Contrary to assertions made by radical protesters of the Extinction Rebellion movement, who claim, “It is understood that we are facing an unprecedented global emergency … a life or death situation of our own making,” or by misinformed youths like Greta Thunberg, who believes industrial civilization has “robbed” her of her future, in most ways, the 21st century has been the best in recorded history.
English science journalist Matt Ridley, Ph.D., writes in the London Spectator that the second decade of the 21st century was the best ever recorded, in terms of human living standards, despite purported catastrophic warming. Ridley points out that when he was born in 1958, 60 percent of the world’s population was living in poverty, yet in the second decade of the 21st century, this number fell below 10 percent for the first time. Ridley also notes, “Global inequality has been plunging as Africa and Asia experience faster economic growth than Europe and North America; child mortality has fallen to record low levels; famine virtually went extinct; malaria, polio and heart disease are all in decline.”
This is all good news — news well worth publicizing, one would think.
“We are getting more sustainable, not less, in the way we use the planet,” Ridley continues, explaining that we are continually using fewer materials and resources to produce the goods and services we consume.
Historically, there is no correlation between the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and Earth’s temperature, but research consistently shows a direct connection between a country’s wealth and people flourishing.
People in wealthier societies are generally healthier, live longer, have fewer children die at birth or in their infancy, and face fewer economic, gender, and social inequalities. Their populations also tend to be better educated and are better able to anticipate, adapt to, and respond to natural disasters than people in poorer societies. And the cornerstone of growing prosperity and decreasing penury around the globe during the 20th and early 21st centuries has been the development and use of fossil fuels.
Fossil fuels are the foundation of modern agriculture. They power the tractors and trucks used to plant and harvest crops and deliver them to market. They serve as the feed stock for the chemical pesticides and fertilizers used to grow ever greater amounts of food on increasingly less land. And they power the refrigeration and dry storage units that allow crops to be safely stored for long periods of time without spoiling.
Fossil fuels are also the bedrock of modern medicine, which has reduced infant mortality and increased lifespans. Contemporary health care depends on sterile plastics made from fossil fuels, including IV drip bags and tubing, medical machinery, electronics casings, and syringes.
Hospitals, ambulances, operating rooms, emergency rooms, and clinics open 24 hours per day, seven days a week, cannot function without coal, natural gas, and oil. Medical refrigeration units, CT scanning machines, MRIs, X-rays, laser scalpels, ventilators, incubators, and lights require reliable electric power, which fossil fuels provide more affordably and dependably than alternative sources.
Studies also show the number of people who have died as a result of extreme weather events has fallen precipitously over the past century, all while fossil fuel use has grown and the climate has warmed modestly.
Forty-four percent of the world’s population lived in absolute poverty in 1981. The share of people living in extreme poverty fell below 10 percent in 2015. In addition, according to the United Nations, the number of people suffering from persistent hunger has declined by two billion since 1990. What’s more, research shows there is now 17 percent more food available per person than there was 30 years ago — all during the period of purportedly dangerous climate change due to human carbon dioxide emissions.
Rather than teaching youths the world is doomed in 10, 12, or 20 years — pick your own planetary expiration date thrown out by climate alarmists in recent years — we should place Alex Epstein’s fact-filled book The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels on their school reading lists. Epstein incisively writes:
Climate is no longer a major cause of deaths, thanks in large part to fossil fuels.… Not only are we ignoring the big picture by making the fight against climate danger the fixation of our culture, we are “fighting” climate change by opposing the weapon that has made it dozens of times less dangerous. The popular climate discussion has the issue backward. It looks at man as a destructive force for climate livability, one who makes the climate dangerous because we use fossil fuels. In fact, the truth is the exact opposite; we don’t take a safe climate and make it dangerous; we take a dangerous climate and make it safe.
If only more people approached the climate issue with open minds, honestly examining the abundant evidence showing that the world is improving, we might have fewer protests and more progress on truly important goals like ending hunger, fighting disease, and promoting freedom.
H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a senior fellow on energy and the environment at The Heartland Institute, a nonpartisan, nonprofit research center headquartered in Arlington Heights, Illinois.