Fossil Fuels Remain Key to Continued Prosperity, New Study Shows

Published December 21, 2018

Use of fossil fuels is responsible for more than doubling the average human lifespan, a vast improvement in human health, a steep decrease in poverty, and the huge increase in global food supplies over the past century, and their ongoing use will remain critical to continued progress in these areas for decades to come, says the newest report from the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC), Climate Change Reconsidered II: Fossil Fuels (CCRIIFF).

CCRIIFF was released at a policy briefing hosted by The Heartland Institute, which publishes Environment & Climate News, in Katowice, Poland on December 4, during the two-week gathering of the 24th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Among the speakers at the event were two of CCRIIFF’s authors: Dennis Avery, director of the Center for Global Food Issues and a senior fellow with The Heartland Institute, and Craig Idso, Ph.D., founder and chairman of the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change (CSCDGC).

Science Over Politics

NIPCC, a joint project of CSCDGC, The Heartland Institute, and the Science and Environmental Policy Project, deployed an international panel of more than 100 scientists and scholars to provide a comprehensive assessment of the science and economics of global warming. The organization is not directed or funded by any government.

CCRIIFF, the fifth volume in the Climate Change Reconsidered series, was assembled by four lead authors, with contributions from more than a dozen coauthors and approximately100 peer reviewers. At more than 700 pages, the report has eight chapters exploring how the development and use of fossil fuels has dramatically increased human prosperity and benefitted the environment.

Powering Modernity

Citing thousands of studies and providing hundreds of graphics, the report finds “fossil fuels deliver affordable, plentiful, and reliable energy that is closely associated with key measures of human development and human welfare.”

The report states, “There is a strong positive relationship between low energy prices and economic prosperity. Economic prosperity in turn is crucial to human health and welfare.”

As one element of this relationship, fossil fuels are the foundation of modern agriculture, Idso told Environment & Climate News.

“The Green Revolution that has increased food production and yields in the modern era to the extent that we can presently feed a planetary population of over seven billion simply could not have occurred without the discovery and use of fossil fuels,” Idso said. “Nothing has contributed more to the decline in hunger and malnutrition across the globe over the course of the past century than these direct and indirect benefits associated with fossil fuel use.

“In this regard, we should all hope nothing will interfere with society’s continued exploration, development, and use of fossil fuels,” said Idso.

By the Numbers

CCRIIFF cites studies showing fossil fuels supply 81 percent of primary energy worldwide and 78 percent of U.S. primary energy, and, as fossil fuel use has grown, human welfare has increased.

“According to the U.S. Census Bureau (2016), the world average age of death has increased by 35 years since 1970, with declines in death rates in all age groups, including those aged 60 and older,” the report states.

The report cites statistics showing a marked increase in living conditions as access to fossil fuels has expanded in developing countries:

“Using the official $1/day line [the United Nations’ definition of poverty], we estimate that world poverty rates have fallen by 80 percent [from] 1970 to … 2006,” the report states. “The corresponding total number of poor has fallen from 403 million in 1970 to 152 million in 2006. … We find that various measures … of global welfare increased by somewhere between 128 percent and 145 percent.”

Access to abundant, affordable fossil fuels is responsible for the tremendous economic growth and improvements in human welfare since the 1800s, says CCRIIFF lead author Roger Bezdek.

“The extraordinary economic and technological progress over the past two centuries would not have been possible without the use of fossil fuels,” said Bezdek. “Further, vastly increased quantities of coal, natural gas, and oil will be required in the coming decades to sustain continued economic progress, facilitate urbanization, and lift billions of people out of poverty.”

Forward to the Past?

In contrast to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s September 2018 report saying the world must reach net zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2050 to avoid severe climate disruptions, CCRIIFF concludes cutting fossil fuel use to zero would reverse two centuries of human progress.

CCRIIFF estimates reducing greenhouse gases to 90 percent below 1990 levels by 2050, a target 10 percentage points less severe than IPCC calls for, would reduce the world’s GDP by 96 percent, decreasing per capita global income to the level it was in the United States and Western Europe in about 1820 or 1830.

Because the evidence of climate risk from fossil fuel use is tenuous at best and the benefits from the use of fossil fuels are evident, it would be disastrous for governments to force a drastic worldwide decrease in the use of fossil fuels, Bezdek says.

“A major threat to continued global economic progress are regulations and policies artificially restricting fossil fuel development and utilization,” Bezdek said. “This would result in billions of people being forced to continue living with energy deprivation and economic poverty. Such misguided policies and regulations must be avoided.”

H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. ([email protected]) is a senior fellow at The Heartland Institute.


Roger Bezdek et al., “Climate Change Reconsidered II: Fossil Fuels,” Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change, December 2018: