What about the risks?

In the next few columns we will be looking at concerns about the fossil fuel industry and how to discuss those concerns.

A quick review

So far we’ve discussed the unique benefits of using fossil fuels. The big idea there was that the fossil fuel industry produces cheap, plentiful, reliable energy on a scale that no other industry can match.

Therefore, for the foreseeable future, billions of people depend on the fossil fuel industry to have access to energy at all.

Everyone else depends on the industry to have access to cheap, plentiful, reliable energy.

We also saw that any discussion of what to do about energy has to recognize these unique benefits of using fossil fuels.


Looking ahead

Just as we cannot ignore the unique benefits of fossil fuels, we cannot ignore any unique risks of using fossil fuels.

For any product we have to look at the full context, both unique benefits and the unique risks. Or to be more precise, the potential unique benefits and the potential unique risks. I stress the word “potential” because before you explore something that might be a risk or a benefit, you don’t know if it’s a risk or a benefit. We didn’t know, before we explored the potential positives of fossil fuels, whether there were any unique positives.

By the same token, we don’t know whether there are any unique negatives, when we start. We certainly know that there are some very strong claims that there are unique negatives. Those claims are worth understanding and exploring.

There are three main claims that exist about the risks of fossil fuels:

  1. catastrophic resource depletion
  2. catastrophic pollution
  3. catastrophic climate change

We need to understand these three arguments for our own decision making and for persuading others.

This was a lot of what motivated my own interest in the fossil fuel issue and why I did research over a long period of time. I didn’t feel like there were any discussions that carefully looked at the full context.

When I did look at the full context I came to a surprising conclusion: that certain perceived negatives of fossil fuels are extremely exaggerated while other perceived negatives are actually positives.

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