This Thanksgiving, IER and AEA celebrate the virtues of reliable, affordable energy. The scale and utility of oil, natural gas, and coal, in fact, have been recognized across the political spectrum. Today, to be human is to be energy-intensive.
The remarkable energy achievements of the past two centuries speak for themselves. Without energy-dense resources and the technology to utilize them, mankind is quite poor indeed.
Some quotations follow.
“We are feeding off the fat of the coal, the oil, and the uranium. What we mine from the depths of the Earth now substitutes directly for what we would otherwise have to reap, harvest, gather, scrape, and flood from a vast area on the surface…. Extracting comparable amounts of energy from the surface would entail truly monstrous environmental disruption.”
– Peter Huber, Hard Green (New York: Basic Books, 1999), pp. 105, 108.
“A nineteenth century millionaire couldn’t grab a cold drink from the refrigerator. He couldn’t hop into a smooth-riding automobile for a 70-mile-per-hour trip down an interstate highway to the mountains or seashore…. He couldn’t jet north to Toronto, south to Cancun, east to Boston, or west to San Francisco in a few hours…. He couldn’t escape the summer heat into air-conditioned comfort.”
– W. Michael Cox and Richard Alm, Myths of Rich & Poor (New York: Basic Books, 1999), p. 23.
“Substitution of energy-intensive technologies powered by commercial energy forms for human and animal labor … led to abolition of slavery, serfdom, and child labor and culminated with the emancipation of women in the West. Thus, societal advances are inextricably linked to growing energy abundance and electrification and increasing personal mobility.”
– Henry Linden, “Operational, Technological and Economic Drivers for Convergence of the Electric Power and Gas Industries,” The Electricity Journal. Vol. 10, No. 4, 1997, p. 14.
Even the Malthusian Left has noted the societal benefits of fossil fuels.
“Seemingly abundant and cheap sources of energy permitted large-scale replacement of human labor in both manufacturing and agricultural production…. The availability of ‘cheap’ energy also made possible the development of powerful farm machinery, and abundant oil and gas allowed development of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and other products to boost crop yields (production per acre) considerably above those achieved with traditional methods. Similarly, we can thank fossil energy for facilitating the production of many useful goods and for stimulating unprecedentedly rapid expansion of economies and of food production. In effect, fossil energy facilitated the population explosion of the twentieth century.”
– Paul and Anne Ehrlich, The Population Explosion (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1990), p. 27.
“As medical science, by deferring death, has allowed many more people to live on the earth, so the energy of fossil fuels, by deferring physical scarcity, has kept those people alive.”
– Amory Lovins, World Energy Strategies: Facts, Issues, and Options (New York: Friends of the Earth International, 1975), p. 3.
“A reliable and affordable supply of energy is absolutely critical to maintaining and expanding economic prosperity where such prosperity already exists and to creating it where it does not.”
– John Holdren, “Memorandum to the President: The Energy-Climate Challenge,” in Donald Kennedy and John Riggs, eds., U.S. Policy and the Global Environment: Memos to the President (Washington, D.C.: The Aspen Institute, 2000), p. 21.
Optimism for the Future
“Discoveries, like resources, may well be infinite: the more we discover, the more we are able to discover.”
– Julian Simon, ibid., p. 82.
“The problem is not too many people, but a lack of political and economic freedom.”
– Julian Simon, The Ultimate Resource 2 (Princeton, N.Y.: Princeton University Press, 1996), p. 11.