Fossil Fuels Promote Prosperity, Panelists Report

Published May 2, 2017

Panelists at The Heartland Institute’s 12th International Conference on Climate Change reported fossil fuels have been the main driver of human prosperity and are responsible for adding decades to life expectancy and increasing gross domestic product and living standards.

Panelists included Indur Goklany, an independent scientist; Dr. Craig Idso, chairman of the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide; and Roger Bezdek, president of the economic, energy, and environmental consulting firm MISI. The panelists rejected claims catastrophic climate change will decrease human well-being. The panelists presented evidence demonstrating the use of abundant, affordable fossil fuels has led to people living longer, healthier lives.

Extending Life, Reducing Poverty

Goklany’s presentation showed life expectancies have increased as concentrations of carbon dioxide have risen. For example, life expectancy in China and India has grown by 27.5 and 27.6 years, respectively, since 1950, largely as a result of the increasing use of fossil fuels. The increase in life expectancy was coupled with a precipitous decline in infant and child mortality rates.

Additionally, Goklany reported the expanded use of fossil fuels has accompanied a dramatic decrease in global poverty. In 1820, 84 percent of the world’s population was living in “absolute poverty,” on less than $1 per day, but today, fewer than 10 percent of the world’s people do so, Goklany said.

“Fossil fuels have advanced human and environmental well-being,” Goklany said. “They did this by making us less dependent on nature’s bounty for food, fuel, energy, and materials.”

Idso, founder of the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change, explained how the increasing use of fossil fuels has improved plant productivity globally, including that of important food crops such as corn, soybeans, rice, wheat, and potatoes. Greater, more consistent yields, made possible by fossil fuels, have significantly decreased worldwide hunger and malnutrition, Idso said.

Rising Prosperity

Bezdek described the great harms he said would result if climate activists were successful in ending the use of fossil fuels. Bezdek said in 2015fossil fuels delivered $1.8 trillion in economic benefits to the United States and provide more than 15 million direct jobs for American workers.

Bezdek cited his research showing if countries cut their greenhouse-gas emissions 80 percent by 2050, the amount the negotiators of the Paris climate agreement estimated would be necessary to prevent climate catastrophe, world gross domestic product would be approximately only 4 percent of what it would otherwise be in 2050, with each person living off just $1,200 per year, instead of the $30,600 projected by economists absent carbon-dioxide restrictions.

“Under this scenario, global GDP would regress about two centuries, … lower than the standard of living in the [United Kingdom] in 1870,” said Bezdek. “Fossil fuels are absolutely essential for modern civilization in terms of economic growth, per-capita GDP, health and well-being, and living longer.”

Isaac Orr ([email protected]) is a research fellow for energy and environmental policy at The Heartland Institute.