Book review: The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels

Nature may get great PR but “does not want us to have a life expectancy of seventy-five or an infant mortality below 1 percent.”  To survive and prosper humanity needs technology and the energy that powers it, and every form of energy presents its own set of risks and trade-offs.

For the foreseeable future we need fossil fuels, and Alex Epstein makes the moral case for them in his book.  Here’s an excerpt from Robert Zubrin’s review, followed by 5 excerpts from the book itself:

indexEpstein is a clear-minded philosopher, so he begins by stating the ethical standard of his case. “This book is about morality, about right and wrong. To me, the question of what to do about fossil fuels and any other moral issue comes down to: What will promote human life? What will promote human flourishing — realizing the full potential of life? Colloquially, how do we maximize the years in our life and the life in our years?” He then proceeds rapidly through a great number of well-known data, demonstrating the powerful historical link between increased fossil-fuel use and rising living standards, increased life expectancy, decreased infant and child mortality, and so forth, as well as some surprising material showing drastic drops in climate-related misfortunes, including deaths from droughts and storms. He has a nice section dealing with the global-warming debate itself, where he cleanly separates the truthful introduction to the climate alarmists’ argument — that enriching the atmospheric CO2 content will cause the trapping of some infrared emissions from the Earth’s surface in the troposphere — from its completely unsupported and demonstrably false conclusion that this phenomenon will generate self-accelerating feedbacks with catastrophic consequences.

“The Holocene [the current climatic age] is an abstraction; it is not a ‘climate’ anyone lived in; it is a summary of a climate system that contains an incredible variety of climates that individuals lived in. And, in practice, we can live in pretty much any of them if we are industrialized and pretty much none of them if we aren’t.”

“Nature does not want us to have a life expectancy of seventy-five or an infant mortality below 1 percent. Nature, the sum of all things on Earth, doesn’t care about human beings one way or another and attacks us with bacteria-filled water, excessive heat, lack of rainfall, too much rainfall, powerful storms, decay, disease carrying insects and other animals, and a large assortment of predators. . . .”

“To put it bluntly, in our ‘natural climate,’ absent technology, human beings are as sick as dogs and drop like flies. . . . Climate livability is not just a matter of the state of the global climate system, but also of the technology (or lack thereof) that we have available to deal with any given climate…  having that technology is useless unless we have the energy to run it.” 

“…the benefits of fossil fuels go far beyond climate: cheap, plentiful, reliable energy gives human beings the power to improve every aspect of life, including productivity, food, clothing, and shelter. You can’t be a humanitarian and condemn the energy humanity needs. . . . To oppose fossil fuels is ultimately to oppose the underdeveloped world.”

We don’t take a safe environment and make it dangerous; we take a dangerous environment and make it far safer.” 

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