Undoing the Industrial Revolution

CTV News reports that former Vice-President Joe Biden has promised to end fossil fuel use.

Joe Biden is looking voters in the eye and promising to “end fossil fuel.”

The former vice-president and Democratic presidential candidate made the comment Friday after a New Hampshire environmental activist challenged him for accepting donations from the co-founder of liquified natural gas firm.

Biden denied the donor’s association to the fossil fuel industry before calling the young woman “kiddo” and taking her hand. He said, “I want you to look at my eyes. I guarantee you. I guarantee you. We’re going to end fossil fuel.”

The activist, 24-year-old Rebecca Beaulieu, later said she appreciated that Biden took her question seriously, but that he was not satisfied with Biden’s plan to eliminate net carbon emissions by 2050.

Essentially, Joe Biden and the other Democratic presidential candidates are promising to undo the Industrial Revolution. Our economy and civilization depend on the use of fossil fuels. There is simply no alternative to their use, except for nuclear power, which they’re also against if we want to maintain our current level of prosperity.

For most of history, the only available sources of power were human and animal muscles. These sources, supplemented by water and wind beginning in the Medieval Period do not provide much power. The amount of work that can be done with muscles, human and animal, is sharply limited. As a result, the great masses of people, in any society, lived in poverty, with barely enough to survive. Only a very tiny elite could live in any degree of comfort.

This situation only changed when humans learned to harness the power of fossil fuels. Burning fossil fuels could unleash far more energy than could be obtained through the power of muscles, energy to power machines that could do more work and produce more wealth than would have been conceivable before. Unlike wind and water mills, which were only usable at particular times and places, factories powered by fossil fuels could be placed anywhere convenient. The resulting industrial and technological revolution, along with the development of free-market capitalism, something else the current crop of candidates is campaigning against, allowed a higher standard of living than could ever be possible previously. For the first time in history, ordinary people could live lives of comfort. The difference between rich and poor in the developed world is no longer one of kind, whether a person has enough to eat or sufficient shelter from the elements, but of degree, how nice that house, car or food. At the present time, we are living in a world in which the greatest health problems of the poor stem from having too much unhealthy food to eat. We may be within a generation of eliminating poverty worldwide, thanks to fossil fuels.

What if Joe Biden and the other Democrats have their way? What if the use of fossil fuels is severely curtailed here in the United States, and elsewhere in other to combat climate change? Could renewable sources of energy make up the difference? No, they could not. Renewable sources of energy; wind, water, and the rest simply do not provide enough energy to maintain our current use of power, not by orders of magnitude. Nonrenewable sources are only available in limited times and places, necessitating the storage or long-distance transmission of energy, which can be difficult and expensive. Nuclear power could make up the gap, but the people who want us to stop using fossil fuels also dislike nuclear power.

A world in which fossil fuel use was eliminated would be a world in which energy was much more expensive than it is at present. As a result, all the necessities of life would be much more expensive. It would be a poorer world, a world in which a small elite could live comfortably while the majority of the population would be struggling to survive. It would be a step back to the bad old days. Even if it were conceded that man-made climate change was the dire threat to humanity’s continued survival and well-being, a concession I am not willing to make, surely the cures proposed by the Democratic candidates are far worse than the problem. I do not believe that any crisis can be resolved by crippling the most productive and innovative economy in the world. It may not be the intention of those proposing such radical solutions to global warming to create a neo-feudal world of impoverished masses lorded over by a tiny elite, but that would be the inevitable result.

There will come a time when advancing technology will make the use of fossil fuels obsolete. This time will come only if people are free to innovate in a prosperous economy. It will not come by stifling innovation with overbearing government fiats in a crippled and impoverished economy. That is just what the Democratic candidates are proposing.

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