Alex Epstein is the author of The Moral Case For Fossil Fuels, the founder of the Center for Industrial Progress, and an unabashed advocate for the increased use of hydrocarbons. In this episode, Alex talks about the “brazenly irrational” stance of many climate activists, why the costs of using hydrocarbons are “dwarfed by the benefits,” the rise of the energy humanist movement, and his upcoming book, Fossil Future, which will be published in February 2022.
Robert Bryce 0:04
Hi, and welcome to the power hungry podcast. I’m Robert Bryce. On this podcast, we talk about energy, power, innovation and politics. And I’m sure we’re going to cover all of those today with my guest, Alex Epstein, who I’ve known for more than a decade now he’s the author of the moral case for fossil fuels. Alex, welcome to the power hungry podcast.
Alex Epstein 0:23
Hey, great to be here. And I always tell you, you’re my first guest ever. And when I when I got you, it was I was shocked that you would actually agree to do it. So you’re not shocked that I agreed to do it. But I’m glad to in some way return the favor. If it’s a favor, we’ll be here
Robert Bryce 0:37
is a favor, and you were on the podcast thing a long time before I was and it took me a while, but finally up and going. So after a year already now 62 episodes already. So going going? right along. So I didn’t warn you, Alex. But I have the guests on this podcast introduce themselves. So I’ve given you identified you as an author. But imagine you’ve arrived at the dinner party, you don’t know anyone there and you have about 30 or 45 seconds to tell people who you are. Go, yeah, that’s really a burden to put on the guests. Well, you know, I like to I like to backfoot him right away. So that’s how I roll.
Alex Epstein 1:20
I think of myself as I’m a philosopher who’s obsessed with how to think clearly about complex, controversial issues. And about 14 years ago, I became obsessed with energy, because I realized that this is the industry that powers every other industry. And I quickly concluded that the way we’re thinking about energy is very irrational, because in most fields, we look carefully at the benefits and side effects of different alternatives like we would with vaccines or antibiotics. Whereas I noticed that with fossil fuels, and nuclear, we only look for negative side effects. And with solar and wind, we only look at positives. And that kind of bias really intrigued me that while we’ve got this crucial issue, and we’re thinking about it in ways that I think are brazenly irrational, this has to Bode poorly for the future. So I got very interested in just deciding for myself, what is true and that I ended up becoming an expert in energy sort of on that quest. And then I concluded that fossil fuels are great. So I’m most known for the moral case for fossil fuels. And then my next book is fossil future. So I’m even more like I decided to write another book. Now I’m even more enthusiastic about fossil fuels. So obviously puts me in a different category than most people. But what I’ll come to over and over is I really think it’s my method of thinking that’s different. I don’t think that I’m I’m not making up a whole bunch of new facts. I’m not claiming that all experts are wrong about all the facts. But the way I put together the facts, is very different. And I think that’s ultimately based on philosophy.
Robert Bryce 2:43
Well, I’m glad you went, talked about the philosophy part of that, because I want to definitely want to come to that, because it’s it’s, I admire the work that you’ve done, because you’ve come come at it with a really fresh perspective, a different perspective than from the engineering and industry kind of mindset that has dominated. But I like that line about that brazenly irrational and, and I think that if if I were to assess what you’ve done, and I think it’s particularly important now with some of the information coming out about poly silicon production in in shinjang, right, when that? Well, wait a minute, how clean is that energy you’re producing? If it depends on slave labor? Right? So what if I would do if I would abbreviate what you just said that what you’ve done in what you the effort that you’ve made is to really have a more full accounting of the entire discussion, right, that you can only say, it’s only costs no their costs and their benefits, which I think has been the main problem with a lot of the discussions about alternatives, which I’m starting to call them alternatives instead of renewables or even greener clean. For alternatives. They’ve only talked about the the the the benefits, which is zero carbon without discussing the other parts of that which are well, slave labor for poly silicon, burden, bat deaths for wind, you know that. But anyway, is that is that a fair? Given a long, long description? Is that a fair assessment of what you? What I would distill down is, what’s your effort has been a more full accounting? Is that fair? Yeah. So full accounting,
Alex Epstein 4:14
I often talk about it as considering the full context and moral case for fossil fuels. I talked about it as looking at the big picture. I would just add one thing that so i think i when i say brazenly irrational, I mean that yeah, it’s crazy, to not carefully weigh the benefits and side effects of something. So you see something like, for instance, we have these discussions of floods right now. Like floods around the world. There’s whole question of, okay, you’re attributing this flood to the co2 emissions and are you overconfident that but if you just look at it, it’s clear that we’re way safer from floods, and we were 100 or 200 years ago, nobody talks about that. But you can look at history. It’s kind of obvious. And if you think about it at all, a big part of the reason that we’re safer is because we have low cost, reliable energy that allows us to produce cheaply the kind of infrastructure that can protect us from floods, like Clearly a benefit of fossil fuel use right now, which is 80% of our energy is protection from floods. And yet when people talk about floods, they don’t talk about the benefits of low cost reliable energy to floods, they only talk about negative side effects. And that’s like, that’s and they portray it also, as the world is worse than ever. So it’d be exactly like with vaccines, if you said, You know what, we’re more endangered from infectious disease than ever. Vaccines are causing autism or whatever are attributed to them, I think, at least mostly incorrectly, if not all incorrectly. And they ignore the fact that we had this amazing development of vaccination that protected us from all these scourges like polio, and smallpox and these terrible things. So it’s, it’s you would think you are crazy if your characterization is the world is worse, in terms of infectious diseases, and vaccines are the cause. But it’s equally fair to say, Oh, yeah, the world is worse in terms of floods, and fossil fuels are the cause. And so there’s a real question, and I think this gets to deeper issues. But why is that? How can smart people be so stupid? And this is an issue that always interests me, when I see smart people doing things that are that seem crazy? And the short answer is I often attributed to values I think there’s, there’s ultimately there after different values that and and I believe that many people whether they know it or not, their value is not what I would call advancing human flourishing on Earth. Their value is eliminating human impact on earth. And so the thing that bothers them about fossil fuels, is not that floods are more dangerous for humans, but that they think it’s just evil for us to impact nature. And so they’re just using concerns about floods, to to advocate that, which is really a religion of saying, basically, Thou shalt not impact nature, because overall, you have to say, we’re safer from climate than ever, you could talk about the future. But any talk about the future, from human perspective needs to start with, we’re safer from climate than ever. Fossil fuels are a leading cause. And when people smart people don’t say that, to me, that means that either deliberately or accidentally, their values are driving them and they’re not pro human values. They’re this idea of eliminating human impact from the earth. Well, let
Robert Bryce 7:06
me follow up on that, because I think that’s a really important point. And that idea of the values and you mentioned this idea that we’re causing a problem for the planet. And it seems to me that and I hadn’t Sally trembath is a theologian on the podcast a few weeks ago, and we talked about this idea of the Earth is the religion, right? But the it’s the worship of Earth, as the as the highest good, right. And this is occurring at the same time, that there’s been a dramatic decline in church going in American people who identify as religious, right, so that they’re the values have switched from a more community based worship of God to a more secular worship of the earth. And therefore, because hydrocarbons have an impact, and you call them fossil fuels, like oil, and hydrocarbon, have an impact on the world. And they’re, they’re dangerous, and they’re bad. And we have to eliminate them because somehow we humans are hurting the planet. And you’ve slipped that, to I did get the end your term human flourishing other people use it as well is like, is that the best way to describe it or anything? But do you see that as he said, values? And you mentioned the word religion? Is this a? Is it a religious debate? Ultimately?
Alex Epstein 8:15
I don’t think it is. It’s a philosophical debate. And you can think of religion as part like religion as a certain kind of approach to philosophy can be secular? You can I mean, I’m secular, and you can you can be secular and have this view, but it is it is true. So but I do think it’s very important that the modern idea of being anti impact anti human impact on the earth, is I think, very much a religion. I mean, for instance, it’s got this mythology about the earth, which I call the delicate nurturer premise, which is the idea that an unimpacted planet is this exists in this delicate, nurturing balance that I put it as it’s stable, sufficient and safe. But then our impact just screws everything up and leads to collapse. And you can see that assumption, this delicate nurture, assumption or premise that’s at the root of why did we believe that we’re going to have catastrophic climate cooling, and then catastrophic climate warming? It’s like no matter what we do, it’s going to be a catastrophe. And you can see Oh, wait, they attributed like, like floods and drought like that was supposed to happen when it was cooling, and when it’s warming, so you get this idea of what we inherited before we impacted it. That was perfect. And then it had a perfect co2 level, a perfect level of danger. And you see the same thing with like, with pollution, people think, Oh, yeah, if we impact the earth, of course, it’s going to be a total mess. And they don’t think about Wait, the earth itself is really dirty and dangerous. We actually overall clean it up, make it dirty, in some ways. We make it cleaner and healthier and a lot more ways. And then with resources, there’s this view that Oh, yeah, the Earth is just, it has this fixed pot of natural resources, and we’re gobbling them up too quickly versus no Earth has a whole bunch of raw matter and energy, most of which is not very useful to us at all, absent human ingenuity that transforms it into resources. So it’s just This delicate nurture premise, that’s, that’s a faith. You cannot believe that idea based on reason. And yet that is pervasive. Like you can look at the Lion King movie, you can look at the most elite articles by Paul Ehrlich. And john Holdren, it’s a delicate nurture, in my view of know, the true thing is what I call the wild potential premise Earth is wild potential. So it’s, it’s dynamic, it’s deficient, and it’s dangerous. And human beings need to intelligently impact it a lot. And so it’s just that and also the goal of eliminating human impact that is not you cannot justify that in a secular way. Because impact is essential to life. So you cannot justify to human beings, you should eliminate your impact on Earth, any more than you could justify to a bear. Hey, Bear, you should minimize bear impact. They’re gonna wait, no, you want me to kill myself, there’s there can be no secular justification for that. It has to be Oh, there’s something above you. And in this case, it’s an unimpacted planet. But notice, it’s always it’s just unimpacted by humans. And so it’s not even as as noble as like an unimpacted planet or a stable thing. It’s specifically against humans. So it’s just saying human impact is evil. And so it really has a whole human hatred is a big psychological dynamic of this particular religion.
Robert Bryce 11:13
Yeah, I agree with that. I’ll just add it to that what you’re saying about this unimpacted planet this, this delicate nurture, it just it rhymes with Garden of Eden, right? It runs. Only we go back to those pre industrial days when I mean, you even see this in that for in the beginning pages of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, right? There was a time I’m paraphrasing. There was a time when humans lived in harmony with the earth and then it all went bad. And but that mythology, that idea of somehow, oh, we despoiled the planet. I think that’s at the root of a lot of this. And
Alex Epstein 11:46
especially the popularization, I think I think a lot of the leaders because if you said if I say how do you write Robert, like I just meet you, and I’m like, Okay, this is a nice guy. And he’s got a family seems to care about his life wants to be happy. If I’m like, hey, Robert, let’s just, let’s just sacrifice everything we want. So that we can so that this earth God, which doesn’t even have a consciousness in this view, so that like it can remain unimpacted you’d be like, wait, that doesn’t make any sense. Like, I’m not supposed to build a road. not supposed to build a factory. I’m not supposed to make a farm, you’re supposed to live in poverty and
Robert Bryce 12:19
drive to work or fly to a meeting.
Alex Epstein 12:22
at work. There’s no I mean, there’s just you know, you’re subsistence there’s no work like you get, you’re like, let’s not impact the earth at all, even though that’s what you need to survive flourish. You’d be like, no, why on earth? would I do that? But if you if I can convince you, you know, what the natural Earth, it’s actually pretty nice. Like, it’s nurturing. And it gives us like Evian water and Fiji water. Like, that’s all natural, right? And most importantly, if we do impact it, it’s gonna cause a catastrophe or even an apocalypse. And it’s like, oh, well, yeah, maybe I shouldn’t impact things. And particularly if it’s on the margin, if it’s okay, we take for granted this amazing world that has had all this that was made by all this impact, we take that as Oh, yeah, that’s just natural versus No, that’s on unnatural. It’s like, oh, we’re gonna build like a new coal plant somewhere. And like, Oh, that’s gonna have impact and like, no, let’s not do that, that could cause a catastrophe. Whereas from, but only if you have that faith based delicate nurture premise, but it’s, it’s an incredibly powerful disguise for the anti human goal of eliminating human impact. You see this throughout history with many movements, movements that have anti human goals, they spread false ideas about reality, like even look at like, racial subjugation. How is that justified? Because you just look at it from rational perspective, like, how can you say, oh, let’s kill all these people or enslave all these people, because of their skin color, even though we’re all humans, we all have minds. And we’re actually much better off if we can deal with each other rationally and via trade, and but if you can falsely convince people, oh, no, these people like these people of Jewish descent, or these people with dark skin or these people from Asia. No, they’re subhuman. And you they actually can’t live in a human society. Well, if you’ve, if you’ve spread that, then it’s like, oh, yeah, well, we need to subjugate those people, right? Like, that’s the only way we can have a good human society. And of course, the opposite is, the result is horrific. But so often, these false ideas are spread disingenuously to advance an anti human goal to a pro human audience.
Robert Bryce 14:20
Well, let me ask you about that, because it’s one of the things that one of the questions I wrote down in terms of what the endgame is, and I’ve thought about these things, like you, I come at it from a different tack, I suppose. But what’s the end game here? Because it was I look at some particular you live in California, and I’ve written a lot about California and how and very well how how, how regressive the policies are in California to low and middle income consumers in a state that’s supposed to be the weakest of the woke, and yet it has the highest poverty rate in America, the largest Latino population, you have the Latino community fight. Back when Jennifer Hernandez has been on the podcast and filed lawsuits trying to roll back some of these energy and housing policies that are terribly regressive, was, to me, I’m just how do you see the end game and I’ll call them out for the Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, the biggest and most powerful environmental groups in this country are promoting this all renewable program, all renewable approach. What’s it? What’s their endgame is? I’ll just leave it there. What is it? What’s the endgame? What are what are they trying to do ultimately?
Alex Epstein 15:31
Well, I think you could answer that from at least two perspectives, because one is what what would their goal actually achieve in practice? And I my answer that is basically an apocalypse, like they think it’s an apocalypse to keep using fossil fuels a nuclear, I know it’s an apocalypse to rapidly eliminate them. So that’s what it actually is. But then there’s this question of why how, how is it that humans are doing this anti human thing? Like they’re, I’m saying they’re anti human, right, but they’re humans. And so there’s this question of what is it? And I think that there’s always, when you have a really evil goal, like a really anti human goal, I should say, There’s never a full awareness by the person pursuing it, of what they’re doing. And then there’s much less of an awareness by the general public, but certainly like, so you take somebody we both know, like Bill McKibben, whom I have a very low opinion of in terms of his character, like, in reality, he is like, if we could do exactly what he said we should do, it would absolutely kill billions, we’ll have no doubt in my mind about that. Does he want to do that? Not exactly like he does. He hasn’t worked it out in his mind concrete, like, okay, we’re going to do my policy, we’re going to be Fossil Free, all these people are going to die. Everyone else can be. He doesn’t work out that way. But nor is he really concerned, you know, where is he at all thinking carefully about and I think that so part of it is people can have like a directional motive. That’s anti human. And it often involves a strong envy component. And I think you see this with a lot of different movements, like, take this idea that human beings are bad, like we’re evil, our impact is evil. Why is that appealing to so many people? Well, one reason is, is because you get superiority over your superiors. Let me explain that. So let’s say there’s somebody really productive and successful, like who runs, you know, an industrial facility? And you’re just kind of a loser who does not, not you but the person is example, who does nothing, right? Like, Well, normally, and rationally, we think, Oh, well, that industrial person, they accomplished a lot. They created a lot of value, like, in some way they are superior, to me, maybe not morally, but like they’re creating more value. But with the modern environmental movement, no, that person is evil. They’re a polluter, they’re impacting the earth. And so like the this morality of anti impact, allows people to get unearned superiority over productive people the same deal with the 1% kind of attack, the other 1% are evil. Like, you know, that that’s not can’t be fully true, like Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, these are amazing wealth creators, but it’s like, oh, if the 1% are evil, then the rest of us are good. So it’s just one dimension, but this kind of envy, motivation. And then the the evading the consequences of it. I think that pushes a lot of incredibly destructive things, including the whole history of communism, I think, is largely based on that. So it’s not the full answer. But that is one big dynamic, that they’re driven by these motives that make them feel superior. And they don’t think through the consequences, nor do they care to think through the consequences. Well, it’s
Robert Bryce 18:23
interesting you bring up McKibben because I’ve debated him as well. And he’s a is a has a job at MIT teaching at Middlebury College, but he’s only one of dozens of academics who are promoting this same kind of all renewable fable all renewable nonsense, I you know, how is it that the Academy in this case, and you know, all the names here that people who’ve, you know, attacking Exxon Mobil is bad Naomi, a rescue, as you know, when Naomi Klein and Michael Mann, you know, there’s a whole coterie of people who have comfortable academic jobs, and there seem to be leading the charge. You come from Italy, you went to Duke and elite university? You, you debated McKibben at Duke? How is it that the Academy has become such a fertile ground for this kind of soft thinking? I mean, you’ve you’ve gone through this right in terms of saying, well, they’re not even doing it now starting from first principles. But further, if they’re not thinking about the second and third order, actions or consequences of what they’re promoting, how is it that the Academy is so has provided such a fertile ground for this kind of approach?
Alex Epstein 19:41
Well, so let’s say well, what we wish the answer was, is they’re just misinformed about energy. Like they’re just honestly confused, because that would be, that’d be tremendously good news, because it’ll be pretty easy to correct if it’s just sort of a bunch of PhDs who just, just don’t, they’re not it’s not their specialty, but I wouldn’t give an observation. And that I think reveals what’s going on one level deeper, which is that just our whole society, including our academic world does not value energy at all. So if you look at like, fossil fuels, right, we hear, okay, we got to eliminate fossil fuels. And people think, Oh, well, that’s because we’re so concerned about co2, right? That’s like, it seems like a pro human motive. But then you look, wait a second, okay, they’re in favor of eliminating nuclear, which is by far the most plausible replacement, at least for electricity for fossil fuels. And they give reasons that really don’t work like, Oh, it’s dangerous, even though it’s incredibly safe. And like, oh, the waste is so bad, even though you can manage it really easily, relatively speaking. And then they’re also against hydro. And that’s also like, why is that and they talk about free flowing rivers and Wait, you’re not willing to dam a free flowing river to save human beings from the apocalypse. But then even you look at solar and wind, and actually your work has really driven this home. To me, there’s not even real support for solar and wind, because there’s this mass opposition to solar and wind. And you can talk about how much it’s justified and how much it isn’t. But what I want to observe is that the thought leaders in our society have basically zero concern about this opposition, like you sound the alarm about it, Mark Mills sounds the alarm data, and you guys aren’t even supporting this stuff. But the people supporting it have very little concern about the fact that the mining isn’t happening, the transmission lines aren’t happening, the building of the so called farms isn’t happening. And so what you have is with every form of energy, without exception, whether it’s cost effective or not, there is widespread moral opposition to it. And that’s considered totally good. And so basically, we have a whole culture, and including Academy that’s really focused on eliminating energy, opposing energy. And so what this shows at minimum, is that our whole culture just completely devalues cost, effective energy, low cost, reliable, global scale energy. And that to me is like that should be a wake up call for you know, those of us who who got into it, because it’s so potent and important for human life. Like, we don’t talk about this at all. We don’t talk about it. I’d mentioned with flooding, we don’t talk about it when we talk about food, even though we can only be fed with a lot of energy and a lot of machines powered by energy. So we at minimum, we don’t value it. But really we can see there’s a hostility towards there’s some hostility toward energy. And I think it really when where does that come from? Well, I think it comes from this moral idea that our goal should be to eliminate human impact cuz if you think impact is bad is always
Robert Bryce 22:25
hear saying the anti energy is really a form of anti humanism, that Oh, yeah, of course, they’re intimately connected, that being opposed to modern energy being opposed to nuclear, then is the is in the same Pew of the church is this anti human idea?
Alex Epstein 22:41
Right, right. It’s like the church’s current Crusade, you can think of it as in you know, the victim is the is the fossil fuel industry. Yeah. So so for sure. That’s exactly it’s go ahead and just think about energy inherently. So every form of energy always involves three things that have significant impacts. So one is the process involved in producing the energy like mining, manufacturing, you know, etc, building things like that always has an impact. And so that always is morally problematic. And then the side effects of energy always have impacts, right. So it can be radiation, it can be co2, but it’s always going to have some, but and then the most important thing that people don’t get is the benefits of energy have the most impact of all because what is energy energy is the capacity to do work, what is work moving force over a certain distance, in reality, so it’s actually impacting nature and energy does literally is it gives us the ability to impact nature, more energy use means more impacting nature, in one way or another. If you are against impact, then it’s actually the use of energy. That is the biggest problem. And so the benefit, and I’ll give an example in a second, but so here’s the thing I say it’s irrational, it seems irrational to ignore the benefits to human flourishing, and of fossil fuels and what I would call to catastrophize, the side effects there’s a whole history of ignoring the benefits and catastrophizing, the side effects, which means to take something that’s that’s just a little bad or even not bad, and make it into a catastrophe. So that’s, that’s what happens. And you think like, how could How could smart people do this? And more to the point, how could they not apologize for after having done it for 50 years? Like, why is Paul Ehrlich still a thought leader? Why is john Holdren still a thought leader, right? They’ve become more elevated after john Holdren said we’d have a billion probably have a billion climate related deaths. In a night, the mid 1980s. He said that then he becomes Obama’s Chief Science Advisor, like what the hell is going on? If you get the importance of morality, it totally makes sense because they don’t see the the hardcore people don’t see the benefits of fossil fuels as benefits, because they’re not focused on advancing human flourishing. They’re focused on eliminating human impacts. So billions of people having more food and existing and having kids that’s not a benefit. That’s a harm to unimpacted nature and you think why do they catastrophize the side effects well, to them any side effects Just catastrophic. So Bill McKibben says in one of his books, you know, hey, if the rainfall is affected at all by co2, it makes it turns it from a deer to a steer, right. And so the idea is, oh, it was a natural deer, but now it’s unnatural. And so his viewpoint logically says, even if the rainfall patterns were better with the co2, let alone if they just changed but didn’t matter too much, it would still be bad. So according to this whole anti impact philosophy, the benefits and side effects of energy are inherently catastrophic. They’re inherently morally catastrophic, regardless of the impacts on human life, and so that they
Robert Bryce 25:41
write and they Eclipse any other thing you put this down in one of your was one of your recent emails, you said, you talked about three irrefutable principles for evaluating fossil fuel co2 emissions, we must factor in the benefits must factor in the climate mastery abilities that come with them, and you say this and make it safe from the climate. And then we must look at positive and negative impacts. And we talked about that before about this idea of the full accounting issue. But
Alex Epstein 26:12
no one does that. Right. That’s my that’s my kind of argument that and that’s, that’s that perfectly fits thought we’re just talking about because you’re on what I call the human flourishing framework. So human flourishing framework is our goal is to advance human flourishing. We want a better world a better environment for human beings, we recognize that the earth is naturally wild potential. And then we look at the full context. Those are the four elements of what I call the human flourishing framework. Yeah, if you do that, to put it in different order, if you have something like, Oh, we have this side effect of co2, first of all, you don’t assume that it’s good or bad. You just look at it objectively, how much is it impacting human life, and you’re open to Hey, maybe warming is good, some places bad some places, hey, maybe more plant food is a good thing. So you look and notice the mainstream, not what I call knowledge system doesn’t do that at all right? It’s just this, it treats it as evil. It treats climate change by humans as inherently immoral, there’s no even possibility that it could be good at all. So that’s a religious kind of thing. So it’s inherently immoral. And then there’s this delicate nurture assumption that it’s inevitably catastrophic. And then do they look at another human flourishing framework. Of course, even if the side effects are negative, you have to look at the positives. And with fossil fuels, fossil fuels are unique, because they can cure their own side effects. Like if they have a negative climate impact, they can cure it by helping you against floods and helping you against storms. It’s like this magical ability to alleviate their own side effects. And yet nobody talks about climate mastery benefits, and then all the other benefits. So we have this whole society that has made eliminating co2, its number one moral goal. It’s the number one moral goal in the world right now, from Larry Fink. to Bill McKibben to everyone says, of Microsoft, our number one moral goal is to eliminate our impact on climate. If that doesn’t show that we have an anti impact. And there’s again, no consideration of positives, no consideration of climate mastery benefits, no consideration of the overall benefits of fossil fuels. And mind you as you like to point out, we’re in a world where billions of people have virtually no energy. So we’re in an energy starved world. And nobody cares about energy. Nobody cares about those people. That is a philosophical issue. That’s not a scientific issues, everyone’s on this philosophy and to nobody gives a crap about 3 billion people with no energy. And everyone is obsessed with how much co2 is in the atmosphere, even though they don’t even bother to study it. They just know it’s it’s evil, and they know it’s the apocalypse, right?
Robert Bryce 28:35
And that no price is too high to make even minute reductions in co2, it happens with E V’s or, you know, hybrid vehicles or whatever it is. But it seems to me you’re there are two big dichotomies that you’re underscoring here. One is this dichotomy between the real world need for these, you know, massive amounts of energy we get from coal, oil and natural gas just in stunning quantities. Right. And, and this refusal by use the word elites and academics to recognize their values to society and to human flourishing. But the other dichotomy is between the this other schism is between the wealthy world saying, Oh, we should use less, and this massive as I point out 3 billion people in the world who use less electricity and an average american refrigerator. I mean, it’s this this, this disconnect between the the real world as in just basic mathematics and the fact that now in the wake of COVID, the global economy is recovering. I just saw data this in the first six months, I think China’s coking coal output is risen 6%. And the IAEA is predicting that the global coal use in next year 2022 will be the highest ever. So there’s this this split between the wealthy Western world and the developing countries in the developing country, you’re saying, Well, you know, we’re gonna do what we need to do. And it’s one of the points I’m making juice. It’s one of the points I’m making a question of power. countries all over the world got to do whatever they do it They have to do to get the energy and power they need for their people. So hopefully, hope hopefully.
Alex Epstein 30:06
Well, hopefully they will. I mean, there being so I agree that I mean, I would say I’m really I mean, I’m so glad that they’re they’re pushing back as much as they are. But if you look at this whole anti energy, anti impact focus, yeah, I mean, I think of it as has three kinds of consequences or pushes. So one is what I call unilateral disempowerment. So that’s what the empowered world, the world with low cost, reliable energy is abandoning it. And that’s why I’m particularly worried in the US with the Biden administration, what they’re doing, because I think that they’re going to be a bunch of suckers who do it. And then everyone is going to learn from it at some point, like they’re, they’re going to, and Germany has already advanced it, but like somebody is just going to totally wreck themselves. And I really don’t want it to be the US for a whole bunch of reasons, including your you’re in California,
Robert Bryce 30:48
you all are leaving here, and I gotta figure out how to get a generator. I just got one.
Alex Epstein 30:56
Yeah, right where you are, so that that shows something about that. So there’s like unilateral disempowerment. But then the other trend that’s even more evil, arguably, is what I call incentivized unemployment that’s taking the unempowered world and basically saying to them, Hey, don’t use fossil fuels, quote, leapfrog, which basically means do nothing, like pretend that you can use solar and wind and shutting down these projects, or just allowing China to fund them and allow China to get this huge foothold with Belton road initiative. And then, you know, the general thing is just the global thing, no matter what is just declining. Empowerment are like making energy unnecessarily expensive. And you know, if it’s the industry that powers every other industry, that means everything in life is more expensive. And lots of things we can’t do. That just means more people without education, more people without health care, more people without opportunity, more people who can’t visit and you know, enjoy their family and visit their families. So those are, those are all happening. But it’s so it’s in terms of Yeah, it’s all led by the empowered world. And I think the unempowered world needs to stand up. And that’s particularly why I’m kind of interested in wherever I can to help people in those parts of the world to stand up. Because I think when they do, and as they do, it’s gonna be very hard for the empowered world to say much like there’s a guy I’ve gotten to know a little bit named vj, Jai Raj in India, and he’s had some good stuff, you know, open letter to john kerry in Europe, there’s going to nj UK and an Africa who’s I’ve met a little bit and who’s doing some good work. And the more those people stand up, what the hell is john kerry going to say to them? Really, if that, right, so it’s good that it’s happening implicitly, but I think the real breakthrough is when it’s explicitly justified. And then then I think, again, the whole the whole modern kind of movement, that they fancy themselves, they have this pretense of a we care about the poor, and particularly what they would call people of color. So when poor people of color stand up and say, Hey, you are doing this evil thing of holding back my life. They’re not going to have much to say about that.
Robert Bryce 32:58
Right. So to repeat, so you talked about Yeah, and I forgot how you frame these unilateral disempowerment, incentivized on empowerment and declining empowerment. Yeah, the
Alex Epstein 33:08
last one, I forgot in the book, I have a better term, and I forgot it. But yeah, the first two are the ones that I use a lot, because the the the third one is just the overall decline. So one is focused on us. One is focused on the poorest people, but then, you know, when you have mass, you know, mass sort of disempowerment. I mean, it’s really like disempowerment. So it’s right. It’s like, we’re making ourselves less empowered than we could be. And that just, you know, that slows down everything. And one thing people don’t get about energy as a, they don’t think about just everything in our life is made possible by machines producing value for us. Like, that’s one thing people don’t get about energy. But the other thing is that energy frees up time for human mental labor, which is the engine of progress. So whenever you see anything in the world, that’s done by a machine, and basically everything is done by a machine directly or indirectly, where you see human beings having the time to think and create value, those are all made possible by the cost of energy, you know, AOC had this crazy line about like, Oh, you know, the world is gonna end in 12 years, and you’re worried about how much it costs? And it’s like, no, the cost of energy determines the livability of the world. Like that’s one of the key themes in fossil future. And
Robert Bryce 34:17
I’ll interrupt there because I think it’s important that and it’s one of the points that we make in our film Jewson and but also a question of power that how critical This is for women and girls, and then we one of my lines is that electricity frees women and girls from the pump the stove in the wash tub, and that your I mean, it rhymes with your idea about energy, allowing more mental labor and that that’s exactly it. Right. But it’s particularly critical for women and girls. And I think that that in my experience, that’s been one of the most effective ways to discuss this, right that yes, see, climate is a concern co2 is it’s not the only concern. And in particularly when you frame it now, in a time when everybody you know, there’s political correctness move ESG the rest of it Well, okay, so are you in favor of impoverishing Women and Girls Really? I mean, explain that. It’s not a winning argument.
Alex Epstein 35:07
No, I agree. I think it’s a fantastic. And I got to actually put more sentences about that in the book now that you mentioned it. But yeah, it’s a great, it’s a great kind of focus, I think it’s important for people to recognize, yep, everyone is a victim of this anti energy push, but particularly the people who aren’t benefiting from what I like to call it machine labor. So machines doing work for us. And so that’s the poorest people in the world. And then certainly within that the female poorest people in the world are the most, you know, the biggest victims of I mean, it’s not I like, particularly if we are causing it like we are absolutely, victimizing these poor people, particularly female people, with our policies. And that that’s the kind of thing when brought can only so some of the stuff you and I talked about, it’s just a matter of it not getting ignored. Like they don’t have an answer to it. Right? It’s just getting ignored, like New York Times doesn’t point this out, and then have an argument against it. They’re just ignoring it. But I think it can, you can only be ignored for so long.
Robert Bryce 36:05
Right? Well, so let me ask you a jump back to one of the questions. One of the first things that I wrote down. So it’s been now seven years since moral case came out. And you’ve had remarkable success, I think, you know, I’m not blowing smoke up your skirt here. You mean, you think you really have gotten a lot of traction from the book and from your, you know, how you’ve reframed some of these issues? Has it surprised you and all the success of it?
Alex Epstein 36:31
I mean, there are things that I expected more, and then there are things that I expected less, but I mean, I would say my combined experience makes me very excited about the future. I mean, one thing about so one of the things that excites me positively is to see other people, at least in some way, other smart people, at least in some way, influenced by me, and I don’t want to act like you know, I’m never going to take credit for anybody else. But even somebody like insofar as I’ve had any influence on Michael Shellenberger, like he’s been doing amazing work. And so it’s so cool. If I’ve had any influence that I have any, any positive influence on you, just as you’ve had very positive influence. I mean, like, it’s very exciting to see. And I think one thing that really I’ve seen much more progress on is with the issue of climate, there’s more and more acknowledgement of the idea of what I call climate mastery. Other people still call it adaptation. But the idea that low cost reliable energy is making us safer from climate like Shellenberger in particular is was exciting, because, you know, he was a pro nuclear guy for years before that he was pro unreliable, but right, he got rid of pretty quickly, but he was a pro nuclear guy. And he would talk about Yeah, like climate, he wouldn’t be an apocalyptic about climate at all. But he would, he would only occasionally point out, hey, yeah, we can really adapt to this really well. It’s not an existential threat. But in the past couple years, he’s done maybe the best work of anybody on really showing how much it’s really the issue of energy and development that determines how safe We are from climate, not this specific amount of co2 in the atmosphere. And so it’s just very exciting to see and I call it like the energy humanist movement. Right. I think of it as like me, you Matt Ridley Shellenberger Lomborg? And what you see over and over is it just it’s winning more and more converts? And nobody really has an answer to it. They just don’t have it. Because we’ve, we have gotten ourselves out of this chasm, this this false alternative of, oh, you believe that humans impact climate? And then you’re against fossil fuels, or you don’t believe it, and you’re for fossil fuels? And it’s like, no, I can believe vaccines have side effects and still be for vaccines. Right. And once people get that, so you’ve taken it out of this believer denier false alternative, and it’s really about what’s good for human life overall, that’s a very nobody has has an argument against that. And they’re still, they’re still pretending that they don’t need one. It’s more like Oh, if we ignore them, or if we take potshots at them, but I just that’s what excites me is I don’t think anyone has an answer for this humanistic perspective. So I’ve seen it grow a bit but I still think it’s like at the beginning, like the beginning though,
Robert Bryce 39:05
I like that way of thinking that way the energy humanist movement because a lot of my work lately I’m now affiliated, as you probably know, with the foundation for research on equal opportunity all about, you know, affordability. And I think that that’s one of the issues that there is no answer for on the and I would call it the other side, the anti, you know, the anti hydrocarbon, anti fossil fuel crowd anti nuclear crowd. When you talk about affordability and the impacts on low and middle income people, they don’t have a counter for it, right. And particularly, you know, you note as you I’m sure you watch the Sierra Club, and they’re anti natural gas in the homes, you know, these natural gas bands, they’re proliferating in California in your home state there. And yet they never talked about affordability. It’s all about climate and no, this is a big one for the climate. But I think just have one quick point and you’ll find it if you look at excuse me a question of power. with women and girls, you look at the area that countries and there I use a visit UNICEF data I think, but it’s the countries with the highest rates of child marriage are the electricity consumption rates in those in those countries are so low World Bank doesn’t even have data for them. So the you know, the these places where women are effectively enslaved are also the places there where they have no access to modern energy. And so their job is collecting firewood to meet washing clothes, they have no other life because they’re enslaved due to energy poverty. So
Alex Epstein 40:30
yeah, they’re just the more you know, the more you bring these kinds of things to people’s attention, and it’s in this frame of, hey, what’s really good for human life, if we look at the full context, again, it’s hard to deny. And so one, one focus that has changed for me as I was after moral case came out. So it was somewhat of a phenomenon. I certainly in particular, in the energy industry, but I think it’s one of the best selling energy books of the last 10 years at least. And but you know, I did a lot of behind the scenes consulting for companies and and like, that’s something I always wanted to do, because I always had a dream of helping companies stand up for themselves using good ideas. And so I like a lot of that work that I did. But I really have concluded that I can be much more effective just as myself in the public. And so part of me regrets being behind the scenes for so many years. And then it kind of shifted about two and a half years ago, when I started working on this new book, which is just directed to the general public. And then in particular, during the pandemic, or sort of at the outset, I decided, you know, what, okay, I’m going to switch my model. And I’m going to do stuff much more as myself. And since that happened, it’s been really amazing to me how much my impact has increased, and also how much better I’ve gotten, because I’m a big believer in what I call the bike lock theory of persuasion. So if you think about those, you know, those cable bike locks that have like four or five or six cylinders on them, and you have to get them all right. And the idea is, if you if, let’s say it has six cylinders, and you only and you get four open, and you pull it open, it doesn’t open at all right? But then if you get all six, then it opens all the way. And I think of that with persuasion, like, you can get five out of six things right? And it won’t work. But then if you get six, right, it’s just boom. So I’m always thinking about how do I open that bike lock? How do I get a better way of explaining things? How do I do these different things? And I believe that I’m still like one, I’m still like, at most a fifth of the way to what’s possible, in terms of persuasiveness on this issue.
Robert Bryce 42:29
Well, so how do you describe yourself, Alex, so you know, you’re a journalist, you also have founded the Center for a quick reminder, we’ve been talking for 40 minutes or so my guest is Alex Epstein. He’s based in Laguna Beach, California, one of the most beautiful cities in California. He’s the author of the moral case for fossil fuels. You can find him on twitter at Alex Epstein. You can preorder his Oh, it’s not on Amazon yet.
Alex Epstein 42:52
But you just if you just go to the website, industrial progress calm and sign up for the mailing list. That’s that’s the best thing because then you’ll follow me anywhere. And I promise I will not forget to talk about fossil future.
Robert Bryce 43:04
It’s available. It’s it’s on the list here. So I’ve reiterated that the Why is it there? It follows on some of the things we’ve already talked about. And you’ve had, we’ve had some guests in common on our podcast, you have the power hour. And you had Steve cunanan some time ago, and I had him on as well. And I thought, you know, I don’t necessarily want to get down and dirty on talking about climate, politics, politics, and what’s the perfect is concentration of co2 in the atmosphere. Instead, I’d like to largely focused on Wilkie if you think co2 is bad, then what? I just thought he was, you know, compelling history, personal history, particularly when I asked him about the denier label, because he’s, you know, he’s Jewish, and he had relatives who died in the concentration camps. And yet, he’s just been smeared as it by it. Well, some of the people we’ve talked about Michael Mann, Naomi arrest case and then the others is, oh, he’s just trying to sell a book. And this is people who’ve written several books. Why can’t we here’s the question, why is it Why can’t we have an even a more open debate about the what the climate science itself says? Because it seemed to me that was what Coons book was really about was saying, Look, I’ve This is all IPCC data and yet never got reviewed in the New York Times couldn’t get you know, couldn’t get arrested for in the Washington Post cnn on any of the the left leaning TV stations instead, he was in the New York Post, Washington Wall Street Journal, etc. Why can’t we have an even an open debate on those those that climate issue? It’s the climate science itself?
Alex Epstein 44:34
I think we can I think you just need to and I think his his book is a step toward that. I think we just need to be really, we need to be really clear on like, what we’re arguing and what we aren’t. So I think that the primary value of kuhns book is it is really an attack on what I would call our climate knowledge system. So how do we actually learn about what the state of climate sciences so by the way, my attack on that is philosophical that is, it’s this assumption. And then it’s bad, treating it as intrinsically immoral and then ignoring mastery and ignoring all the benefits. So that’s my philosophical criticism. But there’s this other question of when discussing just the impacts of co2. It are the institutions that we trust to tell us what experts think, are they doing an accurate job of that whatsoever? And what coonan is saying is, particularly with something like the IPCC, which is the synthesis organization, where he’s arguing is what that synthesis says, is being completely misrepresented by these institutions who are who are supposed to communicate
Robert Bryce 45:36
by big media outlets. And I thought what made him so intriguing was was that well, he’s he’s a democrat, right? He wasn’t he’s a writer who raised born and raised in New York study with Richard Fineman, his his credentials are impeccable. And he’s coming out saying, Look, what essentially I what I read from him and in the interview was, what you’re hearing is not what’s in the report itself. What you’re hearing is the way the media and the big media outlets and a lot of academics are telling you what’s in there, which is very similar to what Roger pilkey Jr’s work is about. Yeah, some would argue Judith Judith Curry’s Berg work as well, but but let me jump back to one other thing, Alex, because you call it climate mastery. And I think that’s one of pilkey had a had a piece in The Wall Street Journal just last week, I think we caught last couple of weeks talking about this issue of mitigation versus adaptation, it seems to me in terms of the big picture, that’s really the the crux of the issue, right, which is there’s a lot of money and a whole lot of lobbying happening all focused at mitigation and trying to cut co2. And I don’t think that’s even feasible to any way that would affect co2, or co2, largely co2, and therefore temperature. I think it’s all about adaptation, which was what pilkey his argument was, but you call it climate mastery instead of adaptation. But is that is we on the same page there? Is that does that run with you?
Alex Epstein 46:54
Well, we’re sort of on the same page. I mean, I like pilkey. In in general, I think he’s more conventional, in terms of his frameworks, if you’re going to take like mitiga. So my view, stepping back is energy as essential for human flourishing, pretty cost effective energy, billions of people lack it. The the negative side effects of the most cost effective energy source fossil fuels we have are completely dwarfed by the benefits. And therefore I think we need far more energy like that’s from a human flourishing perspective, I think of it like the world is under empowered, how do we empower it as quickly as possible, like, so that’s given my human flourishing framework, like that’s how I look at energy. And for me, like climate is a masterful side effect of that. And so I’m not at all concerned, I mean, I’m concerned with not limiting co2 emissions, because but now I want to liberate cost effective alternatives, mainly because I just want there to be more energy in the world. So I want to liberate nuclear. And certainly, if you’re focused on co2, then you should definitely liberate nuclear, but I’m not focused on co2, myself. And I think it’s important that I’m not I’m focused on expanding the availability of low cost, reliable, versatile energy to billions of people in 1000s of places. And so I own Yeah, that’s gonna mean more emissions. I mean, that’s already happening, like everyone is already choosing what I’m advocating, I’m just the only one saying that it’s the right choice. And saying it should be made more consistently and not inhibited. So when you talk about like, mitigation versus adaptation, it’s already in the frame of a top priority, or the top priority of our society should be reducing co2 emissions, or even really lowering the level of co2 in the atmosphere, which means eliminating co2 emissions, we’re actually trying to get them negative. And my view is that as an apocalypse, for human flourishing, that should not be on the table, that should not be our focus at all, in the same way that if if you believe that, like vaccination is effective, let’s not take COVID cuz it’s kind of a new vaccine. But it’s like, like, if you had mass polio around the world, like, you, yeah, you do what you can about the side effects, but people need to be vaccinated for and that’s how I think of energy. People need to be empowered. Nobody is talking about it. Nobody cares about and I’m the one who cares about it, because I come from this other perspective. So I don’t at all except the frame of climate is the most important issue. So I accorded less significance to it than almost anyone I mean, so I accord less than Shellenberger does less than longboard does certainly less than pilkey does, but I think they’re generally on the, you know, similar kind of vein. But for me, I just think if you really look at this from a human flourishing perspective, like, you cannot be trying to lower this thing, because the world requires that requires more emissions. There’s just no getting around that. And if you think it’s an issue long term, then you need to innovate with cost effective alternatives, you need to do that. And you need to look to your point about adaptation, or I would call it mastery, you need to look in, is there a way to cool the earth like if you really think it’s problem like long term, which I find extremely dubious given that the planet is very cold compared to Sr. But if you think that’s true, the only moral things you can do are truly cost effective alternatives. And that’s a long term thing. And then and then mastery of the global climate system as a whole. I don’t advocate the latter, because I don’t think it’s remotely necessary. I don’t even I mean, this is how controversial I am, I don’t think anyone can prove that rising co2 levels, even on their own absent mastery, are net negative, because for sure, we know that we can be sure that the plant growth is positive. And we can be sure that a lot of warming which occurs mostly in the colder parts of the earth, a lot of that is certainly beneficial. So I don’t think it’s even demonstrable that the co2 itself is a net negative, but my position doesn’t depend on it being positive, my position is it could be a big net negative, and we should still increase it.
Robert Bryce 50:51
And fair enough. And that’s one of the areas where, you know, I just don’t like going down that road or going too well going too far that way, because to me, it’s it almost doesn’t matter, I think it’s the first part of what you’re discussing, which is, that is the obvious, which is when only 12% of the people who live in India, if memory serves have air conditioning, well, they’re going to get air conditioning is one of the hottest, and they should get air conditioning, and they’re going to pursue what is in their own interest. And that was what we saw over and over traveling around the world. Tyson Culver, my colleague and I, when we when we when we film juice was whatever people in Puerto Rico we can do, I want to talk about Puerto Rico in a minute. in, in, in Beirut, in Lebanon, in India, people doing whatever they had to do to get the energy they needed, it’s climate change was not their first concern. And it just made it clear to me over and over again, that whatever we think about co2, you may, you know, if the guy down the street, Michael Mann, in certain ways, doesn’t matter. Because the there are six or seven other billion other people who are going to pursue their own interests. And that’s going to include using every bit of hydrocarbons that they can possibly get their hands on. So it’s I
Alex Epstein 52:01
have a different because I have a lot of different attitudes, you could imagine if you take the case of vaccines, like the attitude of the most wealthy and powerful part of the world to like vaccine distribution that matters. I mean, you can say, yeah, people are gonna get their vaccines, but not necessarily, they can have policies that just make them completely incompetent. And we can support those policies or do nothing to encourage them to change. And, you know, we can create incentives that discourage people from vaccination as the same thing with fossil fuels. We’re already, as I said, Have doing incentivized on empowerment for the poorest parts of the world. So we do have a lot of influence, and then there’s positive good that we can do. So I think it matters, our attitude towards things. So my view is, they should have this. So it’s true that they will, it’s true that they likely will. But it’s more important, it’s just as important, at least, that they should, and they should do more than they’re currently able to. Because if we think of it as just these are all, like, it’s so easy to dehumanize the rest of the world. And the one great thing you do is you actually visit these parts of the world and you get to know people. And so that’s another thing from your perspective that you’re not doing that. But most people aren’t. And it’s, it’s, it’s almost natural to do it. Because we take for granted our way of life so much. But just think about it like I think of it as fossil fuels have made our world into an unnaturally nourishing, safe and opportunity filled place like we can get you can buy a week’s worth of food with an hour of labor. Like basically, we basically live in the Garden of Eden, right? I mean, it’s almost as easy for us to get food as it was for Adam, that story.
Robert Bryce 53:33
And so let me let me interrupt you there because for most people, it’s not. But let me interrupt you there because I want to get back to that one point about you’d call this a unilateral or incentivized unemployment and unemployment. One of the things you had we both had another guest on income and Rupert doorwall, who talks about ESG. And that’s one of the things that to me is worrying, is this unilateral and are decisions by company outfits like BlackRock by others saying we’re not going to finance any hydrocarbon projects, any fossil fuel projects, because we think they’re bad. And the Chinese don’t mind, you know, they’re gonna fund as many as they can. But there is a there is a moral element to me, you need to go back to the title of your book, about the morality of denying that financing for countries that want to develop with the most cost effective forms of energy and power that they can find it. And that to me is one of the things that as I look at your argument, overall, I really rhymes with my thinking as well as that, wait a darn minute here. Your the World Bank isn’t going to lend any money for hydrocarbon projects. BlackRock, the biggest, the biggest private equity firm, private lender, is that is that the right word private? Anyway, one of the biggest financial firms in the world is saying we’re not going to do this. How does the morality of that denial mean if you they are the deniers? Yeah,
Alex Epstein 54:50
they’re energy deniers, right? Yeah, yeah, I’m in that sense. Yeah, I mean, it’s very so I had a thread on Twitter like just ESG is immoral. Like I used to help companies. Sort of behind the scenes, like, make the best out of ESG, which, and I’m glad I had some influence on like encouraging them, Hey, don’t just talk about your negative impacts talk about your positive impacts like, and if anyone is in that industry, and they want to know I wrote a little paper about it years ago, if you email me, Alex at Alex epstein.com, I can send it to you. But now that I’m more public, I’m just like, Okay, this whole movement is immoral. It has a pretense of Oh, we’re concerned about the long term. We’re concerned about the broader effects. But it’s really like the core of it right now is, let’s stop cost effective hydrocarbon energy. And hydrocarbon by the way, is the better term. I use fossil fuels just to be more explicable, but your hydrocarbon stuff like the better term, it’s more accurate in a number of ways. So yeah, it is an immoral movement. And it’s, it’s terrifying. And it’s to go back to my earlier point, it’s a big reason to care about people’s moral perception, because not true that say, in Congo or India, that they aren’t going to necessarily pursue fossil fuels. Now, you can think of that as, Oh, 200 years, sure, it’ll happen in 200 years, one way or the other. But they’re real people. Right now. We live in a non nourishing, dangerous, low opportunity world that could improve radically during their lives, or it could not. And our moral evaluation of fossil fuels is an enormous force in determining the pace of that. And that’s for billions of real world people, like our moral evaluation matters. Even one year earlier, like you let alone five, you think about like, what’s it like to get electrified, five years earlier, versus five years later, like there’s people talk about irreversible, like human life is irreversible. So you think about like somebody who’s 50, you know, get an education at 10, right, versus 15, or 15 versus 20? Like, these are all these are all top amounts of time for real people that really matter. Well, let
Robert Bryce 56:47
me let me interrupt you there. Because you make that same point, you testified before Congress recently, I did as well, which, you know, is a little unnerving and a real privilege as well. But you know, you hit him, you testified on Puerto Rico. And I guess the caption was about coal ash, but you came at it to the issue from a whole nother standpoint, let’s talk about Puerto Rico, because one of the points that you made there, and I had vivid, you know, vivid trip to Puerto Rico A few years ago, you talked about the issue of the Jones Act. And I thought that that was a good thing to bring up in terms of Puerto Rico that isn’t brought up very often. And I just wanted to ask that very, that that question, why didn’t? Why is the Jones Act bad for Puerto Rico in terms of energy and power systems?
Alex Epstein 57:29
I mean, just the broad if I then I’m not a master of the details of the Jones Act at all. But it just, it’s one of these kind of protectionist things that saying, like, oh, everything has to be done with us made ships and the basic dynamic is just that we’re making it like, we have a lot of natural gas, and coal that could be transported rather directly to Puerto Rico. And instead, they’re getting it from other places, because of this arcane thing called the Jones Act. And I don’t know that there’s I don’t I don’t know of any real justification that I would support for it ever. But it’s an impediment now. But I should say my focus on that was, yeah, this. So you mentioned I sort of switched the focus of it. And I like to do this at hearings, because often I disagree with the premise of the hearing. And in this, this hearing was this coal plant is the premise was the coal plant is an existential threat to Puerto Ricans. And this coal plant is 20% of their electricity in a in a in a on an island that is radically under powered. Yeah. And you know, you and I talked about this in advance, and you helped me out with some some facts about this in advance, like, how could you if you want to talk about like a livable environment, a livable environment, it is not a livable Puerto Rico, if you have a lot less electricity is even more expensive, even less reliable. And it was really remarkable at this hearing how, you know, AOC was the most prominent person there. And she came and she just said, Hey, like, you know what, Siemens did a study, and it shows that we can get rid of this coal plant tomorrow, with no adverse impacts. And so she didn’t address any of my testimony directly. But I addressed her during the hearing, when I got to answer some other questions I just challenged us then afterward, I looked into it. And I looked at the Siemens report, a Siemens report said, on it had no mention of any scenario before 2027 of getting rid of this coal plant. And it said, unequivocally, just to clarify, because there have been confusions, getting shutting down this coal plant in any scenario will absolutely make electricity more expensive. And like AOC, use this quote, and I could not find this court anywhere on Google. And I challenged her like, I think really politely and respectfully. I’m like, Hey, you care about the people of Puerto Rico, like, I can prove to you that this is going to be deadly for them. And as yet no response from her office, but this is the kind of thing where you have people, they’re operating in a way where they think it’s just totally okay to oppose the side effects of fossil fuels. And they feel like they’re doing something good, even though they’re doing Driving people have benefits that is going to lead to disaster
Robert Bryce 1:00:04
and truly remarkable. And in the case where you have an island economy that’s on Americans living on American soil, and they’re paying electricity rates that are at least one and a half or two times as high as what we pay here in the United States, and yet, we can’t get them natural gas. I mean, it doesn’t make any sense at all, instead of their burning fuel oil, which is crazy expensive. And you know, their grid is in terrible condition. It’s just it to me it was a real eye opening and in some ways, very depressing experience, because the Puerto Rican people deserve better than what they’re getting. But let’s talk about a couple of other things. And I want to get to fossil future. But what is energy talking points.com? what it what tell explain what that is, and what your goal is with making that if you don’t mind?
Alex Epstein 1:00:46
Sure. So energy talking points calm is a place where you can get accurate, powerful, concise, talking points are messages on basically every issue. So the genesis of it is this is something I created for elected officials. And I actually have an a very active group of elected officials and staff, I think we have, like 140 members right now. And so these are people from US House, US Senate and Governor’s offices. And so I have a biweekly briefing with them. So just just for them, so if anyone is from those offices, or knows anyone put them in contact with me, and we can add them assuming they’re actually pro energy, and pro freedom. So there, but the website, I share a lot of the messaging, I share a lot of the messaging on Twitter. And my ultimate vision for it is that not just me, but people like Robert Bryce and Michael Shellenberger, like, we all sort of create enough of this messaging on different kinds of issues, where we really change the mental environment that people have on, on energy. So give you an example, like you had, I think I’ve told you is be like you have some of these great articles on offshore wind. And so what I’d sometimes do is I would just go through that article, and an extract talking points now for me might they’re talking about has to fit on Twitter. So I pick things that fit on Twitter, and I have a kind of specific philosophy of what a talking point needs to be. One is it needs to be self contained. So that 280 characters, you need to be able to show that to somebody who’s just generally familiar with the issue. And it needs to be understandable to them, it can’t just be something totally arcane. So every point on energy talking points you can put on Twitter, and it makes sense by itself. And then it makes even more sense if it’s amplified. By the other things, I’m a big, really in favor of what I call power factor you’re great at was just a fact, that really demonstrates some some truth. So for example, you have this great power fact about the Obama administration saying I think we’d have 30 gigawatts of wind by 2030, or maybe even 50. And it was like, actually, some tiny fraction of that, or only offshore wind has been Block Island that’s down for maintenance. They’re only
Robert Bryce 1:02:51
there about 1% of their goal or something, it was just infinitesimally small in terms of what actually got built.
Alex Epstein 1:02:59
But it’s a part of the premise of this. And I’m elaborating in part because I try to, I know you’ll have other people like us on listening to this. And I want to encourage them to create stuff like this, and I promise I’ll share it. So it’s a win win for everyone. But what I noticed is that certain types of content are disproportionately effective compared to others. And there’s a lot of really long form content that I think is often too long, but not retainable. And this is somebody who’s writing a 300 page book, by the way, so I’m not against books at all. But if you look at like, what I notice is that usually in an article, there’s like some killer fact or killer story, or what I would call a killer causal explanation, like something I have, like nature doesn’t give us a safe climate we make dangerous gives us a dangerous climate we make safe and like, okay, that’s easily a tweet, you can really understand and retain the cause and effect, or unreliable solar and wind don’t replace the cost of reliable power plants, they add to the cost of reliable power plants like right, if you can get those really succinct causal relationships and power facts and stories. And then also another category is just giving an alternative like moral vision. So I’ll say like, I don’t want to save the planet from human beings. I want to improve the planet for human beings, right? Or I don’t want to eliminate human flourishing on Earth. I want to advance human flourishing, like, the more you can get these things, because if they’re not retained, they’re not used.
Robert Bryce 1:04:23
I agree. I’ve often said you know, the one of the reasons why the the oil industry always is backfoot it is that their opponents say well, Big Oil wants to contaminate your water. They want a response. Oh, no, we don’t, you’ve lost right? It has you need a bumper sticker but let me ask you because you’ve obviously been putting a lot into it. So how do you think of yourself in these in the I guess I still think of I’ve said this several times, I think of myself as a reporter right? You’re right. I mean, that’s what I don’t think of myself as a reporter. No. So how do you view yourself if you were going to call you’re going to you introduce yourself as a philosopher is that we
Alex Epstein 1:04:58
have velocity I mean, Think of it as, like a practical philosopher. I’m an energy expert. So practical. I think all philosophy should be practical, but most isn’t. So philosophy is all about studying, what’s the framework that we’re operating on? I know I’ve talked a lot about framework and my framework, or at least part of my framework versus the opposite. And then I’ve chosen to become an energy expert. So in terms of the things that I know the most about, it’s very skewed toward energy, including it’s the associated environmental type issues. And one of the big motivations was there was almost I don’t think there was anybody really on exactly the same framework I was, and then certainly nobody who had sort of, could study all the specific issues and synthesize them. And my background is a bit is technical enough, at least like that was always my strength when I was in school about like math and science and computer science and those kinds of things. So I had enough of a technical background, where I could learn the relevant science and engineering and economics enough to to get the big picture. And so I thought, Oh, this would be a really valuable thing to get. But you know, it could be like what I have done in energy I could have done, I could have done, I could have become an expert in some other field that is just I think the sort of core thing for me is, I’m really obsessed with the way of thinking about things. And then I just happened to have become obsessed with this issue. And I, in general, it’s good to specialize. So I found that like, when I went before I studied energy, like I studied 20 issues. And then you can never really get that deep into any of them. And you can never persuade people. Because to go back to my bike lock analogy, like every issue, you need to learn how to persuade. There’s certain universal dynamics, but there are a lot of specifics. So like, oh, how do you explain, like, how do you explain climate? Clearly? How do you explain energy there, all these little things, and it’s kind of like becoming a comedian, you need to really work out your material. And that takes a long time. So it’s another reason why I care about this issue, but also like, I’ve gotten good at it. And I would rather get better at this than just start something totally new. And suck at it.
Robert Bryce 1:07:03
Fair enough. So tell me about the new book, fossil future? Does it have a subtitle? And when is it out?
Alex Epstein 1:07:10
Yeah, this is the current subtitle is why global human flourishing requires more oil, coal, and natural gas, not less. So it’s one of these very new long subtitles, right? So it’s mainly meant to be read. Yeah. So the release date is to 20 to 22. So February 22 2022. And if people I mean, I think that if you want a sense of it, like if you listen to me now compared to six or seven years ago, like you’ll get a sense of there certain things I explained better. And in particular, this focus on framework, and understanding what I call the anti impact framework, and how that shapes our thinking badly. And then the human flourishing framework and how that causes us to think of it differently. So I think that the primary thing that’s different is that my framework for thinking about this issue is radically evolved in terms of my own thinking, and then my ability to explain it. And so that leads to a much more evolved argument. So I mean, one way to say it is it’s a lot clearer, because it’s based very clearly on this framework, I’d say the other elements, our moral case for fossil fuels, I wrote in six months, with what I knew back then. So it was it like it was not a comprehensive case. So this is really the comprehensive case like, and it’s also current, that’s another thing, because it’s it’s set. I mean, this is so much time has passed, there have been new issues introduced. But also like, it’s very possible that the realities of alternatives have changed the realities of climate has changed. Something that came out with 2013 data isn’t the same as something with 2020 or 2021. data. So I would say it’s mostly the clarity of it, but it’s also being comprehensive and it’s being current as well. That’s why like, I don’t know if there’s even one common sentence between the two books. Okay.
Robert Bryce 1:08:58
So let me add, we’ve been talking for more than an hour and my guest as a reminder is Alex Epstein. He’s the author of the pronunciation By the way, it’s
Alex Epstein 1:09:05
so rare anyone says it like that.
Robert Bryce 1:09:07
Alex Epstein is the author of the moral case for fossil fuels. You can find him on the Twitter you can find him on the Google he’s on twitter at at Alex epstein.com. You can also subscribe to his newsletter. Just add Alex Epstein at Alex Epstein. Right. Okay. So you’ve made it clear I think that your your most effective Excuse me, are you you see your most effective communication channels as Twitter and your newsletter? Is that is that fair enough? these days?
Alex Epstein 1:09:36
Yeah, I’m very I don’t want to say how much I like Twitter because maybe they’ll kick me off by become too effective. But yeah, I love I love Twitter. I think it’s particularly well because I love really concise stuff, right? And I don’t at all care about people saying negative things about me unless they have reasons and if they have reasons, then that’s useful to me. So that like the kind of negative stuff about it doesn’t adversely affect me. And the ability to connect with new smart people, particularly if you have a blue check is is shocking. Like, it’s it’s wild, like the other week, you I’m sure, you know, this is like Lenny Dykstra was commenting on my stuff and became a follower of mine, you know, the old guy for the Mets and the Phillies and like MMA fighters I like and you can just connect with anybody. On Twitter, there’s nothing like that a friend of mine had a post on Twitter. That was it was a grammatical post about the cover of Rolling Stone that involve blink 182. And she has a tiny following. And it got to millions of people to the point where one of the members of blink 182 publicly comment on it. Like there’s no equivalent of that. It’s just this magical thing. So it has this virality potential,
Robert Bryce 1:10:43
the sheer the sheer potential is is remarkable. So just a couple of last things here, Alex, because as I said, we’ve been talking for more than an hour, and I don’t want to keep you. So what are you reading? I know you, you you read a lot. You’ve you’re finishing your own book. What are you reading what’s on your nightstand, what books?
Alex Epstein 1:11:02
My reading is, so like, I go to huge from huge amounts of reading to small amounts of reading. So I mean, right now the thing I’m reading as I’m reading a book on psychology called feeling great by Dr. David Burns, because my girlfriend is very into psychology, that’s her field. And she recommended this. As an I’d heard him, I thought he’s interesting guy. But what might be relevant is that that book is a lot about how in psychology, there are different kinds of what he would call cognitive distortions, like ways of thinking about things. And basically all of them apply to energy. That’s not why I’m leading it. But it’s fascinating. They’ll talk about like, minimizing and maximizing. So like, you know, taking something and making it smaller than it is or making it bigger than it is, of course, we minimize the benefits. And we maximize the negative side effects of fossil fuel. So it’s interesting to look at kind of the way we think about energy as like, a psychologically abernant. thing. So that’s what I’ve been reading. Most recently, and then, I mean, I’ve mostly been reading my own book, and, and editing it and looking at data and stuff like that. Yeah, so that’s, that’s, that’s what’s on my mind.
Robert Bryce 1:12:10
So last question, what gives you hope?
Alex Epstein 1:12:15
Ah, well, the, I’d say what I said before the the energy humanists the rise of the energy, so two things is one that there are more of us, I think we’re getting better. And I also see no real obstacle. So what gives me optimism is when I see something that’s working, and that has a large potential to scale. And, and part of that is there’s not some obvious obstacle that can start it. So it gives me hope with myself, as I see myself becoming more effective as I get better. And I know that I can get way better. And I know that there are millions, if not billions, of people who have not heard my ideas, who would be open to them, and who will be more open as I express them more. So you know, every day or every couple days on Twitter, I’ll get some new blue check follower. And it’s not like they resisted me in the past, they had just never heard of this, even most conservatives have never heard of my views, let alone sort of more open minded type liberals. And then the other cool dynamic is that there’s this really interesting thing where there are these different breakthrough points with a new idea. And so it starts out as as like, oh, nobody will touch it, nobody will talk about it. And then you get to a point you start reaching enough people that are connected to people who are more skeptical. And the people who are kind of sympathetic will say, you know what, I don’t agree with Alex about everything. But he makes a good point. And once you get to that stage, like you sort of break the resistance, because people have to think about it. And once they have to think about it, then the floodgates can open. So I think of it as like, I’m trying to break this moral monopoly to take myself out. I’m trying to break this moral monopoly against fossil fuels, and get people to think about it in this full context pro human way. And when that gets acknowledged, again, I think it’s it’s gonna be a rapid kind of shift because I don’t think anyone really has an answer to it. And I haven’t the resistance to me has the resistance to me has been ignoring again, I New York Times bestselling book, New York Times didn’t mentioned my book, you mentioned kuhns book, like, okay, ignoring something that’s compelling, that is not a lasting strategy, particularly in an interconnected world. So I think as long as I keep getting better, people on our side keep getting better. I do think that there are going to be breakthroughs. Now, we want them to be faster than they are because the world is very much you know, I talked about unilateral disempowerment incentivized on empowerment like these are real dynamics and and you know, the US even right now as we’re talking like we’re really talking about a quote clean energy standard, which is means is such a euphemism. I mean, my current translation is just crackpot energy scheme, not clean energy standard for CES because the saying 80% quote clean by 2030, which if you run the numbers means at least 55% solar and wind us by 2030 and we’re at 10%. Now, and it causes huge cost and reliability problems. So this is like everyone. And their whole question is, oh, well, Joe Manchin stand up to it. Like we’re relying on these little political machinations to not dictatorial Li ruin our entire grid, or at least do that in policy, even if it doesn’t work out. So it’s like scary the pace of this stuff. And I’m hoping we can just buy a few more years, until the more rational ideas take hold. Because right now, the dominant ideas are doing, you’re really threatening to do terrible, like terrible things that, you know, you in Texas, have experienced and like people are starting to wake up like this is serious stuff, to have power to not have power.
Robert Bryce 1:15:44
And yeah, and we narrowly averted a complete catastrophe. Yeah, timing just so narrowly. And yet, I don’t think they’re the I don’t see, the thing that concerns me and we can end with this is just that I don’t can see the political class responding to the blackouts in California last year, and the blackouts in Texas this year in a way that that would indicate they understand the seriousness of what is happening and the under and the fragile nation to use Christopher’s word of our electric grid. And it’s very concerning to me, because this is where I’ve been living for the last four or five years and looking at the world through the lens of electricity. I mean,
Alex Epstein 1:16:22
to draw on some of your work, just so yeah, that is an understatement, unfortunately. I mean, if we talk about that, what are they mainly doing more advocating more solar and wind, advocating more IE V’s on a grid that already can’t provide it without the E V’s, and then this completely oblivious to this mass stopping of solar and wind? development. So it’s, it’s really they’re still on this focus of, oh, as long as we’re focused on eliminating impact, we’re doing a good thing, as long as we’re focused on solar wind, even if we’re gonna actually build it, as long as we’re stopping fossil fuels. Like we’re doing a good thing. And I’m trying to say, No, that is not the right goal, you’re doing a bad thing. And the more we can make them pay a price. In terms of note, you’re morally wrong. You are the bad people. Like the more they can pay that price. And the more there’s a positive alternative, then, that’s when things really shift.
Robert Bryce 1:17:14
Well, let’s end it there. I think that’s a good good way to draw to a close my guest, Alex Epstein, thank you very much for being on the power hungry podcast. You can find him on the web, on the Twitter he’s at at Alex Epstein on Twitter. He’s the author of the moral case for fossil fuels. Alex, thanks for being on the power hungry podcast. Hey, my pleasure. Great to see you. Thanks. Thanks. All of you in podcast land. Tune in next time for the next edition of this podcast. And if you have a chance, give us a one of those 64 star or 55 star ratings on your favorite podcast outlet. Until then, see you next time.