In fact, by virtually any objective measure of human well-being — e.g., life expectancy; infant, child and maternal mortality; prevalence of hunger and malnutrition; child labor; job opportunities for women; educational attainment; income — humanity is far better off today that it was before the start of industrialization.
That human well-being has advanced with economic development is clearly true for industrialized countries. The figure below for the U.S., a surrogate for industrialized countries, shows that life expectancy — perhaps the single most important indicator of human well-being — and GDP per capita — the best single measure for material well-being — increased through the 20th century, even as CO2 emissions, population, and material, metals, and organic chemical use increased.
... Following is a sampling of fossil fuel dependent technologies that have helped advance specific facets of human well-being:
- Hunger. Global food production has never been higher than it is today due to fertilizers, pesticides, irrigation, and farm machinery. But fertilizers and pesticides are manufactured from fossil fuels, and energy is necessary to run irrigation pumps and machinery. The entire suite of technologies that are called the Green Revolution is based on energy. And in today’s world, willy-nilly, energy for the most part means fossil fuels. Additional CO2 in the atmosphere has most likely also contributed to higher food production. Another factor in keeping a check on food prices and reducing hunger is trade within and between countries which enables food surpluses to be moved to food deficit areas. But it takes fossil fuels to move food around in the quantities and the speed necessary for such trade to be an integral part of the global food system, as it indeed is. Moreover, fossil fuel dependant technologies such as refrigeration, rapid transport, and plastic packaging, ensure that more of the crop that is produced is actually consumed. That is, they increase the overall efficiency of the food production system, which also helps reduce food prices and contain hunger worldwide. See here.
- Health. Having sufficient quantity of food is the first step to a healthy population. It’s not surprising that hunger and high mortality rates go hand in hand. In addition, even the most mundane medical and public health technologies depend on energy, most of which is derived from fossil fuels. Such technologies include heating for sterilization; pumping water from treatment plants to consumers and sewage from consumers to treatment plants; and transporting and storing vaccines, antibiotics, and blood. In addition, energy is necessary to operate a variety of medical equipment (e.g., x-rays, electrophoresis, and centrifuges); or undertake a number of medical procedures. Moreover, economic surpluses generated by greenhouse gas producing activities in the US (and other industrialized countries) have helped create technologies to enable safer drinking water and sanitation; treat diseases such as AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis; and increase life expectancies through vaccinations and improvements in nutrition and hygiene. See here.
- Child Labor. Fossil fuel powered machinery has not only made child labor obsolete in all but the poorest societies, but it allows children to be children and, equally importantly, to be more educated in preparation for a more fulfilling and productive life.
- Equal Opportunity for Women and the Disabled. But for home appliances powered for the most part by electricity, more women would be toiling in the home. Moreover, power tools and machinery allow women, the disabled and the weak to work on many tasks that once would have been reserved, for practical purposes, for able-bodied men.
- Education. Today’s populations are much more educated and productive than previous ones in large part due to the availability of relatively cheap fossil fuel generated electrical lighting. And education is a key factor contributing not only to economic development and technological innovation but also personal fulfillment.
In addition, a substantial share of the income of many developing countries comes directly or indirectly from trade, tourism, developmental aid (to the tune of at least $2.3 trillion over the decades), and remittances ($328 billion in 2008 alone) from industrialized countries. Much of this would have been impossible but for the wealth generated in industrialized countries by fossil fuel powered economic development. This economic development also allowed the US (and other developed countries) to offer humanitarian aid to developing countries in times of famine, drought, earthquakes, floods, cyclones, tsunamis and other disasters. Moreover, such aid would have been virtually impossible to deliver in large quantities or in a timely fashion absent fossil fuel fired transportation. Similarly, it would be impossible to sustain the amount of trade and tourism that occurs today without fossil fuels.
Clearly, fossil fuels have advanced human well-being in both industrialized and developing countries. The claim that the net effect of fossil fuels has been detrimental to either group is unsubstantiated.
Remarkably, virtually all the technologies noted above were conceived, and developed in the industrialized countries, and enabled in large part by the wealth generated from the direct or indirect use of fossil fuels and other greenhouse gas generating activities. In fact, because of the diffusion and active transfer of technologies from industrialized to developing countries, the latter are far ahead of today’s industrialized countries at equivalent levels of economic development.
- In 2006, when GDP per capita for low income countries was $1,330 (in 1990 International dollars, adjusted for purchasing power), their life expectancy was 60.4 years. But the US first reached this level in 1921, when its GDP per capita was $5,300. See here (pp. 20-21).
Thus, empirical data do not support the underlying premise that industrialization of today’s developed countries has caused net harm to developing countries. In fact, a major harm to developing countries seems to have resulted, in part from climate change policies instituted in industrialized countries.
- Even Sub-Saharan Africa, the world’s developmental laggard, is today ahead of where the U.S. used to be. In 2006, its per capita GDP was at the same level as the U.S. in 1820 but the U.S. did not reach Sub-Saharan Africa’s current infant mortality level until 97 years later in 1917, and its current life expectancy until 1902. That is, with respect to infant mortality, Sub-Saharan Africa is 92 years ahead of the US’s pace! With respect to life expectancy, it is 104 years ahead.
WHAT THE THIRD WORLD NEEDS IS INDUSTRIALIZATION AND FREE MARKETS AND FREE TRADE - NOT HANDOUTS OR CARBON SWAPS.
THE PEOPLE WHO RETARD THE INDUSTRIALIZATION OF THE THIRD WORLD ARE THE LEADING CAUSE OF THIRD WORLD POVERTY AND MALNUTRITION AND SHORTER LIVE SPANS.
WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE? ARE THEY BIG CORPORATIONS? GREEDY CAPITALISTS? UNSCRUPULOUS CONSERVATIVES?
NO, THEY'RE LIBERALS. LIBERALS WHO ADVOCATE THINGS LIKE PROTECTIONISM, SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT AND THE GREEN ECONOMY.
IN OTHER WORDS:
TO MAKE THIRD WORLD POVERTY HISTORY WE NEED TO MAKE THE LEFT HISTORY.