The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels

The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels

Book - 2014
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Publisher: New York : Portfolio/Penguin, [2014]
Copyright Date: ©2014
ISBN: 9781591847441
Characteristics: 248 pages : illustrations


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Mar 03, 2019

[Originally posted on June 6, 2018 but somehow deleted]
Alex Epstein has indeed brought a practical philosopher's assessment to the fraught topic of modern energy and, in so doing, reveals how skewed our conventional views have become. I've just finished reading Epstein's book, and the Library Journal "review" doesn't correspond well at all and largely misrepresents the book. (The review's "verdict" at the end is truly bizarre in recommending a different book instead!) As it presented the "big picture" we never see otherwise, this well-researched book filled many gaps in my understanding of energy options and the history of fossil fuel.

The human standard of value that Epstein bases his assessments on is in contrast to the rather extreme view espoused by some that humans are not part of nature and are in conflict with it -- an anti-human philosophy. He doesn't say we have the "moral imperative to burn fossil fuels" but rather to use more energy in helping human flourishing. As he clearly documents, it is the use of fossil fuels that enabled our amazing progress in the past century and a half, and those cheap, reliable fuels are still crucial to our continued flourishing. The so-called "sustainable" energy sources, wind and solar, are neither cheap nor reliable (nor truly clean) and can only be used on an industrial scale with the backing support of fossil fuels.

The research that went into this book is quite amazing and supports some surprising correlations that are presented with clear tables and graphs that include their data sources. Contrary to the Library Journal review, these aren't "claiming that one event causes another" but illustrate that a number of measures of well-being have improved with increased energy abundance. This is the basis for the moral case that Epstein so clearly lays out. Admitting that fossil fuels have been polluting, he points out that such problems have always been ameliorated through improved technology. Meanwhile the societies gaining access to greater amounts of energy have reaped clear benefit. Although it may be hard for us to understand, now that we can maintain clean air despite using fossil fuel, he recounts that 19th century residents of towns and cities afflicted with coal haze felt themselves much better off than before coal fuel was available. And unlike people in underdeveloped parts of the world deprived of such energy, we are largely oblivious to the blessings of the cheap and reliable energy provided to us by fossil fuels.

As Epstein argues, it is immoral to attempt to deny access to the energy that is needed to improve our lives in almost every way. While he acknowledges that technology may eventually bring us some superior energy source, there is no moral reason for denying humans the benefits of abundant fossil fuels now. The activists claiming damage and looming catastrophe may be convinced otherwise, but they have neither a scientific nor a sound moral basis for their opposition.

Oct 21, 2017

Millions of third world inhabitants have only animal dung to burn for their cooking , and also
for heat. Did you know that burning coal is much healthier than burning dung?
Extreme environmentalists want no coal to be mined for these people ( or oil ) thus saving
"Mother Earth", people be damned. Positive result : millions of people die. ( Margaret
Sanger would be pleased. )

Oct 20, 2017

Please read the Library Journal review of this book above. It is excellent. As the Library Journal suggest; don't waste your time reading this preposterous book. Read instead "The Burning Question" by Mike Berner-Lee it is available from Seattle Public Library.

Oct 19, 2017

This is a fantastic book that calmly and logically provides a counter argument to our climate-alarmist-gone-wild societies' never ending wailing about the sky falling. Epstein provides plenty of data to reference, and not only that but a great opinion on the human struggle and condition. This book should absolutely be required reading for every single student (and person) in developed societies specifically. I am ecstatic about being armed with some irrefutable logic the next time some snowflake starts whining about how dirty cars are that run on gasoline.

2.12 edit - I have had this book on request for 2 months now and there appears to be only ONE COPY in the entire system! (another copy is "lost") How suspect.. the theory the author presents seems to fly in the face of popular opinion so they are essentially burning the book? Quaint. I will happily go and buy it to support the author.

May 21, 2017

Regardless of the data itself, Epstein's overall philosophy expressed in this book is an important turn on mainstream thought biases. He plays devil's advocate with many of the arguments we've taken for granted since public school. Epstein isn't a climate change denier, nor does he claim that fossil fuels have no dangerous side effects. He simply emphasizes that if we hold human life as our standard of value, then fossil fuels are at this moment in time, the most efficient way to increase the quality of life for the most amount of people.

The same philosophy can be applied to many different arguments where costs are weighed over benefits in relation to the quality of human life. For instance, the government ought to ban automobiles, due to their enormous death tolls, reliance on fossil fuels, and destruction of the environment, and we could revert back to walking; or we could accept the costs in return for the invaluable benefits we receive from automobiles, and hope that in another twenty years when they are fully automatic, road fatalities will be almost non-existent.

Of course, even admitting that human life is the most important thing on earth is a disgusting and immoral thought to some. In that case, Epstein will be unreadable. In an upsetting case of irony, some of us who live with the highest quality of life in a thriving modern world strongly believe that 'improvement' can only consist of going back to 'natural, organic, and green'. We inherit a world with low infant mortality, free of tuberculosis, polio, smallpox, and yet we trash Big Pharma for destroying our lives. We take our heated hockey rinks and 1-hour work commute, and trash Big Oil for destroying the world.

For the rest of us, accepting our present world of fossil fuels as, at this moment, the single most efficient way to increase the quality and happiness of the most amount of people worldwide, is not immoral.

Dec 22, 2016

“The War on Science Is Over. The Republicans Won. How the Trump administration made Texas Congressman Lamar Smith's dreams come true”
by Emily Atkin, posted April 5, 2018, at The New Republic
“Fossil Fuels : Debating the Moral Case for Fossil Fuels”
by Stephen Lacey, posted February 12, 2015, at The Energy Gang – A Greentech Media Podcast
“Top 10 Garbage Climate Change Stories From The Koch Brothers’ Favorite Right-Wing Website”
by Denise Robbins, posted June 29, 2016, at Media Matters For America
“Climate truthers are losing it: Conservatives’ anti-science crusade stoops to a new low”
by Lindsay Abrams, posted September 26, 2014, at Salon


Add a Summary
EuSei Aug 09, 2015

For decades, environmentalists have told us that using fossil fuels is a self-destructive addiction that will destroy our planet. Yet at the same time, by every measure of human well-being, from life expectancy to clean water to climate safety, life has been getting better and better.

How can this be?

The explanation, energy expert Alex Epstein argues in The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels, is that we usually hear only one side of the story. We’re taught to think only of the negatives of fossil fuels, their risks and side effects, but not their positives—their unique ability to provide cheap, reliable energy for a world of seven billion people. And the moral significance of cheap, reliable energy, Epstein argues, is woefully underrated. Energy is our ability to improve every single aspect of life, whether economic or environmental.

If we look at the big picture of fossil fuels compared with the alternatives, the overall impact of using fossil fuels is to make the world a far better place. We are morally obligated to use more fossil fuels for the sake of our economy and our environment.

Drawing on original insights and cutting-edge research, Epstein argues that most of what we hear about fossil fuels is a myth. For instance . . .

Myth: Fossil fuels are dirty.
Truth: The environmental benefits of using fossil fuels far outweigh the risks. Fossil fuels don’t take a naturally clean environment and make it dirty; they take a naturally dirty environment and make it clean. They don’t take a naturally safe climate and make it dangerous; they take a naturally dangerous climate and make it ever safer.

Myth: Fossil fuels are unsustainable, so we should strive to use “renewable” solar and wind.
Truth: The sun and wind are intermittent, unreliable fuels that always need backup from a reliable source of energy—usually fossil fuels. There are huge amounts of fossil fuels left, and we have plenty of time to find something cheaper.

Myth: Fossil fuels are hurting the developing world.
Truth: Fossil fuels are the key to improving the quality of life for billions of people in the developing world. If we withhold them, access to clean water plummets, critical medical machines like incubators become impossible to operate, and life expectancy drops significantly. Calls to “get off fossil fuels” are calls to degrade the lives of innocent people who merely want the same opportunities we enjoy in the West.

Taking everything into account, including the facts about climate change, Epstein argues that “fossil fuels are easy to misunderstand and demonize, but they are absolutely good to use. And they absolutely need to be championed. . . . 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.”

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