In your list of things to be grateful for this year, make sure you don’t forget fossil fuels.
Fossil fuels and their benefits are so ubiquitous that most people, myself included, usually take them for granted.
Of course, the light in your bedroom turns on by the flip of a switch. Of course, you have hot water by turning on a faucet. Of course, your cellphone charges when you plug it in. Of course, you even have a cellphone. Of course, you can control the climate in your house by pressing a button. Of course, a machine washes your clothes and dishes.
Of course, food from around the world is available in the store a few minutes away. Of course, you can drive there. Of course, you can fly anywhere in the country.
But for the vast majority of human history, those things would have required divine intervention. The reliable energy provided by fossil fuels was a necessary component in their creation. It remains a necessary component in their continued use.
Fossil fuels make possible the Thanksgiving dinners hundreds of millions of Americans will enjoy on Thursday. Semi-trucks, such as those delivering turkey, stuffing and sweet potatoes, run on fossil fuels. Stores need electricity to keep the lights on, the freezers cold and the scanners working. Ovens rely on fossil fuels for heat. Your guests will most likely arrive in fossil-fuel-powered cars.
Even electric vehicles depend on fossil fuels. When electric vehicles charge, the majority of that electricity comes from fossil fuels and nuclear power, another great energy source. Last year, fossil fuels provided 60 percent of U.S. electricity, and nuclear plants provided another 20 percent. Fewer than 11 percent came from wind and solar power. This doesn’t even account for how fossil fuels power the mining and production operations needed to build electric vehicles.
The United States is so well off that it’s easy to forget how foundational reliable energy production is to society. It’s essential to escaping poverty and building wealth. A farmer can use a tractor to increase agricultural production. It allows a family to store food in a fridge. Machines reduce how long people have to spend on cleaning and food preparation. Factories, running on energy, produce far more than humans can alone.
Maybe breakthroughs in battery technology will one day allow wind and solar energy to provide reliable energy. At the moment, they can’t. An overreliance on intermittent power sources such as those will lead to electricity shortages.
Instead of celebrating what fossil fuels have allowed us to do, many politicians condemn them for contributing to global warming. Last year, Joe Biden said, “We are going to get rid of fossil fuels.” But on Tuesday he announced the release of 50 million barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. It’s hard to take doomsday predictions seriously from someone who treats his sagging poll numbers as a more dire threat than global warming.
As you enjoy your Thanksgiving bounty, remember the role fossil fuels played in making it all possible.
Victor Joecks’ column appears each Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. Listen to him discuss his columns each Monday at noon with Kevin Wall on AM 670 KMZQ Right Talk. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4698. Follow @victorjoecks on Twitter.