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Contrary to the claim of global-warming alarmists that the consumption of oil and gas fuels has been detrimental to the Earth, mankind barely could exist without them, a new study from the Cato Institute concludes.
“Without fossil fuels, humanity would be unable to feed itself, and what food there was would be costlier,” said the new report. “There would be more hunger. There would be insufficient energy and materials available to sustain the economy at more than a fraction of its current level.”
The report continued, “Public health would suffer, living standards would plummet, human well-being would be drastically diminished, and the population would crash.”
The policy analysis, “Humanity Unbound: How Fossil Fuels Saved Humanity from Nature and Nature from Humanity,” is by Indur M. Goklany.
Goklany has been involved with state and federal government processes, think tanks and other organizations. The author has worked extensively on globalization issues, including economic development, the environment, climate change and human well-being.
The report also warned of the damage that would have been inflicted on nature if there were no oil and gas fuels. The study refers to them as fossil fuels, based on the historic belief that they are generated by the decaying fossils of ancient dinosaurs. Today’s science suggests that’s an unlikely scenario.
“In the absence of the technologies that depend directly or indirectly on fossil fuels, humanity would have had to expand cropland by another 150 percent to meet the current demand for food. Even more land would have had to be annexed to satisfy existing requirements for energy, materials, clothing, and other textiles.”
The study said: To maintain the current level of food production, “at least another 2.3 billion hectares of habitat would have had to be converted to cropland. This is equivalent to the total land area of the United States, Canada and India combined.”
The report said, “Considering the threats posed to ecosystems and biodiversity from the existing conversion of 1.5 billion hectares of habitat to cropland, the effect of increasing that to 3.8 billion hectares is inestimable.”
In a review of the results, Goklany wrote: “For most of its existence, mankind’s well being was dictated by disease, the elements and other natural factors, and the occasional conflict. Virtually everything it needed – food, fuel, clothing, medicine, transport, mechanical power – was the direct or indirect product of living nature.”
That meant that reduced hunger, improved health and better life expectancy depended on good harvests, while epidemics, crop failures or other natural disasters literally killed populations.
“Then mankind began to develop technologies to augment or displace living nature’s uncertain bounty. Gradually food supplies and nutrition improved and population, living standards, and human well-being advanced haltingly. The Industrial Revolution accelerated these trends. Mankind broke its Malthusian bonds. Growth became the norm. Population exploded, along with living standards and well-being,” he said.
“Technologies dependent on cheap fossil fuels enabled these improving trends. Nothing can be made, transported, or used without energy, and fossil fuels provide 80 percent of mankind’s energy and 60 percent of its food and clothing,” Goklany said.
History documents, according to Goklany, how life expectancy fluctuated was nominal “for much of mankind’s existence.”
“During the first millennium A.D., world population grew from 230 million to 270 million, a compounded growth rate of less than 0.02 percent per year. … By today’s standards, the world was mired in poverty and, except for brief spells, virtually everyone survived at the subsistence level.”
However, from 1900 to 2009, the world’s population quadrupled, U.S. life expectancy rose from 47 years to 78 years and incomes and carbon dioxide emissions both soared.
Consequently, more people were fed, more products were available.
“Agricultural yields on the farm are driven by fertilizers, pesticides, water, and farm machinery. Each of these inputs depends to some extent on fossil fuels. Fossil fuels provide both the raw materials and the energy for the manufacture of fertilizers and pesticides; farm machinery is generally run on diesel or another fossil fuel; and irrigation, where it is employed, often requires large amounts of energy to cooperate pumps to move water.
“One may get a sense of the cumulative contribution of these technologies to the world food supply if one considers that between 1961 and 2007, global population more than doubled from 3.1 billion to 6.7 billion and food supplies per person increased by 27 percent, yet the total amount of cropland increased by only 11 percent,” the study said.
“In effect, in 2007, the global food and agricultural system delivered, on average, two and a half times as much food per acre of cropland as in 1961.”
But why not have more land in crops?
For one thing, there’s not that much land, said Goklany. The increase in population would have required additional cropland the combined size of South American and the European Union.
Those billions of required acres would have cut down untold miles of natural forests, plowed up native species and virtually decimated habitat.
The population has flourished with the fuels, health is better and life expectancy is longer. There’s better lighting, mechanical power, trade and communications.
But what about the damage from carbon emissions?
“There is no empirical evidence that higher carbon emissions have reduced global well-being or living standards in aggregate,” Goklany said. “In fact … human well-being and living standards have gone up remarkably even as these emissions have increased by orders of magnitude.
“Fossil fuels assured progress,” he wrote. “Mankind’s dependence on nature declined. It became less vulnerable to weather, climate, disease, and other sources of natural disasters.”