Should we spend or invest our fossil fuel inheritance?

In many ways, fossil fuels resemble an inheritance for the human race. We did nothing to create fossil fuels, yet we enjoy the vast benefits and wealth they generate. Nature produced fossil fuels from plants that stored sunlight energy millions of years ago, plants that did not fully decay but were condensed into coal, oil, and natural gas by geological forces. This gift of nature provided us with an energy savings account that has allowed us to build our modern civilization.

Now the question is whether we should continue to spend this inheritance, or to invest it. By “spend”, I mean to continue to burn fossil fuels for our everyday energy needs. By “invest”, I mean use fossil fuels to build solar and wind systems that can generate energy essentially forever.

You can liken it to two siblings spending their inheritance. One wildly spends their windfall inheritance on a lavish lifestyle until the money runs out, while the other wisely invests their inheritance and lives more modestly off the investment income, which does not run out. Solar energy is like that steady income. If you can live on your income, you can live forever.

Critics of renewable energy point out that we must burn fossil fuels to build the solar and wind systems, until they grow large enough to both power our society and take over building more solar and wind. These naysayers contend that spending fossil fuels to build solar will produce more greenhouse gases, and so we should prevent that. But their logic is exactly backwards.

Using fossil fuels to build renewables is an investment in our future. Without making that investment, we face a future of catastrophic climate change. The problem is not investing in renewables, the problem is spending fossil fuels to continue to power our society. Every time we use fossil fuels for ordinary energy needs, we draw down our inherited energy savings account. Every time we use fossil fuels to build solar, we are creating the means to live off our investments instead of our savings account.

So we should consider using fossil fuels for solar to be a proper use of our inheritance, while spending fossil fuels to continue to drive our SUVs is a waste of that inheritance.

4 Comments On “Should we spend or invest our fossil fuel inheritance?”

  1. I found a typo in the introduction in the Sample book text you might want to correct:

    The word “Subsidies” is spelled “Subsides”

    “Need proof that energy interests are powerful? At a time when we should be cutting back on fossil fuels, the US paid $649 billion in direct and indirect subsidies to coal, oil, and gas interests in 2015, according to the International Monetary Fund. That’s more than the entire US military budget for 2015 ($599 billion). Worldwide, fossil fuel subsides totaled $5.3 trillion, or 6.5% of global GDP. It takes considerable clout to get nations who say they are trying to control carbon emissions to instead provide that much support for maintaining those emissions.”

  2. “Equal Access to the Resources of Nature (EARN)” is a concept that must eventually be embraced if Societies and Economies are to function in a Fair and Rational Manner. “Pay for What You Take (from Nature) and Keep What You Make” goes hand in glove with “Tax Bads, Not Goods.” Using limited resources will someday include the payment of a market-based rent compensation to the Common Treasury. Land is a limited Natural Resource and Henry George, the author of “Progress and Poverty” (1879) was a proponent of a Land Value Tax or Ground Rent to be paid by those exclusively using it.

  3. Malcolm James Green

    Jack Martin was the name of my grandfather. What you are doing, building wind turbines etcetera, sounds like the sort of thing that he would love to do. My grandfather was a carpenter and son of a jeweller/clocksmith. He didn’t like giant insurance companies. A UBI in the form of Solar Dividends would probably damage the business case of Insurance Companies. Having the world work really nicely would be bad for a lot of businesses.

  4. The Handy Village Institute uses Renewable Energy (Solar & Wind) to power our shop of woodworking tools, electrical winding tools, welders, grinders, mixers to produce “Homebrew Wind Turbines”. We Have built seven of these turbines in weeklong workshops which train people in wind and turbine theory and the wood working, metal working, and electrical skills to build and maintain machines. Interest to Income.

Comments are closed.