Fossil Fuels Are the Greenest of Energy Sources

by Gregory Wrightstone

A 35-year veteran of the global warming debate says fossil fuels are the “greenest” of energy sources. In a recently published paperDr. Indur Goklany notes that carbon dioxide emissions from industrial activity and transportation have increased plant growth and that fertilizers and pesticides derived from fossil fuels have boosted crop yields so that more food can be produced on less land.

“Contrary to the claims of proponents of the Green New Deal and Net Zero, fossil fuels are the greenest fuels,” says Goklany. “First, uniquely among energy sources, fossil fuel use emits CO2, which is the ultimate source of the elemental building block, carbon, found in all carbon-based life — virtually all life on Earth.”

Referencing several studies, Goklany reports that up to 50 percent of global vegetated areas became greener between 1982-2009 and that 70 percent of the greening has been attributed to carbon dioxide emitted by the burning of fossil fuels.

Overall, Goklany credits 87 percent of the greening to fossil fuels. In addition to CO2 emissions, nitrogen deposition from fossil fuel-derived fertilizers and modest warming of the climate together account for another 17 percent of the greening, he says.

One researcher found that global leaf area had increased by 5.4 million square kilometers between 2000–2017, an area equivalent to the Amazon rain forest. Another reported global tree cover had grown by 2.24 million square kilometers from 1982–2016 through reforestation of former agricultural lands rendered surplus by improved farm productivity and of former deserts.

“Use of fossil fuel technologies has enabled human beings to spare 20.4 percent of global land area (GLA) for the rest of nature,” said Goklany, the author of several books and a former U.S. delegate to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. “This exceeds both the habitat lost currently to cropland (12.2 percent of GLA) and the global cumulative area currently reserved or identified as conservation areas (estimated at 14.6 percent of GLA).”

In other words, the amount of land preserved from conversion to agriculture because of fossil fuel-related productivity increases is 25 percent larger than the North American continent, said Goklany.

Increased agricultural productivity has allowed cropland in many areas to revert to forest or other non-agricultural use, he said.  For example, between 1990 and 2020, forests in the U.S. and Western Europe increased 2.4 percent and 10.1 percent despite population increases of 30 percent and 11 percent, respectively.

Making coal, oil and natural gas even greener is their relatively small footprint for power production, says Goklany. To generate the same amount of electricity as fossil fuels, solar would need more than three times as much land; wind, five times as much; and hydropower, 25 times as much.

Finally, the International Energy Agency notes that solar and wind energy typically require more metals and minerals than their fossil fueled counterparts. A typical electric vehicle, for example, requires six times the mineral inputs of a conventional car. An onshore wind turbine takes nine times more mineral resources than a natural gas-fired plant, while offshore wind requires 15 times as much as gas.

Dr. Goklany’s analysis underscores that policies forcing the replacement of fossil fuels with solar panels and wind turbines are counterproductive, exacerbating some of the very problems attributed to global warming. Specifically, they would increase global hunger and reduce biodiversity.  Even if such an energy transition would “improve” the climate — which it won’t — the remarkable benefits of carbon dioxide for humanity and the rest of nature are too great to risk negating. Moreover, coal and natural gas are by far more economical and reliable as power producers.

If any technology is to be favored by policy makers for electrical power generation, Dr. Goklany suggests, that it probably should be nuclear power because of its relative overall cleanliness. Even then, planners would be well advised not to put all their eggs in one basket. Nuclear-heavy France currently is working on mechanical problems at multiple plants in the midst of an energy shortage being solved in part with fossil fuels. In any case, fossil fuels are currently indispensable for manufacturing fertilizers and pesticides that are critical to producing adequate food supplies at reasonable prices.

This commentary was first published at Real Clear Energy, September 26, 2022, and can be accessed here.

Gregory Wrightstone is a geologist; executive director of the CO2 Coalition, Arlington, Va.; and author of “Inconvenient Facts: The science that Al Gore doesnt want you to know.

Tags: fossil fuelsGregory WrightstoneIndur Goklanygreen energy source

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September 26, 2022 2:20 pm

Black gold, ecologically nutritious, climate compatible, best of breed in diverse applications, renewable through natural and industrial processes. Go green, emit.

Curious George
Reply to  n.n
September 26, 2022 2:51 pm


Reply to  Curious George
September 26, 2022 3:57 pm

It’s a riff on The Beverly Hillbillies theme. It’s also true.

Janice Moore
Reply to  n.n
September 26, 2022 6:30 pm

I reckon so, n.n.. 🙂

Janice Moore
Reply to  Curious George
September 26, 2022 6:29 pm

“Let me tell ya a little story ’bout a man named Jed, poor mountaineer, barely kept his family fed.

Went out uh-huntin’ looking for some foooooooood — [bang! fires his rifle] up from the ground came a-bubbl’n cruuuuude.

Texas Tea. Black Gold. O’l, that is.

Well, first thing ya know, ‘ol Jed’s a millionaire [happened a mighty long time ago ….. heh], kinfolk said, “Jed, move away from there…. ”

And Jed and family end up in Beverly Hills, CA.

Look up “The Beverly Hillbillies” on YouTube. 🙂

Steve Keohane
Reply to  Janice Moore
September 27, 2022 7:43 am

I was going to mention ‘Texas Tea’, but thought it may be too obscure without context. Good job in providing the same.

Janice Moore
Reply to  Steve Keohane
September 27, 2022 5:11 pm

: )

September 26, 2022 2:58 pm

News flash: nobody cares. The green utopia must be secured at all costs.

September 26, 2022 3:00 pm

Very informative, needs wide distribution.

September 26, 2022 3:10 pm

The factors for the amount of land use for the weather dependent sources also neglects reality. They are understated by large factors because no intermittent source, without 100% back up, can operate at its potential capacity factor. There has to massive overbuild. With a solar/battery system at 37S and fixed panels, they operate at 3.4% CF to achieve 99.7% availability when in combination with a 2 day battery storage. This was the lowest cost option to supply the almost constant daily load.

However no reality with regard the benefits of CO2 and insanity of WDGs matters. The most important game right now is the cost of energy in Europe:

When the Europeans are creating money to socialise their energy purchases then we know reality is prevailing.

The shift to the right in Italy is a good sign. They are looking like the first EU pillar to fail and come out in support of Russian gas.

David Dibbell
Reply to  RickWill
September 26, 2022 4:36 pm

Excellent point about the land implications of the massive overbuild/low capacity factor nature of a system with only intermittent primary sources.

Rud Istvan
September 26, 2022 3:43 pm

Nice post. Obviously true, which is why will be mostly ignored.

September 26, 2022 3:51 pm

The only renewable sources of energy available to humanity are coal, oil, gas, hydro and nuclear. Oh, and cow/camel/buffalo dung. And wood. Solar and wind cannot produce enough electricity to maintain their own operation without power fed to them from coal, oil, gas, hydro and nuclear. That is the bottom line.

September 26, 2022 3:51 pm

And then there is the medical/pharmaceutical aspect of the whole issue.

Reply to  2hotel9
September 26, 2022 5:39 pm

And smart phone cases. I’m surprised all those little brainwashed protesters, busy taking selfies and videos of their righteous, protesting selves, haven’t sworn off smart phones.

Oh wait. No smart phones? Silly me.

September 26, 2022 3:58 pm

Manufacturing and agriculture.

September 26, 2022 4:49 pm

Referencing several studies, Goklany reports that up to 50 percent of global vegetated areas became greener between 1982-2009 and that 70 percent of the greening has been attributed to carbon dioxide emitted by the burning of fossil fuels.

Nope. Not going to fall for it. Author loses credibility when they flat out lie.

Reply to  AWG
September 26, 2022 5:27 pm

I guess NASA is lying as well when they tell us that in 35 years of satellite observations, the planet has greened by 14% and 70% of that can be attributed directly to increased atmospheric CO2.

One of the researchers equated it to two continents the size of mainland America of extra vegetation.

Janice Moore
Reply to  HotScot
September 26, 2022 6:53 pm

The key is, as you accurately point out,


AWG is correct that the author is making an unwarranted-by-data assumption that the CO2 increase is largely from human emissions.

Given, NATURAL CO2 sources and sinks outweigh human emissions by 2 orders of magnitude, it is likely that the greening is mostly due to natural CO2.

Still, AGW, you are, I think, mistaken to call the author a liar.

Bottom line:

CO2, natural or human emission, IS PLANT FOOD. The more, the better.

Reply to  Janice Moore
September 27, 2022 8:37 am

Actually, your statement that CO2 sources and sinks outweigh human emissions by 2 orders of magnitude is irrelevant if they cancel each other out. The fact is that CO2 emissions from human society are responsible for the rise in concentration of CO2 from roughly 320 ppm to 420 ppm during the industrial era. Therefore it is correct to attribute the greening to human CO2 emissions.

[you have an incorrect email cached in your browser. please fix it to avoid moderation-mod]

Janice Moore
Reply to  Dan
September 27, 2022 5:05 pm

Actually, Dan, given how MUCH greater in magnitude natural sources and sinks of CO2 are, even a small imbalance will completely obliterate any potential effect of human CO2 emissions.

Reply to  Janice Moore
September 27, 2022 11:42 am

Based on production figures (how much oil/gas/coal has been mined)
There has been enough fossil fuels burned over the last 70 years to increase atmospheric CO2 levels by much more (twice??) than we have actually seen.
The real question is why didn’t all of the produced CO2 end up in the atmosphere.

Janice Moore
Reply to  MarkW
September 27, 2022 5:09 pm

Nice observation, Mark.

Human CO2 emissions have increased roughly 300% since the 1980’s.

The rate of increase during thus time of total atmospheric CO2 didn’t budge.

Human CO2 is just too puny an effect to even be MEASURABLE

CD in Wisconsin
Reply to  AWG
September 26, 2022 6:32 pm


You’ll have to explain to NASA itself why they are wrong. Good luck with that.

Carbon Dioxide Fertilization Greening Earth, Study Finds | NASA

“From a quarter to half of Earth’s vegetated lands has shown significant greening over the last 35 years largely due to rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, according to a new study published in the journal Nature Climate Change on April 25.

An international team of 32 authors from 24 institutions in eight countries led the effort, which involved using satellite data from NASA’s Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectrometer and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer instruments to help determine the leaf area index, or amount of leaf cover, over the planet’s vegetated regions. The greening represents an increase in leaves on plants and trees equivalent in area to two times the continental United States.”

Steve G
Reply to  CD in Wisconsin
September 27, 2022 1:21 am

Yes, and the GREENIES want to destroy the green earth and bulldoze the trees to build solar and wind energy “zones”. Replacing organic leaf material with aluminium, silicon, glass, steel, resin, plastic, cast iron, copper etc etc etc..Not only destroying the greening, but mining enormous amounts of minerals and processing that into “green energy devices”.

Indur Goklany
Reply to  AWG
September 26, 2022 10:31 pm

Here is the citation and abstract of the original article:

Greening of the Earth and its drivers
Z Zhu et al., Nature climate change, 2016, volume 6, pages791–795

Abstract. Global environmental change is rapidly altering the dynamics of terrestrial vegetation, with consequences for the functioning of the Earth system and provision of ecosystem services1,2. Yet how global vegetation is responding to the changing environment is not well established. Here we use three long-term satellite leaf area index (LAI) records and ten global ecosystem models to investigate four key drivers of LAI trends during 1982–2009. We show a persistent and widespread increase of growing season integrated LAI (greening) over 25% to 50% of the global vegetated area, whereas less than 4% of the globe shows decreasing LAI (browning). Factorial simulations with multiple global ecosystem models suggest that CO2 fertilization effects explain 70% of the observed greening trend, followed by nitrogen deposition (9%), climate change (8%) and land cover change (LCC) (4%). CO2 fertilization effects explain most of the greening trends in the tropics, whereas climate change resulted in greening of the high latitudes and the Tibetan Plateau. LCC contributed most to the regional greening observed in southeast China and the eastern United States. The regional effects of unexplained factors suggest that the next generation of ecosystem models will need to explore the impacts of forest demography, differences in regional management intensities for cropland and pastures, and other emerging productivity constraints such as phosphorus availability.

Reply to  AWG
September 27, 2022 5:06 am

Oh so true – it is only 69.5%!

Reply to  AWG
September 27, 2022 11:40 am

Why do you believe it to be a lie?
The fact that CO2 is good for plants is well known to everyone with even the slightest familiarity with real science.

September 26, 2022 5:41 pm

This analysis will make heads explode amongst the Warmunist True Believers and their media hacks.

Edward Katz
September 26, 2022 5:56 pm

Another informative article on the benefits of fossil fuels that the mainstream media chooses to avoid. This is to be expected since that media is heavily funded by leftist political parties and environmental organizations that stand to gain from a Green agenda even though they carefully gloss over its lack of dependability.

September 26, 2022 7:01 pm

Has the fertilization of the oceans with CO2 been studied.
As the CO2 dissolves it becomes the building block for the future oil shale’s and is also the only legitimate sequestration process in my view.
Would the satillites be able to record this?

The growing silence on the “ocean acidification” crisis tends to make me think that the phytoplankton do their work before shells are dissolved as “modeled”.

Peta of Newark
September 27, 2022 12:55 am

Quote‘”fertilizers and pesticides derived from fossil fuels have boosted crop yields so that more food can be produced on less land.
Sorry, this is delusion:

  1. There are no free lunches
  2. It is not in any way necessary to use fossils to make fertiliser
  3. Pesticides are an admission that you have infertile and eroded soil on your farm
  4. Pesticides are also the opening salvo on a war that can never be won – same as antibiotics

Quote:”virtually all life on Earth.”
There goes the weasel word = an admission that the author doesn’t know what he’s talking about

Quote:”Goklany reports that up to 50 percent of global vegetated areas became greener between 1982-2009
Gullible: Does this guy even know what ‘greener’ means?

Quote:”greening has been attributed to carbon dioxide emitted by the burning of fossil fuels.
Kindergarten Science and naivete.
The only source I’m aware of making that claim is NASA – while on their very own website describe the Green House Effect via a grotesque violation of Entropy (no free lunches yet again) and they hide the data coming from their own OCO2 Sputnik
NASA is kindergarten-nest of vipers and liars.
Over the timespan given, easily attributable to the change, by farmers at middle latitudes, to planting arable crops in the autumn/fall rather than the spring

The self-delivered coup-de-grace:
Quote:”the remarkable benefits of carbon dioxide for humanity and the rest of nature are too great to risk negating

Apart from the insane hubris in the word ‘remarkable‘, this sounds all very lovely
And it is very lovely because and as we are constsntly assured, there is/are infinite amounts of fossils under the ground, and even if there weren’t, our self declared Infinite Intelligence will always find more. Somewhere.

Fine. Epic. Great. Have it your way.

It’s just a shame there isn’t an infinite amount of ground to find them under

Reply to  Peta of Newark
September 27, 2022 8:55 am
  1. It is not in any way necessary to use fossils to make fertiliser

Perhaps not, but ask Sri Lankan’s what happens when you don’t.

Reply to  Peta of Newark
September 27, 2022 12:46 pm

Peta you have got this wrong as it sounds to me that you are an organic grower and you think that the worlds population can be fed organically .
You write as though you belong to Greenpeace or at least believe in what they tell you .
There was virtually no artificial nitrogen fertilizer in the 1950s but the worlds population was under 3 billion then .
The worlds population will pass 8 billion in November this year and there is no way that this number of people can be fed without using nitrogen fertilizer .
Back in the 1950s and 60s returning visitors from China told me that the rice paddies out side the cities stunk as the farmers collected the night carts and spread it on their crops .
Do you want to go back to that Peta .
You can believe what ever you like but facts tend to dominate and the one fact that you will not accept is that artificial fertilizer grows food to feed 4 billion people on this planet .

September 27, 2022 4:00 am

Black is green and blue is pink! Finally an author who raises the typical American values (lack of education, culture and intelligence) to a world champion level. With a hose between his ass cheeks and a good dose of fertilizers & pesticides, he could perhaps even increase his “green output considerably. The starving people of this world are waiting for him and would thank him honorably.

Reply to  macias
September 27, 2022 11:45 am

It really is amazing how leftists actually believe that insults constitute a valid refutation.

Reply to  macias
September 27, 2022 12:58 pm

It is a waste of time replying to clowns like you macias .
There is no climate crisis except in the heads of people like you who have been brain washed by the constant propaganda from the news media .
CO2 is the gas of life ,without CO2 this planet would be a lifeless desert .
The crisis that is looming is food shortages and without gas supplies to manufacture nitrogen fertilizer the food shortage will become a famine .
This seems to be the goal of Greenpeace and other nutters in calling for no more artificial fertilizer production .

Reply to  Graham
September 27, 2022 6:19 pm

Ocean acidification ?

UUUppps SORRY – I guess you hate education.

Reply to  macias
September 28, 2022 1:07 pm

This is a crap study done with models .
The first thing that is wrong is that the authors say that the ocean has become more acid ,
This is bull shi! as the ocean is alkaline and it has become very very less alkaline .
The oceans of the world are massive and there is no way that they could take a truly representative sample
Ocean acidity can never happen as there is so much limestone which is a natural buffer in the sea from millions of years of shell fish living and dying which then sink to the bottom of the oceans .
These so called scientists should know this but they get large salaries for producing incorrect scary stories .
Farmers around the world apply finely ground limestone (calcium carbonate) to their acid soils to to raise the PH so that most plants will grow and flourish .
There,s some education for you .

September 27, 2022 5:03 am

Yep: but try telling that to a greenie and all you get is the suggestion that the author is obviously a BP/Exxon/Shell shill! You can lead a horse to water, but …

September 27, 2022 6:48 am

Just search online for ‘net zero fertiliser’

Reply to  griff
September 27, 2022 8:59 am

Search for NetZero griff.

Defined as Plonker.

Reply to  griff
September 27, 2022 11:46 am

Try searching on lines for fantasy solutions that can’t possible work in any large scale application.
But then again, they were never intended to, killing 90% of the population has always been one of the environmentalists goals.

Reply to  griff
September 28, 2022 7:03 pm

Dumbas griffy,
Net Zero fertilizer equals net zero food which equals widespred famine which equals very hungry people .
Be careful what you advocate for as you might go hungry or get trampled in the food queues griffy.

Mike Maguire
September 28, 2022 5:18 pm

This is one of the most profoundly truthful and underappreciated articles ever presented at WUWT and belongs in the Hall of Fame.

The mischaracterization of fossil fuels as pollution because of political agenda, crony capitalism and self serving, personal enrichment schemes is the biggest fraud perpetrated on the world in history………by a wide margin.

It’s a beneficial gas and building block for all life. The science is indisputable. Greenhouse growers cherish its key role in photosynthesis by boosting levels to 1200 ppm(almost 3X the level in the atmosphere that’s supposedly dangerous).

The replacement for them, for example wind turbines are the energy from environmental hell! Half of the human race has had its ability to use objective, critical thinking to apply authentic science conditioned out of them.
Instead, they go to sources that tell them what they want to read and hear vs fact checking. Scientists sincerely using the authentic scientific method continue to get fewer and fewer.
Instead the path forward is defined by group think and following mainstream manufactured narratives. The path of least resistance and highest personal/professional rewards.

Death by GREENING!  

Another secret about fossil fuels: Haber Bosch process-fertilizers feeding the planet using natural gas-doubling food production/crop yields.

Twenty-Five Industrial Wind Energy Deceptions

(Fake) Green Energy Scores a 76X ROI for Their Lobbying Efforts

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