The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels

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Note: I got the 2014 edition of this book via Interlibrary Loan from the University of Vermont. (Yes, even in Vermont, their state school allows dissent from standard progressive ideology.) But there's a "revised and updated" 2020 edition out there, so caveat lector.

Alex Epstein makes probably the best case for "drill, baby, drill" when it comes to oil production. More controversially, it's "dig, baby, dig" for coal. And "frack, baby, frack"… well, you get the point.

Heresy! And yet, I found it mostly persuasive. Epstein's primary point is (surprisingly) philosophical, arguing that human flourishing should be the primary standard for judging public policy generally, and energy policy specifically. This is in contrast to the inherent misanthropy of mainstream environmentalism, which holds pristine nature up as the ideal state, something that sinful humanity harms in multiple ways.

Yes, Ayn Rand is cited in the "Acknowledgments" section.

Epstein says: sure, Mother Nature can be (indeed) beautiful. But Mom is also a psycho killer bitch. Back in pre-industrial millennia when we "lived in harmony with nature", she was busy condemning us to short lifespans, filth, famine, disaster, poverty, infant mortality, and disease. Not to mention plenty of deadly violence, fighting over a zero-sum pie. We've changed that game to our benefit with many tools, but the primary one was our harnessing of the concentrated energy of fossil fuels.

Epstein's repeated mantra about fossil fuels: they are "cheap, plentiful, and reliable". Often with an associated point: the associated technology is "scalable". The touted replacements for fossil fuels fall short on one or more of those attributes. To the extent that we're coerced into "going green", we are effectively condemning billions of people to remain in poverty, living (and dying) according to Mother Nature's murderous whims. And by denying ourselves the benefits of fossil fuels, we're miring ourselves in a low-growth (or even degrowth) road-to-serfdom economy.

Epstein is dubious about climate change doomsaying. He would, for example, scoff at our local "Granite Geek", who opened a recent blog post with "Nobody in their right mind can downplay the unfolding disaster of the climate emergency now that global evidence has, unfortunately, become overwhelming." (That article was mainly about a town's inability to buy electric golf carts. But hey, let's insert some gratuitous alarmism.)

In addtion to skepticism, Epstein suggests that adaptation to whatever climate the greenhouse effect causes is the optimal way to go. A scenario with cheap, plentiful, reliable energy will generate riches, which can be used to alleviate whatever the climate throws at us.

I plan to check out his newest book, Fossil Future, when I get the chance. Bryan Caplan loves it, which is the only recommendation I need.

Last Modified 2024-01-15 5:21 AM EST