Texas public policy foundation
Energy and Freedom

Sometimes a single voice throws in hard relief the delusion, misanthropy, and unabashedly totalitarian policy of the Left. These characteristics are particularly embedded in the Left's secular religion: Apocalyptic Anthropogenic Global Warming. Check out MSNBC's Chris Hayes's Sidney-Award-winning article in The Nation entitled "The New Abolitionists."  This lengthy article analogizes the abolition of slavery to the abolition of fossil fuels, as demanded by the "climate justice movement" of which Hayes professes to be an ardent member.

At several junctures, Hayes disavows any moral equivalency between enslavement and fossil fuel combustion, but the protestation is belied by the central conceit of the 3,600-word piece. Hayes emphasizes that it is the methods used to abolish slavery that "climate justice" must use for the abolition of fossil fuels: primarily forfeiture of property. Hayes calculates this as a neatly convenient $10-trillion loss incurred as a result of the abolition of slavery in the U.S. - and $10 trillion loss from leaving 80 percent of the world's fossil fuel reserves in the ground. Hayes's plan for keeping this planet habitable, as he puts it, is forcible suppression of the extraction of oil, natural gas, and coal.

Chris Hayes might have devoted as much research to the economic history of energy as he does to what he calls the "political economy of slavery." Had he done so, he may have discovered a real relationship between fossil-fuel use and human enslavement. Hayes acknowledges that slaves were a major source of mechanical energy throughout human history, but he neglects to explore why this is no longer the case. There is, in fact, a historical connection between the abolition of slavery and humanity's first widespread use of energy from fossil fuels. First harnessed in the English Industrial Revolution, fossil fuels spawned unceasing economic growth- an unprecedented productivity of most benefit to the poor until then consigned to poverty and enslavement across the world.

In 1807, the British Parliament finally passed William Wilberforce's bill to abolish the slave trade in the British Empire. In the same year, the largest industrial complex in the world powered and illuminated by coal opened in Manchester, England. Thus began the century-long process of converting mankind's industry from the power of muscle, wood, wind, and water to stored solar energy in fossil fuels. 

Fossil fuels dissolved the economic justification for slavery. When the concentrated and versatile energy stored in fossil fuels was converted to mechanical energy, the economic limits under which all societies had formerly existed were blown apart. A life of back-breaking drudgery was no longer the inescapable condition of the overwhelming majority of mankind.  The productivity made possible by fossil fuels led to the institutionalization of compassion and respect for the inalienable rights of each human individual.

In the Rational Optimist, Matt Ridley captures the magnitude of the energy breakthrough. "By 1870," he writes, "the burning of coal in Britain was generating as many calories as would have been expended by 850 million labourers. It was as if each worker had twenty servants at his beck and call…. That is how much energy had been harnesses to the division of labor. That is how impossible the task of Britain's 19th century miracle would have been without fossil fuels."  

Fossil fuels have fundamentally improved human living conditions.  Before methodical application of the energy supplied by coal, natural gas and petroleum, the human life expectancy of about 25 years had changed little throughout human history; lifespan has now tripled. Income per capita has increased eleven-fold. World population increased from 760 million in 1750 to 6.8 billion in 2009. From 1961 to 2007, the world population doubled while food supply per person increased by 27 percent thanks to fossil fuel inputs such as natural-gas based fertilizer.

Hayes, acknowledges that coercing dispossession of $10 trillion worth of hydrocarbon assets will likely require more forcible disruption than persuasion! No less a theft, however, is what Hayes contends that the "climate justice movement is rightly demanding," and apparently without concern for the harshly regressive impacts on society or whether the renewable alternatives are up to the job.

Hayes' recommendation to avert global warming, like most warmist policies, toys with the greatest advance made by mankind. Energy poverty already emerges in highly developed countries like England and Germany which have placed excessive faith in renewable alternatives to fossil fuels.  It's a curious case for a self-described progressive, to advocate the abrupt end to progress, but this is the intellectual cul-de-sac at which the Apocalyptic Anthropogenic Global Warming cult has arrived.

Energy sources are not readily interchangeable. Power-dense, abundant, versatile, reliable, controllable, portable, storable and affordable: fossil fuels provide over eighty percent of the world's energy because they are superior to present alternatives. Who knows what future innovation will generate as alternative energy sources fully comparable or superior  to fossil fuels ?

Liquidating a key wellspring of mankind's release from abject poverty and enslavement demands far more robust science than the IPCC's highly politicized and speculative science increasingly contradicted by empirical evidence.  The abolition of slavery was the most morally justified forfeiture of assets in human history. Abolition of fossil fuels, as Hayes' proposes it, would be the most morally objectionable.


Kathleen Hartnett White is the Distinguished Senior Fellow-in-Residence and Director of the Armstrong Center for Energy & the Environment at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. She served a six-year term as Chairman and Commissioner of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. Her research study: "Fossil Fuels: The Moral Case," will be released in June 2014.