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Reflections on Earth Day

An Alternative View

By Alex Epstein with images from Sam Burns and Wayfarer
4/22/2024


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Today is Earth Day, a day on which we are taught to feel guilty about our allegedly destructive impact on Earth—above all from our mass-use of fossil fuels.

But note that Earth, before we started impacting it on a large scale through the use of fossil fuels, was long a terrible place for the typical human being to live—and once we started using fossil fuels, rapidly became a far, far better place for the typical human being to live.


As I explain in Chapter 4 of Fossil Future,

While there are no perfect metrics of the world’s livability from a human flourishing perspective, three excellent ones are average life expectancy, average income, and total population…
 
If today’s narrative about fossil fuels destroying our delicate, nurturing planet were true, then a chart of fossil fuel use, life expectancy, income, and population would be a sad story. As fossil fuel use went up, life expectancy would go down as fossil fuels depleted the Earth of nourishment and created myriad new dangers. Income would also go down as resources became scarce—and the scarcity would become worse and worse if population went up.
 
But when we look at an actual chart of these metrics of a livable world, we see that these metrics are going up in an unbelievable “hockey stick” that exactly correlates with fossil fuel use, including the CO2 emissions that are supposedly destroying our world…
 
 
  
One of the key phenomena this chart shows is that each of the metrics of livability—life expectancy, income, population—stagnated at a very low level for thousands of years, meaning Earth was a barely livable place from a human flourishing perspective. While these charts go back only two thousand years, we know from historical records that they were preceded by tens of thousands of years of even less flourishing and progress.
 
Then, some two hundred years ago, everything started improving dramatically. Earth went from what we would consider an unlivable place for the average human being to an increasingly livable place, continuing through to today—with the world being what our ancestors would consider to be an unimaginably livable place.

The incredible improvement in Earth’s livability should be the number one story we talk about when we talk about our relationship to our environment. It should be the subject of fascination, enthusiasm, and aspiration—the aspiration to continue our overall positive direction.
 
 
 
Instead, the incredible improvement in Earth’s livability is the subject of disinterest and evasion by our knowledge system, to the point that most people think that Earth today is a less livable place than it used to be…
 
we must eagerly seek to understand the causes of today’s unprecedented livability, especially its most fundamental causes.
 
While an incredibly strong direct correlation between CO2 emissions and the world’s livability doesn’t prove causation, such correlations are often reflections of causation. And in this case, the relationship is causal to a degree that almost no one appreciates: the ultra-cost-effective fossil fuel energy emitting the CO2 is literally driving the world’s unprecedented, increasing livability.
 
 
 
 
I want to distinguish my view from the position that fossil fuel energy is incidental to or even merely important to the unprecedented and growing livability of our world. When the improvement of our world is, all too rarely and incompletely, acknowledged, it is invariably ascribed to crucial factors that are treated as unrelated or barely-related to fossil fuel use, such as scientific discoveries, technological innovation, improved medical care, and improved sanitation. While scientific discoveries, technological innovations, improved medical care, and improved sanitation are indeed crucial contributors to the world’s livability, they are not unrelated or barely-related to fossil fuel use. In fact they have overwhelmingly depended on and will continue to depend on ultra-cost-effective energy production from fossil fuels or their equal.
 
I love today’s fossil-fuel-dominated Earth, because with the aid of billions of fossil-fueled machines today’s humans are able to create a world of unnatural abundance, safety, and opportunity.
 
While I am not participating in any Earth Day events this year, I want to share with you for the first time an Earth Day conversation I had last year with former Texas Governor and US Secretary of Energy Rick Perry at last year’s EarthX (the largest Earth Day event in the world). I hope you enjoy it.
 
 
--Alex Epstein, Energy Talking Points
 
This is Alex's new book. Watch for it and the Center for Industrial Progress.
This is Alex's new book. Watch for it and the Center for Industrial Progress.

 

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