“Contrary to the claims of proponents of the Green New Deal and Net Zero, fossil fuels are the greenest fuels.
First, uniquely among energy sources, fossil fuel use emits CO2, which is the ultimate source of the elemental building block, carbon, found in all carbon-based life, i.e., almost all life on Earth.”
These two sentences, which run counter to everything you may have heard about the “climate crisis” said to be plaguing the planet, introduce a provocative new study by Indur Goklany, Ph. D. A widely published author and longtime researcher into a variety of scientific fields, Goklany strips carbon dioxide of its status as an environmental villain as decreed by modern-day climate orthodoxy. He also shows that rising atmospheric levels of CO2, including those produced by fossil fuels, are highly beneficial to biodiversity.
Goklany’s study, “Fossil Fuels are the Greenest Energy Sources,” was published by the CO2 Coalition, an Arlington, Va.-based organization dedicated to enlightening the public on the role carbon dioxide plays in biodiversity.
“The increased amplitude of the seasonal cycle in atmospheric CO2 and satellite-borne instrumentation to measure solar-induced chlorophyll fluorescence from plants provide direct evidence that global photosynthetic activity (or Gross Primary Production, GPP, a measure of the change in global biomass) increased over the past several decades,” Goklany writes. “Observed variations of atmospheric CO2 over the past two centuries are consistent with increased primary productivity. Other satellite studies also show that the earth has been greening continually in recent decades.”
Higher CO2 Levels, Higher Food Production
“Second, fossil fuel-dependent technologies have increased agricultural yields directly or indirectly by at least 167%. This increase in agricultural productivity is due to the use of fossil-fuel-dependent technologies, specifically, nitrogen fertilizers, pesticides, and carbon dioxide fertilization resulting from fossil fuel emissions,” Goklany points out. “This has enabled human beings to meet their demand for food using less cropland, which then spares land for the rest of nature. Thus, in the absence of fossil fuels, at least 167% of more land would have to be cultivated to maintain global food production at the current level. That would be the equivalent to increasing current cropland from 12.2% of global land area (GLA) to 32.7%. But diversion of habitat (land) to agriculture is already deemed to be the greatest threat to global biodiversity. Fossil fuels have, therefore, increased productivity of already converted habitat, they have forestalled conversion of at least an additional 20.4% of GLA
“Consequently, the world sustains 10 times more people today (7.79 billion) than at the start of the Industrial Revolution (786 million in 1750), while supporting more biomass,” Goklany adds.
Restricting, much less lowering, atmospheric levels of CO2 through politically fashionable “decarbonization” could jeopardize the world’s food supply even more than Goklany forecasts. As noted many years ago by Dennis Avery (1936-2020), longtime Director of Global Food Studies at the Hudson Institute, most of the world’s best cropland is already under cultivation. What is left is marginal, at best. By reducing fossil fuels’ contribution to atmospheric CO2 (plant food), agricultural productivity on the best cropland would decline, forcing farmers the world over to put less-fertile soil under cultivation, with the resulting crops also suffering from lack of CO2. And the additional land brought under cultivation would no longer be available to wildlife.
When comparing the impacts of various energy options on habitat, “we should consider the physical footprint needed to produce an equivalent amount of energy via each option (solar, wind, and various fossil fuels).” Goklany notes. “Second, for wind and solar to be viable substitutes for fossil fuels, they should be coupled with batteries to solve their intermittency problem which requires substantial amounts of metals and other materials that must be mined, smelted, and refined which necessarily would disturb the land.”
Greening of the Earth
Goklany cites a 2016 study based on satellite data that found that from 1982 – 2009, 25 – 50% of global vegetated area had become greener while 4% had become browner. “They attributed 70% of the greening to CO2 fertilization from emissions from fossil fuel combustion (which increases photosynthesis and water use efficiency, (WEU) of most vegetation, 9% to nitrogen deposition (also from the use of fossil-fuel derived fertilizers, 8% to climate change, and 4% to land use change. The first three, responsible cumulatively for 87% of the greening, are related to the use of fossil fuels,” Goklany points out.
By contrast, intermittent and land-intensive wind and solar power contribute nothing to agricultural productivity while leaving behind an environmental footprint that dwarfs that of fossil fuels. Goklany cites a 2022 International Energy Agency report that notes “that a typical electric vehicle requires six times the mineral inputs of a conventional car and an onshore wind plant requires nine time more mineral resources than a natural gas-fired power plant, while offshore wind plants requite fifteen times as much as natural gas.”
The war on atmospheric CO2 is, among other things, a war on global food production.