The war on fossil fuels vs God’s providence in a fallen world
Politicians and environmental activists appear to believe that the use of fossil fuels is such a problem for the well-being of the earth that it is necessary to wage a ‘war’ against their use. There are two primary concerns which they have: 1) that fossil fuels lead to global warming and need to be curtailed (see the response by Don Batten, a CMI Senior Scientist: A biblical and scientific approach to climate change), and 2) that fossil fuel resources will run out soon. How should Bible-believing Christians respond to this second concern?
We need to begin our consideration with a key premise—God is gracious toward mankind even when we don’t deserve any demonstration of his goodness toward us. As Jesus stated: “For he [God] makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Matthew 5:45). Jesus indicates that God distributes his acts of general grace upon all mankind, even upon those who are in rebellion against him.
Surprisingly, God’s gifts of grace toward mankind can be found at times as promises of later blessings even while God is applying curses and punishments against sin—that is, there are often blessings within curses.
The first blessing within a curse
We find the first instance of a blessing within a curse expressed to Eve’s offspring after the Fall. God stated, “I will put enmity between you [Satan, in the form of the serpent] and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3:15).
Since Satan does not reproduce and have children in the sense in which mankind multiplies, we must understand the first part of the verse to be speaking metaphorically of non-physical seed. Those who are the seed of Satan are all those who will continue forever in their rebellion against God. Those who are the seed of the woman are those whom God redeems and purifies from their sins. This differentiation is supported in other places in Scripture. Those who persist in sinning and do not repent are children of Satan (John 8:44; Ephesians 2:1–3; 1 John 3:8–10). Those who do submit to God’s calling are the spiritual offspring of God (John 1:12; John 11:52).
Genesis 3:15 shifts from a collective offspring to a singular offspring, referred to as “he”. Although the “he” is not named, it is clear from elsewhere in Scripture that this is an early prophetic reference to the Messiah, who would be born of the line of the woman (Galatians 4:4). This verse teaches that the Messiah would be a man since he would be a descendant of the woman but would also be more than a man since he would defeat a fallen angelic being—Satan. We now know that this prophecy was fulfilled through the Incarnation, in which God appeared in the form of the God-man—Jesus. Through his death and resurrection, Jesus blessed mankind. He defeated Satan, conquered death, and provided the only means of escape for us from sin and everlasting death (1 Corinthians 15:56–57; Hebrews 2:14).
Other blessings within curses
As God’s revelation unfolds, we find that he often provides explicit statements of blessings, or hints of blessings, within curses. We will note only three examples:
- Adam’s curse was linked to the curse upon the ground, “cursed is the ground because of you”, and involved painful toil and eventual physical death; but there is a hint of blessing in the statement “you shall eat” (Genesis 3:17–19). Mankind has always been provided with resources to produce enough food—if it were not for human selfishness, political oppression, and wars disrupting supply chains. Likewise, mankind was given a mandate to work the ground to survive, indicating that even though work would be difficult it is still a blessing since it provides sustenance for mankind. Adam was given the ground to plow, not a grave to possess.
- After their sin, Adam and Eve may have wished to remain in God’s garden, where the trees provided fine fruit for the picking and there was no need for hard toil to produce food. But God drove them out of his garden to protect them and to provide for them as well as to punish them. The expulsion was a blessing because it humbled them and prevented them from living forever apart from God. It encouraged them and their offspring to consider what they had given up, but with the hope that a redeemer would come (Genesis 3:15).
- We are told that a person who is hung on a tree (cross) is cursed (Deuteronomy 21:23; Galatians 3:13); yet Jesus took that curse upon himself to redeem mankind.
Even as God curses people for their rebellion, as a means of punishment, his purpose is ultimately to bless mankind through the redemption offered by the Messiah and enabled through the gift of faith (Ephesians 2:8) and repentance (Acts 17:30).
A blessing from within the curse of the Flood
The Flood was a curse inflicted upon all mankind because of their excessive sin (Genesis 6:5–7). Only the eight persons in the ark survived the Flood. In addition, the Flood caused massive collateral damage for the land-based and air-borne creatures, who were all destroyed, and also for many sea creatures. We see the evidence of this destruction in the vast quantities of fossils. Yet, through means of this great cataclysm, God has given to mankind, believer and unbeliever alike, provisions to live in the fallen world.
God provided the antediluvian world with natural resources such as metals (Genesis 4:22) and wood (Genesis 6:14). However, it was through hydrological and geological mechanics associated with the Flood, that God endowed the earth with extensive coal, oil, and natural gas reserves; and other features such as huge salt domes, massive limestone, marble, and chalk formations; and large concentrations of potash, metals, and metallic ores. In the midst of judgement, God graciously provided for the future sustenance of mankind. The resources produced by the Flood are a blessed providence, which God has given to us to use responsibly. However, we need to recognize that extraction of fossil fuels is potentially dangerous for workers, and harmful pollutants from internal combustion engines include nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, and particulate matter. The stewardship mandate calls for us to minimize harm by using fuels in better, safer, and cleaner ways where possible.
While it is true that coal, oil, natural gas, metals, and minerals are finite, this does not mean that there are insufficient resources to meet mankind’s current and future needs. The doomsayers like the Club of Rome in its book, The Limits to Growth , and others, claim that we are consuming natural resources at such a pace that we will run out of them soon. Thus, they claim, we need to preserve them for future inhabitants of the earth or leave them in the ground. In a well-publicised bet (for $10,000) in 1980, between the economist Julian Simon and an environmentalist Paul Ehrlich, Ehrlich insisted that commodities would become more expensive, but Simon predicted that real prices (discounting for inflation) would fall as additional reserves were discovered, usage efficiency improved, and we substituted less expensive resources for more expensive ones.1
Clearly prices can rise (temporarily) when there are global supply-chain issues resulting from wars or pandemics, or as new demand for raw materials materializes such as when countries such as China and Vietnam industrialized or when rare-earth metals are used as catalysts in new manufacturing processes or for inclusion in new components (e.g. in electric vehicles). However, the long-term trend in almost every category of natural resource has been growth in known reserves, reduced extraction costs, improved efficiency in their use, and lower real vs nominal prices.2 Using oil as an example, the proven reserves pool will likely continue to grow for some time, as extraction technologies (e.g. fracking and ‘walking rigs’) improve, and extraction costs decline. Also, the prediction for when global peak-oil production will be reached continues to be pushed out.3
Can renewable alternatives immediately replace fossil fuels?
In 2022, 61% of the world’s electricity is generated through burning coal, oil, or natural gas. Some is generated using radioactive isotopes (10% nuclear power) and some is generated by flowing water (16% hydro power). Only a small percentage is generated in other ways (e.g. biomass, geothermal, wind, waves, solar panels).4
The rush by some governments and environmentalists to replace within a decade or so the generation of electricity using fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas) or nuclear fuels with renewable alternatives is misguided. In time, production of electricity via solar and wind technology may become more efficient and through innovation these technologies may eventually be able to be used in place of fossil fuels, but current progress is painfully slow. The plan to replace 71% of the world’s means of producing electricity in a short timeframe with windmills and solar panels appears not to consider seriously two key challenges:
- The low energy density of wind and solar as sources for electricity when compared to fossil fuels or nuclear power.5
- The cost of providing large energy storage capacity, such as batteries, for when the sun does not shine, and the wind does not blow.6
Over the next 10-20 years it will be impractical for the developed world to continue to meet its demand for electricity using wind or solar generation technologies alone. The problem will be more serious if the push continues to replace cars using internal combustion engines with electric vehicles over the next five to ten years. This will cause an unrealistic increase in demand for electricity.7 Also, it will be difficult for less developed countries to make economic advances if they cannot use fossil fuels to generate electricity and are expected to use renewable alternatives. Access to inexpensive fossil fuels has allowed western nations to improve their standard of living. It would be immoral to stop other, developing nations from doing the same. The rush to change to renewables may also drive many people and nations into poverty, and lead to vulnerable people suffering during cold winters.
Natural resources, a blessing for mankind’s use
We do not need to worry about running out of natural resources. We trust that God has provided more than sufficient resources to meet our current and future needs, especially in light of his plans and promises (Genesis 1:28; Genesis 9:1).
There are significant flaws in the world’s thinking about natural resources.
- Most environmentalists believe a faulty premise—that the world is ~4.5 billion years old, and that it will continue to exist for billions of years more. However, the world was created about 6,000 years ago and the resources made available by God through the Flood will provide for mankind, according to his purposes.
- They ignore the truth that God has endowed humans with creativity. Human ingenuity will be able to improve the efficiency of both the extraction and utilization of resources8, including the use of hydrocarbon fuels, and the invention of alternatives. A ‘war on fossil fuels’ is not required.
- The belief that we will run out of resources shortly if we don’t take radical action immediately is misguided. We have time to address a potential scarcity of fossil fuels. Even if some resources become scarce, we will find ways to use resources more efficiently, recycle them, or use resource substitutes—such as synthetic hydrocarbon fuels9 or pure hydrogen.10
After the Flood, God made a promise to Noah:
“I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done. While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.” (Genesis 8:21–22).
We can rely on God’s promise even as we responsibly use the natural resources he has provided for us for the advancement of mankind’s welfare and prosperity.
We thank God for his dispensations of general, common grace upon all mankind, even in the midst of the curse of the Flood. And we thank him for his blessed gift of salvation to mankind through the work of Jesus Christ upon the cross, which will also address the decay the rest of creation is experiencing (Romans 8:19–22; 2 Peter 3:11–13).
References and notes
- www.forbes.com/sites/timworstall/2013/01/13/but-why-did-julian-simon-win-the-paul-ehrlich-bet/?sh=6bad10c71b03. Return to text.
- For example, world-wide proven reserves of oil in 1980 were around 642 trillion barrels. In 2020, the known reserves had reached 1,732 trillion barrels (an increase of 270%), while demand for oil went up during the same period by about 60%. At the 2022 consumption rate for oil, of about 100 million barrels per day, the proven reserves of oil will last about 50 years; www.statista.com/statistics/236657/global-crude-oil-reserves-since-1990. Return to text.
- Also, this does not include coal liquefaction. Oil can be extracted from coal, and the world has massive reserves of coal—proven reserves at the end of 2020 were estimated to be 1.1 trillion tons and would last (at current consumption rates) for over 150 years; www.statista.com/statistics/265450/global-proved-reserves-of-coal. Return to text.
- www.worldenergydata.org/world-electricity-generation. Return to text.
- wattsupwiththat.com/2020/10/18/the-truth-behind-renewable-energy. Return to text.
- Wall Street Journal, 2022:05:27: www.wsj.com/articles/americas-summer-of-rolling-blackouts-green-energy-grid-north-american-electric-reliability-corporation-11653683348?mod=opinion_lead_pos1. Return to text.
- Al Root, Tesla’s Musk Says U.S. Electricity Production Needs to Double to Power Transition to EV Vehicles, 2021-10-01; www.barrons.com/articles/tesla-elon-musk-electric-vehicle-production-51633202912. Return to text.
- As an example of technological progress, consider improvements in computer data storage. The first hard drive system unveiled by IBM in 1956, could hold roughly 250MB on 50 spinning disks that occupied the space of two refrigerators and weighed a ton. Today you can carry one thousand times as much data on a thumb drive on your key chain that costs less than $40. Return to text.
- For example, using electricity generated in nuclear power facilities to produce synthetic hydrocarbon fuels; energypost.eu/extract-co2-from-our-air-use-it-to-create-synthetic-fuels. Return to text.
- www.fchea.org/in-transition/2020/5/11/using-nuclear-power-to-produce-green-hydrogen. Return to text.