Jane Van Ryan
Posted August 24, 2010
It's fair to say that the ongoing debate over oil lacks balance. In recent years, oil--a naturally-occurring energy resource--has been accused of being addictive, blamed for changing the climate, chastised for despoiling the environment and criticized for enabling the internal combustion engine.
Rarely does anyone write about oil's benefits to the health, prosperity and well being of people all over the globe. It was refreshing, therefore, to read a recent study by Indur Goklany who says oil and other carbon-based fuels should be credited with saving millions of lives.
In "A Primer on the Global Death Toll of Extreme Weather Events," Goklany tracks the impact of weather on global death rates, adding that "despite the media attention to such events, extreme weather events have a minor impact on global public health."
According to Goklany, weather is responsible for about 0.05 percent of all global deaths, based on 2000-2008 data (31,700 vs. 58.8 million annually). Further, he says weather-related deaths have dropped markedly because fossil fuels improve safety:
- The death rate from droughts peaked in the 1920s and since then has fallen by 99.99 percent, largely because fossil fuels have led to a huge increase in global food production. Goklany notes that "fertilizers and pesticides are manufactured from fossil fuels, and energy is necessary to run irrigation pumps and machinery."
- Fossil fuels also move food successfully around the world. Goklany writes "fossil fuel dependant technologies such as refrigeration, rapid transport, and plastic packaging, ensure that more the crop that is produced is actually eaten by the consumer."
- Fossil fuels enable disaster preparedness. Humanitarian aid "hinges on the availability of fossil fuels to move people, food, medicine and critical...supplies before and after events strike," Goklany says.
Goklany's study also raises an important question--does it make sense to spend trillions to move away from fossil fuels?
No, he says. Spending "even a fraction of such sums on the numerous higher priority health and safety problems plaguing humanity would provide greater returns for human well-being."
Hat tip to Marlo Lewis at OpenMarket.org.
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