Professor Debunks Claim Fossil Fuels Damage Planet

With “divest” movements spreading across the country and gaining momentum at U-M, Dr. Pierre Desrochers visited the University to present an alternative look at fossil fuels.

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There’s more trees and animals on the planet today than ever before thanks to fossil fuels, a professor told a room full of University of Michigan students Wednesday.

Many assign blame for deforestation and animal extinction on fossil fuels, when in reality most of it occurred well before the widespread introduction of oil and coal use, said Dr. Pierre Desrochers, associate professor of geography at the University of Toronto and senior fellow at the Center for Industrial Progress.

The guest lecturer came as some students demand the public university divest from companies that profit from fossil fuels, calling such divestment a moral choice and way to fight climate change.

But Desrochers — invited to campus to argue the “Moral Case For Fossil Fuels” — said divestment would cause more problems and solve few, if any.

He told the 125 or so students in the audience that before the development of fossil fuel use, animals were slaughtered on a massive scale for food, clothing and many other uses, and forests were razed for wood. In fact, possibly as much as 90 percent of animal extinction and deforestation appeared before the introduction of fossil fuels, he said.

But the use of coal and oil reversed that trend, he added, noting coal helped replace firewood and charcoal in many instances. Moreover, tractors were invented, producing food faster and more efficiently. Forest cover, which had been decreasing until then to make way for farmland and for wood to supply fuel, started increasing from 12 percent to 24 percent, he said.

“We produced a lot more food on a lot less land after carbon fuels,” Desrochers said.

The talk went largely without incident despite the fact that campus flyers touting the guest lecture were vandalized repeatedly leading up to the event.

But the only outburst during the talk came from a student who shouted out that Desrochers was attempting to commodify black lives. The comment was made as Desrochers discussed a problem in Africa in which its residents largely rely on a domestic food supply, leading to a chronic state of undernourishment and ultimately deaths in the poverty-stricken continent.

Ultimately, the expert said, fossil fuel divestment proponents are willing to sacrifice companies’ dividends that support their universities and the financial aid they supply to low-income students. Yet, he said, these same protesters are rarely willing to live the change they wish to see in the world.

It’s consumers who actually burn the most fuels. The process of extraction, processing and transportation represents only 20 to 30 percent percent of emissions, whereas consumers shoulder 70 to 80 percent of emissions, he said.

“We abolished slavery; apartheid was abolished,” he said. “So if fossil fuels are so bad, why don’t we boycott them? We realize that boycotting fossil fuels might involve some real sacrifices. Now I have not heard of any fossil fuel activist make any real sacrifices, so how can they tell us to?”

Yet the divestment movement has seen a success at several colleges, such as Georgetown, Stanford and University of Washington. To what end?

The divestment movement only targets publicly traded companies, which produce a tiny amount of carbon fuels. The larger global players are privately traded companies, and thus the divestment movement has no effect on these as they are not traded on the stock market, he said.

Fossil fuels aren’t the hideous monsters they are presented to be, he argued. In fact, the increasing use of fossil fuels since the 1850s is in tandem with an increase in life expectancy of people in both developed and developing nations, increasing from 28 years in 1820 to 71 years in 2000, on average. This is also paralleled with an increase in body size and standard of living over the years, he added.

Fossil fuels also help deliver foods faster and farther than ever before, fighting poverty and hunger and helping economies thrive, he said.

Carbon fuels led to railroads, which can carry enormous loads of food over long distances. Now each region, instead of trying to feed itself, specializes in creating what its best at, making food affordable and increasing prosperity and development, he said.

In the past, “backyard chickens were not a lifestyle statement; it was a necessity,” Desrochers said.

He also dismissed the notion that fossil fuels lead to global warming.

“Climate changes all the time,” he said.

Meanwhile, even University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel has dismissed students’ pleas to divest from fossil fuels, telling protesters in a statement that while he appreciates their “commitment and passion,” their request is not “linked to immoral and unethical actions and ideologies.”

“Fossil fuels enable us to operate the university, to conduct research and to provide patient care,” he said. “At this moment, there is no viable alternative to fossil fuels at the necessary scale. In addition, most of the same companies that extract or use fossil fuels are also investing heavily in a transition to natural gas or renewables, in response to market forces and regulatory activity.”

Originally published by The College Fix.

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About Aayushi Madani

Aayushi Madani is a freshman at the University of Michigan studying Economics and Math. She is an active contributor to the Review. When she's not writing, she can be found swimming, reading in the Arb or painting with an orange marker to her heart's content.
  • 不错,不错,看看了!

  • erictheredone

    Maybe in other countries but not here in the USA. The oil companies are able to keep a portion of their own money, normally paid in taxes, for expenses such as exploration but not granted huge sums of money confiscated from others like Solar.

  • Debra Rowe

    Fossil feels get 400% the subsidies that are given to Solar, according to the well respected international energy agency. Also read the studies that I’ve mentioned above and educate yourselves before portraying yourself as an expert. I owned a business that does this, I’ve taught it at the college level for over 35 years, and it’s really sad how uneducated some of these comments are

  • erictheredone

    The reality is that solar is not yet efficient enough to replace fossil fuels to power civilization. In fact hydrogen is probably the replacement for fossil fuel. But of course as long as solar is subsidized you will keep eating at the trough of the tax payer.

  • Debra Rowe

    I have been installing solar energy systems and energy efficiency equipment for over 35 years and what it does for the economy and the environment is positive and reality. Saying there are 700+ scientists questioning climate change versus the many tens of thousands who have done valid research showing there is climate change from the combustion of fossil feels just shows how you were looking at a limited supply a slice of biased information

  • freshair

    The entire spectrum of coal is unhealthy, dangerous, damages land and water resources, produces toxic emissions and millions of tons of coal ash. We need to stop using coal just on its unhealthful effects on citizens, but climate change presents another valid reason on a global scale to get rid of it.

  • Me Again

    Such stupid indoctrinated uneducated idiots

  • Me Again

    Debra Im concerned when ppl with no brains make statements like yours.Climate change is UN Agenda 2030, check out the link, around now for 50+ years Also could also findon internet any number 700+ scientists that rebuke climate change, OPEN YOUR BRAIN TO THE TRUTH

  • erictheredone

    Ah so clever…Fox News. Um yes.

  • erictheredone

    According to…..get back to us when it is reality.

  • nu luna

    It’s really telling that UofM invited this hack to be a credible speaker. Much like many other iconic institutions, we see that they are now under the thumb of industry and special interests. Climate always changes & fossil fuel is environmentally beneficial – um, no. Maybe they should just broadcast future speakers directly through Fox News.

  • Debra Rowe

    According to Mark Jacobson at the Stanford Energy Institute, there is a large scale alternative to fossil fuels that is much less damaging and it is renewable energies combined with energy efficiency. The national renewable energy labs has also issued studies showing that we can reach up to 80% of our energy needs with renewables and efficiency. The statement of the speaker that the climate always changes and there is nothing different now is scientifically inaccurate and not supported by the preponderance of evidence. I’m very concerned that such a non-expert speaker was presented as an expert particularly on the topic of climate change.