Energy as a Foundation of Modern Life

Summary of Study

Bottom Line: More energy is the foundation of a modern life. Examining the dangers of CO2 emissions must therefore factor in the benefits of using fossil fuels: they supply over 80% of the world’s energy. Oil, coal, and gas are cheaper and more reliable. The poor nations are therefore now understandably following the rich nations’ model in developing fossil fuel infrastructure to advance their own economies and populations. 

Analysis of the dangers posed by society’s use of fossil fuels (oil, coal, natural gas) and the emission of greenhouse gases, particularly carbon dioxide (CO2), generally focuses on the potential for climate change impacts. It is vitally important, however, in the context of assessing the societal risk of CO2 emissions, to also examine the reasons why CO2 is even emitted in the first place.

CO2 is not released in a socioeconomic vacuum; it is emitted as the inevitable by-product of combusting fossil fuels. Meeting over 80% of the world’s energy needs for many decades, oil, coal, and gas are cheaper and more reliable.

While this energy production results in CO2 emissions, it also yields significant benefits for the health and welfare of the populations utilizing fossil fuels. Thus, it is important to strike a balance in the equation—both an assessment of the dangers posed to the atmosphere by CO2 emissions and the powerful benefits created by the energy usage that results in these emissions. This is especially true since fossil fuels are projected to still remain the main sources of energy for many decades to come, even under highly optimistic forecasts for renewables.

Fossil fuel energy has been a determining factor in economic development, critical to transforming agrarian societies to modern industrial ones. This societal transformation, driven by the accumulation of income and wealth, eliminates many contagious diseases, reduces child mortality, and lengthens adult life expectancy—indeed, a virtuous cycle that has been demonstrated over the past two centuries in dozens of countries around the world.

Fossil fuels have empowered modern industrial societies to improve the quality of life for billions of people. In turn, the still developing nations are now understandably turning to more fossil fuels to grow their economies and advance their populations. 

 

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Feature Charticle

Per Capita, Electricity Use (kWh) vs. GDP (U.S. Dollars), 45 nations, 2008

JED

Findings: 

  • Analysis of the dangers of CO2 emissions simply must consider the benefits of the energy sources that they result from: the use of fossil fuels.
  • More energy is the foundation of modern life, and fossil fuels will remain the basis of global energy supply for decades to come.
  • Fossil fuels are cheaper and more reliable, so the still developing countries are following the model of the developed nations in leaning on more fossil fuel-based technologies. 

Read the full study here