Wednesday, 25 February 2015

“The Earth Is Not a God: The false theology of radical environmentalists”

Some quotes from a superb review of Alex Epstein’s book The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels:

Epstein makes a compelling “big picture” case that the interaction of technology and fossil fuels provides everything we take for granted today. He also reminds us of earlier hysterical predictions of doom concerning fossil-fuel use. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, environmentalists such as Paul Ehrlich predicted mass starvation by the year 2000 because “world food production could not keep up with the galloping growth of population.” Flat wrong: the world’s population doubled, and the average person today is far better fed than when the starvation apocalypse was announced. That’s because the other apocalypse proclaimed back then—the depletion of oil and natural gas by 1992 and 1993, respectively—also proved wrong. Since 1980, worldwide usage of fossil fuels increased massively, yet both oil and natural gas supplies have more than doubled, and we have enough coal to last 3,000 years.
    Epstein explains what the environmental doomsayers could not or would not see: first, that “fossil fuel energy is the fuel of food”; and second, that the human mind is as powerful as [Benjamin] Franklin and [Francis] Bacon said it was.

Why do hysterical warnings about sustainability and depletion persist despite the failure of the crackpot 1960s and 1970s predictions? Because the non-impact standard—conceiving of the environment as a loving but finite God—sees the environment as having a limited “carrying capacity” of gifts, such as arable land, water, and crucial minerals, in addition to fossil fuels. The more people on the planet, the closer we are to maxing out that carrying capacity, the thinking goes. … This notion of a finite carrying capacity discounts the powerful role of human ingenuity in finding natural resources. …
    Epstein argues brilliantly that the carrying-capacity superstition amounts to a “backward understanding of resources.” The fact is that nature by itself gives us very few directly supplied energy resources: most resources “are not taken from nature, but created from nature,” he maintains. Every raw material in nature is but a “potential resource, with unlimited potential to be to be rendered valuable by the human mind.” Right now we have enough fossil fuels and nuclear power to last us thousands of years. “The amount of raw matter and energy on this planet,” Epstein writes, “is so incomprehensibly vast that it is nonsensical to speculate about running out of it. Telling us that there is only so much matter and energy to create resources from is like telling us that there is only so much galaxy to visit for the first time. True, but irrelevant.”

Until the Industrial Revolution, the climate was dangerous for all human beings. Since then, we have marched steadily toward “climate mastery.” Fewer people die today from the weather than at any time in history. “We don’t take a safe climate and make it dangerous,” according to Epstein. “We take a dangerous climate and make it safe.”

Alex Epstein’s book is a breath of fresh air in this polluted opinion climate. The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels shows why fossil fuels are good for human flourishing in general and good for the world’s poor in particular. Epstein is a true friend of the earth—an earth inhabited and made better by human beings.

Read the whole review here: The Earth Is Not a God: The false theology of radical environmentalists – Jerry Weinberger, CITY JOURNAL

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