By Thomas M. Loarie

BOOK REVIEW: Inconvenient Facts—The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels

May 5, 2015
Column: CEO Learnings

Alex Epstein’s book, The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels, begins to provide balance to the global debate on climate change, the use of fossil fuels, and the use of alternative sources of energy. Until now, fossil fuels have been demonized as a short-range, unsustainable, destructive habit.  Politicians, the lay press, and environmental ideologues, buoyed by ‘bad science” and irresponsible speculation, have climbed on the anti-fossil fuel bandwagon demanding massive restrictions on fossil fuel use. Recently, the Obama administration said it wants the U.S. to commit to “reducing greenhouse-gas emissions more than 25% by 2025 and economy-wide emission reductions of 80% or more by 2050.”

The President, however, is silent on the tradeoffs of these reductions to human life. How will human life benefit? Will these reductions lead to unreliable, costly energy sources? Will they have a significant impact on global temperatures? Will we end up with energy rationing and costly regulation? Will economic growth be negatively impacted, putting downward pressure on job creation and personal income (which will affect the lower income workers the most?) Will America be weaker?

The President’s clean power plan – requiring every state to meet federal carbon-emission-reduction targets – would reduce the sea-level increase by less than half the thickness of a dime…at what cost to human life?

Epstein maintains that we are morally bound to develop a balanced approach to energy policy, not one guided by political ideology and “climate religion” guides. He says we need to focus on good science to get the facts needed to develop responsible climate policy options. We also need to use human life as the standard of value when considering these options.

Epstein is not alone.

The Vatican will soon add its own contribution to what Pope Francis calls “human ecology” in the form of the summit called “protect the earth, dignified humanity.” Vatican observers feel this is a “topic ripe for precisely the kind of corrective a Pope has to offer: a reminder that God’s creation is meant to serve man – not man to serve the environment.”

Mankind does have an obligation of stewardship but the earth is to be worked. As William McGurn recently wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “we need to put the human back in human ecology.”

The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels makes the case that man and fossil fuels are not the despoilers, speeding the planet along the path to doom and destruction, as depicted by climate-change ideologues. The natural environment is not naturally a healthy, safe place. This is why human beings historically had a life expectancy of 30. It is only thanks to cheap, plentiful, reliable energy that we live in an environment where the water we drink and the food we eat will not make us sick and where heat, cooling, and shelter are used to combat the hostile elements of Mother Nature. “It’s hard to be happy when you do not know where your next meal is coming from.”

One fact about energy missing from the discussion is that people around the world need much, much more energy. On a planet with 7 billion people, there are over 3 billion who are classified as not having adequate, reliable electricity and whopping 1.3 billion who have no electricity. 61% of the world’s population lives with more helplessness, more suffering, and more death.  

Epstein notes another fact absent from the debate. He notes that there is virtually no discussion “on the benefits of cheap, reliable energy from fossil fuels. This is a failure to think big picture, to consider all the benefits and all the risks. Climate experts didn’t expect the spectacular benefits that energy brought about in the last 30 years.” Both life expectancy and income increased rapidly over the last few decades. Infant mortality has plummeted in China by 70% and in India by 58%.

When we look at the data, a fascinating fact emerges: As we have used more fossil fuels, our resource situation, our environment situation, and our climate situation have been improving.” U.S. air pollution goes down despite increasing fossil fuel use. Good water quality around the world has gone up dramatically in the last 25 years as countries have used more and more fossil fuels. Water purification plants that protect us from naturally contaminated water, and sanitation systems that protect us from natural disease and animal wastes, use fossil fuels.

Other topics covered by Epstein include:

  • A history of fossil fuels and renewable energy sources.
  • The energy challenge facing the world.
  • A review of other energy sources and their tradeoffs.
    • The efficiency problems of solar and wind: the diluteness and intermittency.
    • The problems with biomass: processing and scalability.
    • Hydro technology: cheap, reliable, medium-scale energy.
    • Nuclear technology: reliable, scalable. Cheap?
  • Fossil fuel’s role in feeding the world.
  • Climate dishonesty: extreme misrepresentation about extreme weather. The author provides a great and disturbing history of oft-quoted comment that “97% of climate scientists agree that there is global warming and that human beings are the main cause.”
  • Interference, intimidation, and the abridgment of scientific freedom by Ideological bullies trying to silence a responsible public debate on climate change.
  • Using fossil fuels with an eye on improving our environment by reducing risks and side effects.
  • The sustainability of fossil fuels.

The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels explodes many of the myths surrounding our use of fossil fuels and provides the framework for responsible and balanced debate on the use of fossil fuels. There is a moral case to be made for their use.  

We deserve and should demand a rigorous, big picture examination of fossil fuels – their benefits and their impact on climate and other environmental issues. Human life must be our standard of value. Seven billion people and their welfare depend on it.

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BUY NOW FROM AMAZON:  The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels, by Alex Epstein

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Thomas M. Loarie is the CEO of BryoLogyx, a rotating host of THE MENTORS RADIO SHOW, and a senior editorial advisor and columnist for Catholic Business Journal. He may be reached at [email protected]

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