Fossil fuels are bridge to a carbon-free world

Pres. Trump and Joe Biden clashed vigorously over climate change and fossil fuels in the presidential debate Thursday evening.

Trump defended the oil and gas industries, while Biden said he would phase out fossil fuels. In reality, validity exists in both of their positions.

I firmly believe that fossil fuels will, in fact, be phased out, as Biden said. But not because of harsh regulations and mandates. It will occur because of advanced technology, innovation and because the market will demand clean energy.

I liked what Pulitzer-prize winning commentator and New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman told supporters of the Utah Climate & Clean Air Compact several days ago. He said climate change really is an existential threat to humanity, and we absolutely must reduce and eliminate carbon emissions.

But the way to do it, he said, is through the global marketplace, not through government actions like the Paris Climate Agreement. The only thing big enough to reverse climate change is the global market, he said. Without leveraging the market, we’ll never get to the scale we need to make a difference.

And that enormous market for clean energy, clean buildings, clean transportation, etc., will provide jobs and a great new global industry. It is now cheaper to save the earth than to destroy it, Friedman said.

But the trick is to make the transition, to get from today’s fossil fuel-dependent world to a carbon-free tomorrow. And we have to do it without severely damaging the economy and throwing millions of people out of work.

That’s where Trump is correct that the fossil fuel industries will be essential until the transition is complete.

The reality is that oil, gas and coal are still incredibly important to maintain economic strength and a high quality of life. Most electricity is still generated using coal. Most every time we start up a car or turn on the heat to stay warm at night, we’re using oil or gas. We’re all part of the problem. Millions of jobs are dependent on fossil fuels.

The transition to a zero-emission society must occur, but it will require massive amounts of wealth and investment to make it happen. And wealth creation requires a lot of energy.

 It is wealthy people who can afford electric vehicles, who purchase power from wind farms, who volunteer and make large contributions to environmental groups. It is wealthy foundations (many of which earned their billions in dirty industries) that fund conservation causes. It is a wealthy society that generates tax dollars for university research for new technologies that generate clean energy.

Wealthy people and wealthy countries have the luxury of focusing on the environment and spending money to transition away from fossil fuels. That’s good news for the environment. Poor people who have to be concerned about food and shelter aren’t able to support environmental causes as much as people who have more resources.

What is true for America is also true for the rest of the world. The fastest way to clean up the planet is for the world’s countries to become more prosperous. Prosperity means slower population growth, a stronger conservation ethic, more resources to clean up air and water, and a faster transition to clean energy. Prosperity requires abundant energy. Coal, oil and gas must be viewed as critical bridge energies that maintain prosperity as the transition occurs to wind, solar, hydrogen fuel cells and nuclear.

Prematurely shutting down the oil and gas industries would hamper, not advance, the fight against climate change.