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Will We Ever Stop Using Fossil Fuels?


  • Thomas Covert
  • Michael Greenstone
  • Christopher R. Knittel


Scientists believe significant climate change is unavoidable without a drastic reduction in the emissions of greenhouse gases from the combustion of fossil fuels. However, few countries have implemented comprehensive policies that price this externality or devote serious resources to developing low-carbon energy sources. In many respects, the world is betting that we will greatly reduce the use of fossil fuels because we will run out of inexpensive fossil fuels (there will be decreases in supply) and/or technological advances will lead to the discovery of less-expensive low-carbon technologies (there will be decreases in demand). The historical record indicates that the supply of fossil fuels has consistently increased over time and that their relative price advantage over low-carbon energy sources has not declined substantially over time. Without robust efforts to correct the market failures around greenhouse gases, relying on supply and/or demand forces to limit greenhouse gas emissions is relying heavily on hope.

Suggested Citation

  • Thomas Covert & Michael Greenstone & Christopher R. Knittel, 2016. "Will We Ever Stop Using Fossil Fuels?," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 30(1), pages 117-138, Winter.
  • Handle: RePEc:aea:jecper:v:30:y:2016:i:1:p:117-38
    Note: DOI: 10.1257/jep.30.1.117

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    Cited by:

    1. Dengler, Sebastian & Gerlagh, Reyer & Trautmann, Stefan T. & van de Kuilen, Gijs, 2018. "Climate policy commitment devices," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 92(C), pages 331-343.
    2. Hannula, I. & Reiner, D., 2017. "The race to solve the sustainable transport problem via carbon-neutral synthetic fuels and battery electric vehicles," Cambridge Working Papers in Economics 1758, Faculty of Economics, University of Cambridge.
    3. Krane, Jim, 2017. "Beyond 12.5: The implications of an increase in Saudi crude oil production capacity," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 110(C), pages 542-547.
    4. Xu, Shang & Allen Klaiber, H., 2019. "The impact of new natural gas pipelines on emissions and fuel consumption in China," Resource and Energy Economics, Elsevier, vol. 55(C), pages 49-62.
    5. Casey, Gregory, "undated". "Energy Efficiency and Directed Technical Change: Implications for Climate Change Mitigation," 2017 Annual Meeting, July 30-August 1, Chicago, Illinois 259959, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association.
    6. Lucas W. Davis, 2017. "The Environmental Cost of Global Fuel Subsidies," The Energy Journal, International Association for Energy Economics, vol. 0(KAPSARC S).
    7. James W. Murray, 2016. "Limitations of Oil Production to the IPCC Scenarios: The New Realities of US and Global Oil Production," Biophysical Economics and Resource Quality, Springer, vol. 1(2), pages 1-13, December.
    8. Subhash C. Ray & Kankana Mukherjee & Anand Venkatesh, 2016. "Nonparametric Measures of Efficiency in the Presence of Undesirable Outputs: A By-production Approach with Weak Disposability," Working papers 2016-04, University of Connecticut, Department of Economics.
    9. Oracio I. Barbosa-Ayala & Jhon A. Montañez-Barrera & Cesar E. Damian-Ascencio & Adriana Saldaña-Robles & J. Arturo Alfaro-Ayala & Jose Alfredo Padilla-Medina & Sergio Cano-Andrade, 2020. "Solution to the Economic Emission Dispatch Problem Using Numerical Polynomial Homotopy Continuation," Energies, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 13(17), pages 1-15, August.
    10. Krane, Jim & Medlock, Kenneth B., 2018. "Geopolitical dimensions of US oil security," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 114(C), pages 558-565.
    11. Rafael Estevez & Laura Aguado-Deblas & Alejandro Posadillo & Beatriz Hurtado & Felipa M. Bautista & José M. Hidalgo & Carlos Luna & Juan Calero & Antonio A. Romero & Diego Luna, 2019. "Performance and Emission Quality Assessment in a Diesel Engine of Straight Castor and Sunflower Vegetable Oils, in Diesel/Gasoline/Oil Triple Blends," Energies, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 12(11), pages 1-13, June.
    12. Chiara Ravetti & Tania Theoduloz & Giulia Valacchi, 2020. "Buy Coal or Kick-Start Green Innovation? Energy Policies in an Open Economy," Environmental & Resource Economics, Springer;European Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, vol. 77(1), pages 95-126, September.
    13. Tsigaris, Panagiotis & Wood, Joel, 2016. "A simple climate-Solow model for introducing the economics of climate change to undergraduate students," International Review of Economics Education, Elsevier, vol. 23(C), pages 65-81.
    14. Roberts, Gavin & Barbier, Edward & van 't Veld, Klaas, 2019. "Global emissions from crude oil: The effect of oil-deposit heterogeneity," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 132(C), pages 654-664.
    15. Subhash C. Ray & Kankana Mukherjee & Anand Venkatesh, 2018. "Nonparametric measures of efficiency in the presence of undesirable outputs: a by-production approach," Empirical Economics, Springer, vol. 54(1), pages 31-65, February.
    16. Taishi Sugiyama & John A. “Skip” Laitner, 2017. "Rapid innovation to mitigate global warming," CIGS Working Paper Series 17-005E, The Canon Institute for Global Studies.
    17. Gianluca ORSATTI, 2019. "Public R&D and green knowledge diffusion:\r\nEvidence from patent citation data," Cahiers du GREThA (2007-2019) 2019-17, Groupe de Recherche en Economie Théorique et Appliquée (GREThA).
    18. Rios-Festner, Daniel & Blanco, Gerardo & Olsina, Fernando, 2020. "Long-term assessment of power capacity incentives by modeling generation investment dynamics under irreversibility and uncertainty," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 137(C).
    19. Rios, Daniel & Blanco, Gerardo & Olsina, Fernando, 2019. "Integrating Real Options Analysis with long-term electricity market models," Energy Economics, Elsevier, vol. 80(C), pages 188-205.
    20. G. Cornelis van Kooten, 2016. "California Dreaming: The Economics of Renewable Energy," Working Papers 2016-05, University of Victoria, Department of Economics, Resource Economics and Policy Analysis Research Group.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • Q35 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Nonrenewable Resources and Conservation - - - Hydrocarbon Resources
    • Q42 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Energy - - - Alternative Energy Sources
    • Q53 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics - - - Air Pollution; Water Pollution; Noise; Hazardous Waste; Solid Waste; Recycling
    • Q58 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics - - - Environmental Economics: Government Policy
    • Q48 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Energy - - - Government Policy


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