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The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels - Alex Epstein


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[amazonsearch]The Moral Case For Fossil Fuels[/amazonsearch]

 

I saw the review in today's WSJ and it reminded me to make a thread. I thought this book was fantastic. It very clearly explains a lot of ideas that I've personally been thinking about for a while. The most interesting points were the explicit identification of human life as the standard of value and the idea that resources are created. It's a quick read and worth picking up if you're looking for a different viewpoint on the fossil fuels debate.

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please forgive the slight hijack of this thread but it brings to mind a question that has been bugging me for a while and i wonder if any of you have any insight into it.

 

The question is where did ALL the oil, gas and coal originally come from?

 

The standard answer that I have always seen is that it came from vegetation millions of years ago being fossilized. This answer has been very unsatisfying for me because it brings up these questions.

 

How is it possible that ALL of the fossil fuels came from vegetation by my very nonscientific back of the envelop kind of thinking it just doesn't seem possible that all of that fuel, not just the stuff we can get to but all of it, all the stuff that is over 10 miles down, all the stuff under the bottom of the ocean, all of it that is so dispersed that we can't pull it out. all of it that has been seeping out into the oceans for those last millions of years all came from the vegetation on the surface of the earth.

 

If you took all the vegetation on the surface of the earth now and fossilized it just how much BOE would it produce?

 

And lets also take into account that all that vegetation millions of years ago had to become fossilized. how much of our current vegetation is becoming fossilized? are we making more fossil fuels now? what was so different millions of years ago that we made fossil fuels then but not now?

 

Then also how did it get down into the ground so far? what caused there to be MASSIVE pockets of coal miles down that is miles deep? how would that much vegetation end up piled up on top of each other in a way that it would be turned into fossil fuels? How did so much oil ended up miles down under the ocean bottom, what caused that.

 

I know that much smarter people then I were the ones to say that this is where fossil fuels come from, so maybe I should just accept what they say as fact but each time I hear about it I end up feeling very unsatisfied with the answer. anyone else have any insight or better theories about where all the fossil fuels come from?

 

 

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Smallcap, on the human scale, the Earth seems very static, but on geological scales (the planet is about 4.5 billion years old), things are quite dynamic. The earth's crust cycles around quite a bit, and in comparison, biomass (esp. aglae and plankton, since 70% of the planet is currently covered in water and more of it was during warmer periods) grows incredibly rapidly (try to visualize how much biomass is produced over just 1 million years just in the amazon forest (to put things in perspective, what we consider 'ancient' history is maybe 2-3 thousand years old). Now multiply that by a much larger surface, over hundreds of millions of years).

 

These are time scales and volume scales that our brains simply haven't evolved to intuitively grasp, so that's why you have to trust the math and the evidence uncovered by scientists (which you can verify for yourself if you are so inclined -- you can read up on all these topics if they interest you, it's all available at the library, in various journals, or via books on amazon).

 

Good starting point: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Petroleum

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geology

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And then there's the "abiotic theory": http://seekingalpha.com/instablog/400230-vinod-dar/47079-abiotic-oil-and-gas-a-theory-that-refuses-to-vanish

 

Disclaimer: I don't subscribe to this theory myself.

 

As for the book, there's no doubt the easy energy obtained from fossil fuels has contributed to improving quality of life all over the world. The problem is that we may be incurring a future cost that will make us look foolish in the long term. The summary on Amazon tells me all I need to know about the book and its author.

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There is also the fact that hydrocarbons are found elsewhere in the solar system besides Earth.  To the best of my knowledge there has never been dinosaurs nor plankton on Titan.  I am not necessarily buying the abiotic theory whole cloth, but it is feasible that at least some of the Earth's hydrocarbons are not derived from once living organisms.

 

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And then there's the "abiotic theory": http://seekingalpha.com/instablog/400230-vinod-dar/47079-abiotic-oil-and-gas-a-theory-that-refuses-to-vanish

 

Disclaimer: I don't subscribe to this theory myself.

 

As for the book, there's no doubt the easy energy obtained from fossil fuels has contributed to improving quality of life all over the world. The problem is that we may be incurring a future cost that will make us look foolish in the long term. The summary on Amazon tells me all I need to know about the book and its author.

 

Very interesting. Epstein actually mentions that there are other theories on hydrocarbon creation in the book. I'd made a mental note to check them out because all I'd heard of was the plant material theory, but by the end I'd completely forgotten.

 

One of the many valuable things I got from this book is a wider perspective on the issue of energy itself. What constitutes 'easy energy' is contextual. The process of making fossil fuels into a resource is a complex, technological phenomenon. Unfortunately, there are billions of people for whom it is not easy (compared to the west), and their lives are shorter, dirtier, and less enjoyable because of it.

 

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