Just by living in 21st century America, you have a lot to be thankful for.
You live in the richest country in the history of the world and one of the freest. Despite what Democrat presidential candidates claim, the benefits of wealth aren’t limited to the 1 percent. The amenities most people take for granted — a vehicle, washing machine, hot water on demand — would have been unimaginable luxuries for most of human history. Of the U.S. households the government defines as living in poverty, more than 96 percent have a TV. More than 80 percent of poor households have a cellphone and more than 93 percent have a microwave.
We’ve come a long way from what the Pilgrims had to celebrate at the first Thanksgiving. More than half of the settlers had died during the previous winter. The remaining settlers were grateful for a harvest that would help them survive the upcoming winter.
Today, most people are concerned with how many servings of turkey they can eat while still having enough room for pumpkin pie.
It would be impossible to list all the changes over the past four centuries that have turned scarcity into opulence. The bravery and sacrifice of members of the military is near the top of the list.
So is the fossil fuel industry.
Unlike your ancestors, you didn’t have to hunt your turkey, kill it and clean it. A farmer raised the bird on a farm powered primarily by fossil fuels. A truck powered by fossil fuels drove it to your supermarket. Your supermarket used fossil fuels to keep its lights on, its freezer cold and its cash register humming. You used fossil fuels to drive there and buy it. That’s true even if you have an electric car because electric cars plug into an electric grid overwhelmingly powered by coal and natural gas. Fossil fuels will also heat the oven used to cook your turkey. The lights you turn on during Thanksgiving dinner, the TV you use to watch football and the dishwasher you use to clean up all run primarily on fossil fuels.
Renewable energy gets plenty of publicity, but wind and solar power generated just 8 percent of the nation’s electricity last year. Fossil fuels generated almost two-thirds, with nuclear and hydropower generating more than 26 percent.
When the Pilgrims got cold, they had to chop wood and burn it. Today, you push a button on your thermostat. Going to see family? Airplanes use fossil fuels. The iPhone you use to FaceTime grandma wouldn’t exist without the power provided by fossil fuels.
This doesn’t mean fossil fuel companies are perfect. It doesn’t mean there aren’t negative externalities to fossil fuel production, although it’s hard to take environmental alarmists seriously after decades of failed doomsday predictions. It doesn’t mean that someday a new fuel source won’t replace fossil fuels.
But without fossil fuels, Thanksgiving dinner and everything else in American life would look much different — and not in a good way.
Victor Joecks’ column appears in the Opinion section each Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. Listen to him discuss his columns each Monday at 10 a.m. with Kevin Wall on 790 Talk Now. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4698. Follow @victorjoecks on Twitter.