It’s amusing what can substitute for thinking nowadays.
A visitor to the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation’s Facebook page commented sarcastically on our new documentary Where the Grass Is Greener 2: Helping the Poor amid Climate Confusion,
Thank you, Cornwall Alliance, for all you do to help us to be so grateful to the big oil companies for their contribution to the stewardship of creation! As you stated, “using fossil fuels not only gives us abundant, affordable, reliable energy indispensable to lifting and keeping whole societies out of poverty,” but also (and how great is this!) “CO2 increase resulting from emissions has enormous benefits, food crops growing better all over the world!”
So let’s all use more oil and help the planet! And be good stewards!
But while she thought she threw a knock-out punch, she swung and missed.
The facts — empirical facts — show her sarcasm is misdirected.
Are Wind and Solar Energy Practical?
Set aside the enormous benefit of increased atmospheric CO2 to plant life, and therefore all other life. Let’s just compare fossil fuels with wind and solar as energy sources — and their impact on the environment.
Start with their impact on land use. Were it not for fossil fuels, how much land would have to be taken over by wind turbines and solar arrays to provide equivalent energy?
An oil stripper well produces 27 watts/square meter. Solar PV produces only 6.7 and wind turbines only 1.2. So to get as much energy we’d need to cover 4 times as much land with solar arrays or 22.5 times as much with turbines.
The average natural gas well produces 53 watts/square meter. So we’d have to cover 8 times as much land with solar arrays, or 44 times with turbines.
Coal has nearly the same energy density as natural gas, so comparisons for it would be similar.
Then, of course, there’s the problem of wind and solar’s intermittency. That requires constant, 24/7 backup by fossil fuel or nuclear plants at (low-efficiency, wasteful) spinning reserve. Otherwise, when the sun’s not shining or the wind’s not blowing, brownouts and blackouts occur, often with deadly results.
And without machinery powered by — and fertilizer made from — fossil fuels, agriculture would yield far less per acre. So to feed 7 billion people we’d have to farm more land.
Is “Green” Energy Even Good for the Environment?
What about the poor?
Electricity from wind and solar costs far more than from fossil fuels. That has already led, in countries like Britain and Germany, to “fuel poverty.” The result? The poor can’t heat their homes enough to prevent hypothermia (freezing to death). Consequently, excess premature winter deaths have doubled and tripled.
But won’t CO2-driven warming wipe out all these benefits? No.
Increasing atmospheric CO2 concentration causes far less warming than climate alarmists predict. How much? No one knows for sure. It’s probably at most half, more likely one-third, quite likely so little as to be undetectable.
Assume the models turn out right over the long haul. The alarmist Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change itself predicts the poor will be better off with the warming than without it.
Why? Because economic growth will enable them to adapt. And that growth is driven more by fossil fuels than by renewables. So they’ll have longer and healthier lives than we in developed countries have now.
That’s not even to mention the environmental disasters from mining and smelting rare-earth metals to make turbines and solar arrays. Or the nightmare of disposing of the toxic metals when the turbines and panels wear out. Oh, yes — and the aesthetic blight their vast expanses create.
Because … “Green”
Now, all that said, we wouldn’t add, “So let’s all use more oil.” We should avoid waste of any resources, including oil.
But we would say, with appropriate sarcasm, “So let’s all use more wind and solar!” Because … “green.” Who cares about land covered, crop yields reduced, grids destabilized, the poor hungry or freezing to death, and toxic waste from turbine and solar panel disposal?
Calvin Beisner, Ph.D., is Founder and National Spokesman of The Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation.