talk about fossil fuels. It is likely that Thomas Gold was correct and we have inexhaustible supply of abiotic hydrocarbon.

  29. Dear jdseanjd,

    You HIT the nail on the head !

    I had already viewed that video yesterday (duration of 24min – 01sec.) and … if Mr. Perkins is genuine and I rather think he is, then it would seem to reinforce all those warnings given to us by LMofBr..

    Attached here is the video clip by Mr. Perkins: it is dynamite.
    He kicks off with how the World Bank works and the IMF and the UN, then his illustrations start with “IRAN – 1953”.

    I strongly suspect that a particular meeting of billionaires on Jekyll Island (U.S.A.) in 1910 to introduce “The Fed” was the forerunner to it all.

    Regards, WL

  30. Note that your noble guest author is a paid shill.


    I presume the Electrical Engineering degree he earned back in the 60s has equipped him to confidently tackle these complex environmental questions? Or would it be his day job as a US government policy analyst. At least he completed his Electrical Engineering degree, which is more than Watts did (mind you, Watts does have some climate-relevant qualifications – as a former TV weatherman).


    That people with no relevant credentials or knowledge have the balls to publish books and circulate articles making sweeping claims which support their ideological position doesn’t really surprise me.

    What DOES astonish me is when they continue to do so in the face of actual evidence presented by real scientists. I suppose where there’s money to be made …

    Anyway, let’s play the ball, not the man.

    Goklany starts by quoting from the Papal Encyclical. He sets up a straw man by suggesting that the Encyclical states that conditions today (in terms of “human wellbeing”) are not better than in the pre-industrial past. My reading of the quote doesn’t infer that, I read it to be saying that our patterns of consumption and production, coupled with our population levels, are proving tremendously destructive, and are likely to be unsustainable. But never mind.

    He then proceeds to lecture us as to how things must be sustainable, since there are more of us than ever before, and various measures of wellbeing are better than in the pre-industrial age. How does it automatically follow that conditions are somehow sustainable and resilient because there are more of us with better average wellbeing? If a rats living on a farm experience a population explosion because they discover bags of grain in the barn, does this make their situation more sustainable?

    This idea of “sustainability” and how we define it does seem to be the main point of difference between what the Encyclical’s warning is actually saying and Goklund’s misconceived response to it. Goklund asserts that our present economic model does enable us to to continue to feed, employ and educate a constantly growing global population – hence, therefore, apparently, it is sustainable and resilient. (Huh?)


    We can debate the way he uses the statistics around measures of poverty. Although global trends are informative, they tend to conceal enormous diversity in poverty levels across regions. Essentially what has happened is that the centres of extreme poverty have shifted; in 1981 the highest share of very poor populations were in East Asia and the Pacific, today they have relocated to South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. This reflects the economic patterns of growth (and lack of) in these regions.

    All of which is very interesting from a demographers point of view, but it doesn’t make Goklany’s case that we are somehow now living in a more sustainable and resilient world – far from it. On the contrary. The enormous machine of industry and technologisation which has grown so explosively in China and South-East Asia over the past 30 years has certainly raised the average income and wealth of many, but it has done so at an enormous and in many cases irreversible cost to the environment and to the way of life of people living in those places. The rural poor who formerly lived simple agrarian self-sufficient lives were certainly poor and uneducated. But are their urban-dwelling children working 12 hour days in factories, doing monotonous and sometimes dangerous work, any better off? Not to mention the literal destruction of once viable and self-sustaining small-scale agricultural communities as a result of mining projects, hydroelectric schemes, massive industrialization driven by demand without any thought for health and social consequences.

    When we examine income and wealth, we must do so intelligently. Certainly it’s true to say that GDP rates are higher today than in 1981, that average income and wealth levels are higher. But wealth today is concentrated in the hands of the very few, more so than at any previous time since the 1920s. Using HD TV sets as a measure of real wealth is deceptive. The rate of home ownership in the United States is at its lowest level in two decades, with poor rates of home affordability.

    Few would doubt that technology and improved access to information is a fantastic boon. Without it, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Goklany seems to be saying that because we have seen vast improvements such as access to mobile phone technology, the internet, general standards of education; this somehow refutes the encyclicals warning that our industry is not sustainable. But we need to take into account the costs as well as the benefits of these things, even as we celebrate them. And the environmental and social costs of these technologies are enormous.


    The problem is not so much Goklund’s analysis – which appears to be based largely on a selective reading of the UN published data on poverty and agricultural productivity stats from FAO – but his conclusions. He seems to be saying that it’s ridiculous for the Encyclical to suggest that our patterns of consumption and reliance on fossil fuels are harmful and destructive and unsustainable, because it is only due to our use of fossil fuels that we have been able to improve soil fertility to increase food production, and enable other technologies, etc. Just because the latter is true does not make the former false. Non-sequitur, again. Both statements are true – we’ve achieved great things by our reliance on fossil fuels, yes, and we are causing irreversible destruction and harm through our continued use of and reliance on fossil fuels, yes!

    Even if we were to leave aside the question of anthropogenic climate change, there is no disputing the fact that our patterns of production, consumption and disposal are causing tremendous harm to the environment. Toxins from industrial and agricultural waste are released into our waterways, the ocean and the air continuously. Plastics and the pthalates and PCBs they sequester leach into the environment and our bodies and those of other organisms. Plastic microparticles are now ubiquitous in our oceans, entering the food chain as they are consumed by plankton, fish and cetaceans.

    I could go on ad nauseam about the myriad ways in which human activity is having deleterious and usually irreversible consequences for the environment. But my the point is that none of this can in any way be deemed “sustainable” or contributing to “resilience”, if we define those terms to mean that we can continue to behave this way indefinitely without causing an environmental cataclysm and a probable population crash.

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