Sunday 23 November 2014

The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels

Yes you did read the title correctly. But then it shouldn't be surprising that there is a moral case to be made for the thing that has allowed billions of people to escape crushing poverty and premature death over the past hundred and fifty years. Perhaps it should be surprising that a moral case has to be made at all, as we sit in centrally heated houses with electric lights playing on machines that allow us to access the sum total of human knowledge. If we get bored of this and want to go outside, we can travel to basically anywhere in the world inside twenty-four hours. All of this and more is made possible by burning large amounts of fossil fuels – and yet who has a good word to say for them?

In his new book - The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels - Alex Epstein seeks to take back the ethical argument from those who would restrict their use, pointing out that the kind of restrictions being proposed to fight anthropogenic global warming amount to a 'guaranteed early death sentence for billions'. He makes the case that solar and wind stand no chance of replacing fossils any time soon and are in some ways more resource heavy and toxic to the environment. He looks at the recent German experiment and explains how energy output figures are presented selectively to make it appear more viable than it really is. Whilst this is not a book specifically on climate science, Epstein does devote a substantial section to explaining why he thinks that the science is more speculative than settled.

An interesting axiom of the book, Epstein takes human life as his standard of moral value and views this whole issue through this lens. This is in contrast to the idea that human non-interference with the natural world should be our goal. So for Epstein, any impact we maybe having on the climate isn't necessarily bad, but rather it must be asked how it impacts human life. So for example to just ask the question 'Are extreme weather events increasing?' (A point which he disputes), is too narrow. Rather we must ask 'how safe is the climate for human beings now as compared to pre-fossil fuel times?' As it turns out the climate is the safest it's ever been for human beings. Epstein points out that drought, for example, used to mean starvation, now we can use fossil fuels to move water around it means the price of strawberry goes up!

I'd recommend this book to anyone concerned by anthropogenic global warming as a presentation of the other side of the case, as well as a serious discussion on the morality and implications of restricting fossil fuel use. It's also frankly nice to read a book that has a positive message about the future of the world we live in, placing our collective destiny back in our own hands.

You can download the first chapter for free at -

There are lots of interviews with Alex Epstein on youtube, I'll just recommend this one (where I first heard him) on the Tom Woods show -  

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