Research & Commentary: New Volume of Climate Change Reconsidered Highlights the Social Benefit of Fossil Fuels

Published October 9, 2018

The Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC), in conjunction with The Heartland Institute, has released the Summary for Policymakers of the forthcoming Climate Change Reconsidered II: Fossil Fuels, the fifth volume in the Climate Change Reconsidered series. In this new volume, 117 scientists, economists, and other experts address and refute the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) claim that the impacts of climate change on human well-being and the natural environment justify dramatic reductions in the use of fossil fuels. 

Part I of the summary provides the reader with a foundation in environmental economics and climate science. Part II presents the benefits to humanity of fossil fuels, addressing human prosperity, environmental benefits, and human health benefits.

“Access to affordable, plentiful, and reliable energy is closely associated with key measures of global human development including per-capita GDP, consumption expenditure, urbanization rate, life expectancy at birth, and the adult literacy rate,” the summary states. “Scholars have closely examined the connection between the cost and availability of reliable energy (from fossil fuels and other sources) and economic growth, typically measured as per-capita GDP. This research reveals a positive relationship between low energy prices and human prosperity.”

“A similar level of human prosperity is not possible by relying on alternative fuels such as solar and wind power,” the summary continues. “Wind and solar power are intermittent and unreliable, much more expensive than fossil fuels, cannot be deployed without the use of fossil fuels to build them and to provide back-up power, cannot power most modes of transportation, and cannot increase dispatchable capacity sufficiently to meet more than a small part of the rising demand for electricity.”

Part III presents the social costs of fossil fuels, reviewing the literature on the “social cost” of carbon dioxide, cost-benefit analyses, and integrated assessment models, and then produces its own cost-benefit analysis for global warming, fossil fuels, and emission mitigation programs.

“The new review finds 16 of 25 impacts are net benefits, only one is a net cost, and the rest are either unknown or likely to have no net impact,” Part III concludes. “Since economic growth is closely related to the cost of electricity and energy generally, the opportunity cost of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions includes the lost economic prosperity that otherwise would have occurred … Reducing GHGs to 90 percent below 1990 levels by 2050 would require that world GDP in 2050 be reduced 96%, to only 4% of what it is projected to be in that year. That is, world GDP would be only about $12 trillion instead of the $292 trillion now forecast by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, and per-capita world GDP would be about $1,200 instead of $30,600. Per-capita income would be at about the level it was in the United States and Western Europe in about 1820 or 1830, before the Industrial Revolution. Virtually all of the economic gains of the modern era would be nullified.”

“IPCC and national governments around the world claim the negative impacts of global warming on human health and security, occurring now or likely to occur in the future, more than offset the benefits that come from the use of fossil fuels,” the report concludes. “This claim lacks any scientific or economic basis. Nearly all the impacts of fossil fuel use on human well-being are net positive (benefits minus costs) or are simply unknown. The alleged negative human health impacts due to air pollution are greatly exaggerated by researchers who violate the scientific method and rely too heavily on epidemiological studies finding weak relative risks. The alleged negative impacts on human security due to climate change depend on tenuous chains of causality that find little support in the peer-reviewed literature.”

The higher energy costs guaranteed by a switch from fossil fuels to expensive “renewable” electricity sources, such as wind or solar, would lead to slower economic growth, as affordable energy is the key to productivity growth and the production of virtually all goods and services. Therefore, elected officials and agency regulators at all levels of government should repeal subsidies, taxes, and regulations aimed directly at reducing the use of fossil fuels.

The following documents provide more information on climate change and fossil fuels from NIPCC, The Heartland Institute, and others.

Climate Change Reconsidered II: Fossil Fuels – Summary for Policymakers—summary-for-policymakers
In this fifth volume of the Climate Change Reconsidered series, 117 scientists, economists, and other experts assess the costs and benefits of the use of fossil fuels1 by reviewing scientific and economic literature on organic chemistry, climate science, public health, economic history, human security, and theoretical studies based on integrated assessment models (IAMs) and cost-benefit analysis (CBA).

The Social Benefits of Fossil Fuels
This Heartland Policy Brief by Joseph Bast and Peter Ferrara documents the many benefits from the historic and still ongoing use of fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are lifting billions of people out of poverty, reducing all the negative effects of poverty on human health, and vastly improving human well-being and safety by powering labor-saving and life-protecting technologies, such as air conditioning, modern medicine, and cars and trucks. They are dramatically increasing the quantity of food humans produce and improving the reliability of the food supply, directly benefiting human health. Further, fossil fuel emissions are possibly contributing to a “Greening of the Earth,” benefiting all the plants and wildlife on the planet.

Climate Change Reconsidered II: Physical Science
Climate Change Reconsidered II: Physical Science is an independent, comprehensive, and authoritative report on the current state of climate science, published in October 2013. It is the fourth in a series of scholarly reports produced by the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change, an international network of climate scientists sponsored by three nonprofit organizations: the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change, the Science and Environmental Policy Project, and The Heartland Institute. (Also see the executive summary of Climate Change Reconsidered II: Physical Science

Climate Change Reconsidered II: Biological Impacts
Released on April 9, 2014, Climate Change Reconsidered II: Biological Impacts is an independent, comprehensive, and authoritative report on the impacts of climate change on plants, terrestrial animals, aquatic life, and human well-being. (Also see the Climate Change Reconsidered II: Biological Impacts “Summary for Policymakers”:

Why Scientists Disagree About Global Warming
In this book published by The Heartland Institute, authors Craig Idso, Robert M. Carter, and S. Fred Singer say the most important fact about climate science, which they say is often overlooked, is scientists disagree about the environmental impacts of the combustion of fossil fuels on the global climate. There is no survey or study showing “consensus” on the most important scientific issues, despite frequent claims by advocates to the contrary. Scientists disagree about the causes and consequences of climate for several reasons. The authors say the only “consensus” among climate scientists is human activities can have an effect on local climate and the sum of such local effects could hypothetically rise to the level of an observable global signal. The key questions to be answered, they say, are whether the human global signal is large enough to be measured, and if it is, does it represent or is likely to become a dangerous change outside the range of natural variability? On these questions, an energetic scientific debate is taking place on the pages of peer-reviewed science journals, say the authors.

How the Premature Retirement of Coal-Fired Power Plants Affects Energy Reliability, Affordability
In this Policy Study – the first in a series of four – Center of the American Experiment Policy Fellow Isaac Orr and The Heartland Institute Senior Fellow Fred Palmer discuss Australia’s experience with policies that forced coal-fired power plants into premature retirement, making large parts of the country dependent on unreliable and high-priced renewable energy, particularly wind power. The study also examines the parallels between the United States and Australia and discuss problems faced by states that have aggressively promoted renewable energy, examines the importance of “prudence” and diversified energy portfolios, and evaluates a U.S. Department of Energy study that correctly identifies natural gas-fired power generators as a reason for coal plant retirements but fails to describe accurately the role played by renewable energy subsidies in those retirement decisions.

How Obama-Era Regulations Are Shutting Down Perfectly Good Power Plants
In this Policy Study – the second in a series of four – Center of the American Experiment Policy Fellow Isaac Orr and Heartland Institute Senior Fellow Fred Palmer offer a brief overview of the “war on coal” and the damage done by the Obama-era zombie regulations. They then discuss two of those regulations in more depth: the Clean Power Plan and the addition of carbon dioxide to New Source Performance Standards for new power plants. Orr and Palmer also explain why the Endangerment Finding should be rescinded and address seven “zombie” regulations unrelated to carbon dioxide that are adversely affecting coal-fired plants. Lastly, they describe how the Trump administration has begun the process of replacing Obama-era zombie regulations with policies based on real science and sound economics.

Public Policy and Coal-Fired Power Plants
In this Policy Study – the third in a series of four – Center of the American Experiment Policy Fellow Isaac Orr and Heartland Institute Senior Fellow Fred Palmer discuss how the premature retirement of coal-fired power plants will cost consumers billions of dollars in the form of higher electricity prices and regulatory compliance costs, subsidies for renewable generation technologies, construction of unneeded electricity generation capacity and transmission lines, and lost economic opportunities, especially in energy-intensive industries such as manufacturing. They also discuss how state renewable energy mandates and federal subsidies given to renewable energy sources, primarily wind and solar, distort wholesale power markets to the detriment of coal-fired power plants and the real-life impact these policies have on families, businesses, manufacturers, and coal mining communities.

How to Prevent the Premature Retirement of Coal-Fired Power Plants
In this Policy Study – the fourth in a series of four – Center of the American Experiment Policy Fellow Isaac Orr and Heartland Institute Senior Fellow Fred Palmer offer a brief history of electric utilities and describe how efforts to deregulate them in the 1990s led to more, not fewer, regulation. There is no “free market” in electricity today. They describe the four Obama-era zombie regulations on coal and the six subsidies and mandates favoring renewable energy (primarily wind and solar) that must be eliminated to restore a free market for energy.

What If … America’s Energy Renaissance Never Happened?
This report by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for 21st Century Energy examines the impact the development of shale oil and gas has had on the United States. The report’s authors found that without the fracking-related “energy renaissance,” 4.3 million jobs in the United States may not have ever been created and $548 billion in annual GDP would have been lost since 2009. The report also found electricity prices would be 31 percent higher and gasoline prices 43 percent higher.

What If … Hydraulic Fracturing Was Banned?
This study is the fourth in a series of studies produced by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for 21st Century Energy. It examines what a nationwide ban on hydraulic fracturing would entail. The report’s authors found by 2022, a ban would cause 14.8 million jobs to “evaporate,” almost double gasoline and electricity prices, and increase natural gas prices by 400 percent. Moreover, cost of living expenses would increase by nearly $4,000 per family, household incomes would be reduced by $873 billion, and GDP would be reduced by $1.6 trillion.


Nothing in this Research & Commentary is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. For further information on this subject, visit Environment & Climate News, The Heartland Institute’s website, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database.

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