The economic and technological advances over the last 200 years have transformed how we produce and consume energy. From the 1800’s, the fossil fuels of coal, oil, and natural gas now support more than 80 percent of the world’s energy supply to meet the world’s population demands for more than 6,000 products in our daily lives—made from the oil derivatives manufactured out of crude oil— that did not exist before the 1900’s, and the fuels to move the heavy-weight and long-range needs of more than 50,000 jets and more than 50,000 merchant ships, the military and space programs. To the right is a pictorial history of these energy transitions over the years.

Recent outlooks published by the International Energy Agency (IEA) and Energy Information Administration (EIA), paint a clear picture that global energy needs are going to rise significantly in the decades to come, reflecting population growth, more nations progressing out of poverty, and the expansion of transportation and technology systems worldwide. Products derived from crude oil will continue to satisfy a significant share of this growing demand.

As expected, during the recent Earth Day celebration, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jane Fonda, Matt Damon and more of the biggest celebrities leading the charge on climate change, were demanding the elimination of crude oil from society. One would think that those movie stars have the intelligence to know that crude oil is virtually useless unless it is manufactured into something usable, to meet their personal demands and the demands of society, via refineries. The hydrocarbon processing industry, i.e., those refineries, have a rich history of discovery, challenges, breakthroughs, trial and error, collaboration, and success.

Looking back a little more than 100 years, it’s easy to see how civilization has benefited from more than 250 leading-edge, hydrocarbon processing licensed refining technologies used by the more than 700 refineries worldwide. These refineries supply oil products to meet the demands of the 8 billion living on earth with more than 6,000 products made from the oil derivatives manufactured out of raw crude oil at refineries. None of these products and subsequent infrastructures were available to society before the 1900’s.

Wind turbines and solar panels may be able to generate intermittent electricity from breezes and sunshine, but they cannot manufacture anything. By the way, all the products needed to make the parts for vehicles, wind turbines, solar panels, planes, ships, medical supplies, tires, asphalt, and fertilizer are made with the oil derivatives manufactured from crude oil. Getting rid of crude oil will eliminate virtually everything in our daily lives and economies.

After coal, oil, and natural gas, we created various modes of transportation, a medical industry, and electronics and communications systems. Oil reduced infant mortality, extended life longevity from 40+ years to more than 80+, and gave the public the ability to move anywhere in the world via planes, trains, ships, and vehicles, virtually eliminated deaths from most diseases and from all forms of weather, All of that apparent “progress” can all be attributable to the introduction of coal, oil, and natural gas into society.

World leaders and the Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) movement that are setting policies to rid the world of fossil fuels, have short memories of petrochemical products and human ingenuity being the reasons for the world populating from 1 to 8 billion in less than two hundred years, shown clearly in the United Nations graph below.

The climate is changing—as it has been for 4 billion years—and will continue to change, and yes, there will be fatalities from the coming climate changes, but those fatalities will be small in comparison to a world without fossil fuels, that revert to its decarbonized status in the early 1800’s and before.

Climate change is expected to cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year between years 2030 and 2050, from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea and heat stress, but efforts to cease the use of crude oil could be the greatest threat to civilization’s eight billion. This may result in billions, not millions, of fatalities from diseases, malnutrition, and weather-related deaths trying to live without the fossil fuels that are benefiting society.

Just a few hundred years ago, before oil, the world was unspoiled, decarbonized, and dominated by mother nature and the wild animal kingdom. There was no coal fired power plants, nor natural gas power plants, and the Beverly Hillbillies had not yet discovered oil. There were fewer humans competing with the animals due to humanity’s limited ability to survive what mother nature provided. Before oil, life was hard and dirty, with many weather and disease related deaths.

There are now eight billion of us, with most people living much longer and more prosperous lives than the one billion people who were around when fossil fuels use took off after the mid 1800’s. Moreover, the richer we are, the greener most parts of the planet become.

Pundits and future historians will debate the effect of longer lifespans for decades to come. The world population has increased dramatically after the introduction of fossil fuels and the populations have become dependent on the same fossil fuels to feed the world by transporting food and products worldwide to feed those eight billion on this increasingly resource-stretched, and crowded earth.

To comprehend the “pristine” world before the introduction of oil, we can easily observe the world’s poorest countries to see what lifestyles are like with just mother nature and the animal kingdom to contend with. Those developing countries are living in a decarbonized environment and have yet to enter an industrialized revolution.

Today, to continue to support the eight billion on earth, we need the more than 53,000 merchant ships that move those 6,000 products throughout the world, and the 50,000 jets that now move four billion people around the world.

With no backup plan for a replacement for the products manufactured from oil, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jane Fonda, Matt Damon, and President Joe Biden’s efforts to cease the use of crude oil could be the greatest threat to civilization, not climate change. Ridding the world of fossil fuels, could result in billions of fatalities from diseases, malnutrition, and weather-related deaths. Imagine the cold, misery, and loss of life under a scenario where today’s eight billion try to live in the decarbonized world in the early 1800’s without today’s products and transportation fuels?

Author

  • Ronald Stein

    Ronald Stein is an engineer, senior policy advisor on energy literacy for CFACT, and co-author of the Pulitzer Prize nominated book “Clean Energy Exploitations.”