December 2 2014
Quote of the Day:
How the Indonesians must have laughed when they were told to hold back on their fossil-fueled economic ascent by John “Five Homes” Kerry! By first accepting and then welcoming the role of fossil fuels in our lives, we can move on to a more interesting discussion about the balance between human welfare and our faith in—or distrust of—technology’s evolution.
--Philip Delves Broughton in today’s Wall Street Journal
Remember how endless studies found that the Keystone Pipeline XL, which would give us energy from a (still) friendly country and create thousands of jobs for Americans, would not pose a threat to the environment?
Such studies moved the implacable environmentalist foes of the pipeline not a whit. Because, after all, these are fossil fuels. Progressives hate fuels created by the decay of prehistoric animals.
So my interest was piqued by a headline in today’s Wall Street Journal: “Making ‘The Moral Case for Fossil Fuel.’”It was over a review of a new book, The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels, by Alex Epstein, an energy advocate and founder of a for-profit think tank called the Center for Industrial Progress. The reviewer is Philip Delves Broughton, who writes on business.
Broughton makes the case that life would be pretty difficult without fossil fuels:
If you drive a car, or use modern medicine, or believe in man’s right to economic progress, then according to Alex Epstein you should be grateful—more than grateful. In “The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels” the author, an energy advocate and founder of a for-profit think tank called the Center for Industrial Progress, suggests that if all you had to rely on were the good intentions of environmentalists, you would be soon plunged back into a pre-industrial hell. Life expectancy would plummet, climate-related deaths would soar, and the only way that Timberland and Whole Foods could ship their environmentally friendly clothing and food would be by mule. “Being forced to rely on solar, wind, and biofuels would be a horror beyond anything we can imagine,” writes Mr. Epstein, “as a civilization that runs on cheap, plentiful, reliable energy would see its machines dead, its productivity destroyed, its resources disappearing.”
Despite the benefits of fossil fuels, they are not popular with certain people. One climate scientist proposes that energy CEOs should be “tried for high crimes against humanity and nature.” Another prominent environmentalist, Bill McKibben has called the fossil fuel business “a rogue industry, reckless like no other force on Earth. It is Public Enemy Number One to the survival of our planetary civilization.”
And how doe Epstein respond? He argues:
“Mankind’s use of fossil fuels is supremely virtuous—because human life is the standard of value, and because using fossil fuels transforms our environment to make it wonderful for human life.”
According to Broughton, Epstein argues that there has been so much innovation in the energy field that fossil fuels are now more environmentally safe than before. New sources are also constantly being discovered, abrogating the argument that we will run out of fossil fuels anyway and might as well stop using them before that happens.
The review also deals with the popular move to reduce global carbon by taxing carbon. But do we want to see the end of the progress and prosperity produced by fracking? And of course for the U.S. to curtail carbon emissions while the rest of the globe doesn’t won’t do much for the environment. The review concludes:
To argue for lower carbon emissions is usually to walk into a giant hypocrisy trap. How the Indonesians must have laughed when they were told to hold back on their fossil-fueled economic ascent by John “Five Homes” Kerry! By first accepting and then welcoming the role of fossil fuels in our lives, we can move on to a more interesting discussion about the balance between human welfare and our faith in—or distrust of—technology’s evolution.
Until then, Alex Epstein’s moral defense of the means we choose to power our societies forward is a pointed, necessary and surprisingly little-heard one.
Epstein is taking this discussion where it needs to go—and it will be interesting to see if environmentalists will engage in argument. So far they have preferred smears.