WSJ Op-Ed: Fossil Fuels Will Save the World

Energy poverty is a foreign concept for the majority of Americans. But it is a stark reality for the 1.3 billion people around the world living without electricity.

In a recent opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal, Matt Ridley expands on the global problem of energy poverty—and how fossil fuels can begin to solve it. The following excerpt illustrates energy’s ability to improve our lives:

The more energy you have, the more intricate, powerful and complex you can make a system. Just as human bodies need energy to be ordered and functional, so do societies. In that sense, fossil fuels were a unique advance because they allowed human beings to create extraordinary patterns of order and complexity—machines and buildings—with which to improve their lives.

The result of this great boost in energy is what the economic historian and philosopher Deirdre McCloskey calls the Great Enrichment. In the case of the U.S., there has been a roughly 9,000% increase in the value of goods and services available to the average American since 1800, almost all of which are made with, made of, powered by or propelled by fossil fuels.

Still, more than a billion people on the planet have yet to get access to electricity and to experience the leap in living standards that abundant energy brings. This is not just an inconvenience for them: Indoor air pollution from wood fires kills four million people a year. The next time that somebody at a rally against fossil fuels lectures you about her concern for the fate of her grandchildren, show her a picture of an African child dying today from inhaling the dense muck of a smoky fire.

Fossil fuels met 87% of the world’s energy needs in 2013, and are projected to meet 81% in 2035. That’s because natural gas, oil, and coal are affordable, abundant, and reliable. By contrast, renewable sources like wind and solar – which environmentalists prefer – represent just a fraction of our energy use because they are expensive, scarce, and unreliable. In other words, if we want to solve energy poverty, we need fossil fuels. As Ridley concludes:

The one thing that will not work is the one thing that the environmental movement insists upon: subsidizing wealthy crony capitalists to build low-density, low-output, capital-intensive, land-hungry renewable energy schemes, while telling the poor to give up the dream of getting richer through fossil fuels.

You can read the rest of Ridley’s piece here.

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