Account Login

695,359 Views
Apr 20, 2015
Presented by
Alex Epstein

Every year on Earth Day we learn how bad humanity's economic development is for the health of the planet. But maybe this is the wrong message. Maybe we should instead reflect on how human progress, even use of fossil fuels, has made our environment cleaner and healthier. Alex Epstein of the Center for Industrial Progress explains.

Largely thanks to fossil fuels, we have greater access to the things we take for granted, like fresh food and clean water.

  • Industrialization—made possible by fossil fuels—has greatly improved the general health and welfare of people.View Source
  • Industrialized homes are largely heated with fossil fuels through furnaces rather than open fires, greatly improving the healthfulness of the living environment.View Source
  • Innovative energy use has provided access to vital, healthful things, including fresh food and clean water, and enables people to accomplish work more efficiently.View Source
  • Related reading: The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels – Alex EpsteinView Source

Thanks to fossil fuels, child mortality rates in industrialized countries have dropped from 50% in some countries to now under 1%.

  • In the 18th century, every third child in Sweden died. In the 19th century in Germany, every second child died.View Source
  • The child mortality rate in highly industrialized countries is now less than 1 percent.View Source
  • This massive reduction of child deaths is largely due to technological innovations and improved environmental conditions made possible by cheap, reliable fossil fuels.View Source
  • Related reading: The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels – Alex EpsteinView Source

Don’t believe in fossil fuels? Then practice what you preach. Don’t use electricity. Don’t drive a car. Don’t use tap water. Good luck!

  • Industrialized homes are largely heated with fossil fuels through furnaces rather than open fires, greatly improving the healthfulness of the living environment.View Source
  • Industrialization—made possible by fossil fuels—has greatly improved the general health and welfare of people.View Source
  • Innovative energy use has provided access to vital, healthful things, including fresh food and clean water, and enables people to accomplish work more efficiently.View Source
  • Related reading: The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels – Alex EpsteinView Source

Human health and welfare have massively improved over the last few centuries largely thanks to fossil fuels.

  • The harnessing of energy, specifically energy derived from affordable, reliable fossil fuels—oil, coal and natural gas—made the Industrial Revolution possible.View Source
  • As a result of technological developments made possible by fossil fuels, human health has massively improved.View Source
  • The standard of living has likewise risen dramatically since the Industrial Revolution.View Source
  • Related reading: The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels - Alex EpsteinView Source

The environment is naturally dangerous. Our widespread use of fossil fuels has made the environment livable for humans.

  • Most of the natural world is too hot or too cold, has too much rainfall or not enough for safe, comfortable living.View Source
  • Dangerous things like bacteria-filled water, disease-carrying insects, and extreme weather plagued humanity until the industrial revolution allowed us to make this a cleaner, safer, more habitable world.View Source

Want to get rid of fossil fuels? Then get used to having fewer hospitals, less clean water, unreliable electricity, and less transportation.

  • Before industrialization, humans lived in a far less healthy environment of polluted waterways, unsanitary cities and homes, and harmful smoke from open fires.View Source
  • The harnessing of energy, specifically energy derived from affordable, reliable fossil fuels—oil, coal and natural gas—made the Industrial Revolution possible.View Source
  • Innovative energy use has provided access to vital, healthful things, including fresh food and clean water, and enables people to accomplish work more efficiently.View Source
  • Related reading: The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels – Alex EpsteinView Source

The widespread use of fossil fuels is a key reason for increased life expectancy.

  • Life expectancy since the 1960s has surged from just over 50 years old to over 70.View Source
  • Child mortality has plummeted since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.View Source
  • This dramatic improvement is largely due to technological innovations and improved environmental conditions made possible by cheap, reliable fossil fuels.View Source
  • Related reading: The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels – Alex EpsteinView Source

The widespread use of fossil fuels sparked a revolutionary advance in public health.

  • Before industrialization, humans lived in a far less healthy environment of polluted waterways, unsanitary cities and homes, and harmful smoke from open fires.View Source
  • The harnessing of energy, specifically energy derived from affordable, reliable fossil fuels—oil, coal and natural gas—made the Industrial Revolution possible.View Source
  • As a result of technological developments made possible by fossil fuels, human health has massively improved.View Source
  • The standard of living has likewise risen dramatically since the Industrial Revolution.View Source
  • Related reading: The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels – Alex EpsteinView Source

The widespread use of fossil fuels is a key reason for reduced child mortality.

  • In the 18th century, every third child in Sweden died. In the 19th century in Germany, every second child died.View Source
  • The child mortality rate in highly industrialized countries is now less than 1 percent.View Source
  • This massive reduction of child deaths is largely due to technological innovations and improved environmental conditions made possible by cheap, reliable fossil fuels.View Source
  • Related reading: The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels – Alex EpsteinView Source

Ask the residents of third-world slum cities if their lives are better because they have little access to fossil fuels.

  • Industrialization—made possible by fossil fuels—has greatly improved the general health and welfare of people.View Source
  • Industrialized homes are largely heated with fossil fuels through furnaces rather than open fires, greatly improving the healthfulness of the living environment.View Source
  • Innovative energy use has provided access to vital, healthful things, including fresh food and clean water, and enables people to accomplish work more efficiently.View Source
  • Related reading: The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels – Alex EpsteinView Source

All technology has a cost. But the benefits of fossil fuels far outweigh their environmental impact.

  • Using fossil fuels inevitably includes some risks and negative by-products.View Source
  • However, through innovation we continue to get better at minimizing those risks and neutralizing those by-products.View Source
  • Examples: Los Angeles, which used to be plagued by smog but is now cleaner than it has been in decades.View Source
  • London’s Thames River was once clogged with sewage but is now clean.View Source

Through technological innovation, we’re able to use fossil fuels to our benefit, while increasingly lessening its environmental impact.

  • Using fossil fuels inevitably includes some risks and negative by-products.View Source
  • However, through innovation we continue to get better at minimizing those risks and neutralizing those by-products.View Source
  • Examples: Los Angeles, which used to be plagued by smog but is now cleaner than it has been in decades.View Source
  • London’s Thames River was once clogged with sewage but is now clean.View Source

Modern civilization would be impossible without widespread use of oil, coal and natural gas.

  • The harnessing of energy, specifically energy derived from affordable, reliable fossil fuels—oil, coal and natural gas—made the Industrial Revolution possible.View Source
  • As a result of technological developments made possible by fossil fuels, human health has massively improved.View Source
  • The standard of living has likewise risen dramatically since the Industrial Revolution.View Source
  • Related reading: The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels – Alex EpsteinView Source

Want to live in an environment that is safe, healthy, and clean? Live in a highly industrialized city.

  • Before industrialization, humans lived in a far less healthy environment of polluted waterways, unsanitary cities and homes, and harmful smoke from open fires.View Source
  • The harnessing of energy, specifically energy derived from affordable, reliable fossil fuels—oil, coal and natural gas—made the Industrial Revolution possible.View Source
  • Innovative energy use has provided access to vital, healthful things, including fresh food and clean water, and enables people to accomplish work more efficiently.View Source
  • Related reading: The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels – Alex EpsteinView Source

Nature has been trying to kill us for millions of years. Our widespread and innovative use of fossil fuels helps even the playing field.

  • Most of the natural world is too hot or too cold, has too much rainfall or not enough for safe, comfortable living.View Source
  • Dangerous things like bacteria-filled water, disease-carrying insects, and extreme weather plagued humanity until the industrial revolution allowed us to make this a cleaner, safer, more habitable world.View Source

The widespread use of fossil fuels is one of the biggest factors in reducing disease.

  • Before industrialization, humans lived in a far less healthy environment of polluted waterways, unsanitary cities and homes, and harmful smoke from open fires.View Source
  • The harnessing of energy, specifically energy derived from affordable, reliable fossil fuels—oil, coal and natural gas—made the Industrial Revolution possible.View Source
  • As a result of technological developments made possible by fossil fuels, human health has massively improved.View Source
  • The standard of living has likewise risen dramatically since the Industrial Revolution.View Source
  • Related reading: The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels – Alex EpsteinView Source

Every year on Earth Day, we're supposed to reflect on all the ways we've made the planet worse. But what if we try something different? What if we reflect on all the ways we've made the planet better?

Try this thought experiment: 
Imagine that we transported someone from three hundred years ago, at the very start of the Industrial Revolution, to today's world.  What would he think about our environment? Without question, his reaction would be one of disbelief; not that we had destroyed his pristine, natural world, but that such a clean, healthy environment was possible.  

"The air is so clean," our time traveler might say.  "Where I come from, we're breathing in smoke all day from the fire we need to burn in our furnaces and stoves." 

"And the water. Everywhere I go, the water tastes so fresh, and it's all safe to drink. On my farm, we get our water from a brook we share with animals, and my kids are always getting sick." 

"And then the weather. I mean, the weather isn't that much different, but you're so much safer in it; you can move a knob and make it cool when it's hot, and warm when it's cold." 

"And what happened to all the disease? In my time, we had insects everywhere giving us disease -- my neighbor's son died of malaria -- and you don't seem to have any of that here. What's your secret?"

I'd tell him that the secret was energy, specifically energy derived from fossil fuels -- oil, coal and natural gas. These fuels power machines that allow us to transform our naturally hazardous environment into a far healthier environment. Most of the natural world is too hot or too cold, has too much rainfall or not enough. Then there's bacteria-filled water, disease carrying insects, tornadoes, earthquakes and tsunamis, to name just few of nature's other unpleasant features. 

As our time traveler noted, 300 years ago human beings spent a lot of time breathing polluted air from indoor fires. As unhealthy as it was, it was worth the warmth. But we've been able to conquer all these environmental hazards. We've drained swamps, reclaimed land, cleared forests, built roads, constructed glass and steel skyscrapers. We've irrigated deserts, developed fertilizers and pesticides, linked oceans -- all of it in humanity's incredibly successful effort to create a safer, cleaner, more habitable world. And we did most of this using machines running on cheap, plentiful, reliable energy from fossil fuels.

To be sure, using that energy has carried risks and created negative by-products. But thanks to technology, we get better and better at minimizing and neutralizing those risks. Los Angeles was once smog city. Now its air is cleaner than it's been in decades. London's Thames River was once clogged with sewage; now it's clean. 

So, if you want to live in an environment that is safe, healthy, and clean, highly-industrialized countries are the place to be. Where previous generations faced the risk of disease from simply drinking water, which was often contaminated, we have clean water -- thanks to man-made reservoirs, treatment plants, underground pipes, and indoor plumbing. Where previous generations walked streets contaminated by large quantities of human and animal waste, we can conveniently and safely dispose of it thanks to sewer systems and the waste management industry. Where previous generations faced large-scale death whenever there was a severe freeze or heat wave, we can live in a comfortable climate year-round, thanks to insulated homes and modern, high-energy heating and air-conditioning. And the list of such life-improving positives goes on. 

Thanks to industrial agriculture and transportation, we have grocery stores full of healthy food year-round. Thanks to modern transportation, we have unprecedented access to the rich cultural experiences and natural beauty that the world has to offer. Many of the benefits of today's environment are reflected in life-expectancy and population statistics: the average person lives longer, in better health, than ever before.

In sum, human beings have made the Earth a far, far better place to live for ourselves. Yet even though life is better than ever, we are wracked with guilt over our industrial development.  We hear endlessly that our "footprint"-- meaning our impact on nature -- is too big, and that we must "go green" by making a smaller one. We are made to feel bad for the impact that we have on land, on water, on plants, on animals. But mastering nature is precisely how human beings survive and flourish.

It's time to stop thinking about how to save the planet from human beings and resume thinking about how to improve the planet for human beings. 

I'm Alex Epstein of the Center for Industrial Progress for Prager University.

You Earned A Badge

Course: Why You Should Love Fossil Fuel

Join PragerU now to claim it

  1. Watch The Video
  2. Claim Your Badge
  3. Take the Quiz
  4. Gild Your Badge

Like what you see? Support PragerU today