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Oil Industry: Oil is Good for Human Health

The oil industry says the press “lacks balance” in its coverage. “In recent years, oil — a naturally-occurring energy resource — has been accused of being addictive, blamed for changing the climate, chastised for despoiling the environment and criticized for enabling the internal combustion engine,” writes American Petroleum Institute Senior Communications Manager Jane Van Ryan on the group’s blog.

What about “oil’s benefits to the health, prosperity and well being of people all over the globe?” Van Ryan asks. That’s right, in the midst of covering the country’s largest oil spill (including the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig that killed 11 Americans and injured another 17) we forgot to mention that “oil and other carbon-based fuels should be credited with saving millions of lives.”

API cites an analysis by Indur Goklany, who has served as a representative at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, but has also been very critical of policies to address climate change. In the paper, Goklany says that deaths from extreme weather have declined “despite claims that the number and intensity of extreme weather events has increased.” In explaining why deaths have been averted, he ties improvements in disaster preparedness and an increase in resources like food supply to the existence of fossil fuels time and time again.

The decline in deaths can be attributed, Goklany says, to high global food production, which is dependent on fossil fuels. Improved “fertilizers and pesticides are manufactured from fossil fuels, and energy is necessary to run irrigation pumps and machinery.” He continues:

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 eaten by the consumer. That is, they increase the overall efficiency of the food production system, which helps lower food prices and contain hunger worldwide.

Goklany also says there are fewer deaths because there is better disaster preparedness, which also is dependent on fossil fuels. Disaster preparation and response “hinges on the availability of fossil fuels to move people, food, medicine and critical humanitarian supplies before and after events strike,” he says.

In the paper, Goklany also criticizes policy approaches to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. He says that the money policymakers would like to spend on addressing climate change would be better spent “on the numerous higher priority health and safety problems plaguing humanity would provide greater returns for human well-being.” He continues: “No less important, efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions would slow, if not retard, economic development and/or make fossil fuels scarcer and more expensive thereby militating against the very factors that have reduced deaths and death rates from extreme weather events.”

Goklany did not immediately respond to a request for comment on API’s characterization of his work.

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