Why We Need to Eliminate Fossil Fuel Energy as Rapidly as Possible
To supply the whole world population with decent and continuously improving standards of living, we need to triple the energy the world is now producing. We can’t do that with fossil fuels because, even at present production levels, they are killing us with their pollution and crippling the economy with their costs. They contribute to climate changes as well, although that is a longer–term effect than their immediate huge impact on our lives through pollution and cost. Today, by many independent estimates, pollution due to burning carbon-based fuels, overwhelmingly fossil fuels, kills 7 million people per year—more than one in eight deaths. Air-pollution also causes and worsens diseases like asthma that disable many millions more. A decade’s delay in eliminating these fuels kills as many people as died in World War II.
Fossil fuels directly costs the world economy about $5 trillion per year. This excludes the huge indirect cost caused by the health effects of fossil fuel pollution. This money overwhelmingly does not flow to the workers who actually produce and refine the fuels, but to a few thousand billionaires who own the huge global energy companies. Every year this tax by the billionaires on the world population reduces our wealth by an amount equal to taking the entire manufacturing output of the United States, China and Japan and dumping it into the ocean. Carbon-dioxide produced by fossil fuels clearly contributes to climate change as well. Climate changes are occurring over decades-long time scales. However, the immediate devastating effects of pollution and cost are the most urgent reasons to end fossil fuel energy production as soon as possible.
Figure 2. Carbon dioxide over the last 40 million years, from chemical evidence in dated sedimentary locks layers. Note that the balance between plants, absorbing CO2 and animals emitting it has kept CO2 levels below about 500 PPM for 25 million years, since the development of grasslands. The upper dashed line, the level at which Antartica has iced over, is also about the level that has been shown to impair human thinking even over short periods of exposure. Zhang YG, Pagani M, Liu Z, Bohaty SM, DeConto R. 2013 A 40-million-year history of atmospheric CO2. Phil Trans R Soc A 371: 20130096. http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rsta.2013.0096
Carbon dioxide itself is harmful to humans at levels much above the present one. Within 50 years, outdoors CO2 levels will surpass those ever experienced by the biosphere in the past 25 million years of evolution, so will be an uncontrolled experiment on its effects on us and all animal life on the planet, which must rid itself of CO2 to live. Doubling CO2 to 800 PPM has measurable harmful effects on human mental performance. Without replacing fossil fuels, such levels will be reached in a century.
But we emphasize that other pollutants generated by fossil fuel use are already killing people at the rate of 20,000 per day.