Fuel For Humanity

 

The modern environmental movement is guilty of a great many sins — alarmism, data-fudging, it’s knee-jerk embrace of socialism — but the clear winner is its indifference to human well-being. Occasionally, this manifests itself in open misanthropy, complete with comparisons of humans to locusts who decided to ditch their usual standards of social responsibility and just live in the moment. More often, however, it’s simply a matter of ignorance combined with selfishness: fossil fuels hurt the earth; using them makes me feel bad; therefore, we should try to use less of them ourselves and force others to do the same.

Even if fossil fuels are less-dangerous than advertised — as seems to be the case — this ignores the other half of the the ledger: what are the benefits of using hydrocarbon fuels? Only after examining that can one arrive at an informed opinion.

Attempting a fuller accounting that weighs assets against liabilities is what Alexander Epstein’s new book, The Moral Case For Fossil Fuels is all about. I’m only part way through it, but it makes for good reading and an excellent resource (the charts showing how energy consumption and fuel reserves have increased in the past few decades while pollutants have decreased over the same period are, themselves, almost worth the cover price). For a short introduction, I’d also recommend the Cato Daily Podcast interview with Epstein from a few months back. Reason’s Ronald Bailey offers a qualified endorsement, with the negatives being based more on a dislike for Epstein’s framing of the argument than a disagreement with it.

Simply put, modern life is dependent on energy consumption and the more energy one has access to, the better one’s average quality of life. This isn’t simply about our favorite electronic devices: without our modern levels of energy, we’d lose our economy, as well as also our abilities to keep people warm in the winter, cool in the summer, cured when sick, and fed when when hungry. As F.A. Hayek argues more generally in The Fatal Conceit, prosperity engenders responsibility:

Like it or not, the current world population already exists. Destroying its material foundation in order to attain the ‘ethical’ or instinctually gratifying improvements advocated by socialists would be tantamount to condoning the death of billions and the impoverishment of the rest.

If we care about others, we need energy and — despite billions of dollars and years of research — no other resource has yet shown itself to be as reliable, scalable, inexpensive, or easily-used and transported as fossil fuels.

Obviously, we should keep looking at alternatives — hey, we might find something even better! — and try to improve on what we have. No one, after all, wants pollution and there is some point at which the costs would outweigh the benefits.

But as Epstein argues, we aren’t anywhere near it.

There are 20 comments.

  1. Member

    I’ve heard Epstein interviewed, including even on Dr. Drew’s podcast. Energy advocates like Epstein excite me the same way that climate change “deniers” do: these are courageous folk who are not intimidated by the army of psedo- and a I-science zealots who are trying to use fake science and lies to wreck Western Civilization and progress.

    • #1
    • January 19, 2015 at 10:19 am
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  2. Member

    I’ve heard Epstein interviewed, including even on Dr. Drew’s podcast. Energy advocates like Epstein excite me the same way that climate change “deniers” do: these are courageous folk who are not intimidated by the army of pseudo- and anti-science zealots who are trying to use fake science and lies to stunt and reverse Western Civilization and progress.

    • #2
    • January 19, 2015 at 10:24 am
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  3. Member

    Al Gore is the prophet of Global Warming yet he flies around in private jets. The Hollywood elite who want everyone else to stop using fossil fuels live in huge mansions that require much more energy to heat and cool than the average home. Their words do not match their deeds.

    The bigger picture is that Liberals decided a long time ago to replace the God of Abraham and Moses and His Son Jesus Christ with a new God called Mother Nature. In their desire to worship Nature, it is ok with them if some poor slobs have to pay more for gasoline or utility bills. It is also ok if farms dry up in California as long as we save some species of fish that no one cares about. Humanity is less important than Nature in the eyes of their new religion. Of course, when any of this inconveniences them directly, they quickly lose the faith.

    • #3
    • January 19, 2015 at 11:13 am
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  4. Editor

    I hate to comment on a book I haven’t read. Just noting that this book as described in the blurb–and believe me, I know how blurbs are written, so I know this may not be what the book says–has some heavy lifting to do:

    If we look at the big picture of fossil fuels compared with the alternatives

    If this somehow ends up as an argument against nuclear power, it’s going to have to be a pretty impressive argument to win me over.

    Want to tell me how it does that? Or if that’s just marketing blurb?

    • #4
    • January 19, 2015 at 11:21 am
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  5. Inactive

    Claire Berlinski: Want to tell me how it does that? Or if that’s just marketing blurb?

    I also haven’t read it, but I heard him interviewed on the Dennis Prager show and on the Atomic Podcast (pro-nuclear power) and he is not against nuclear power at all.

    http://atomicinsights.com/atomic-show-230-alex-epstein-moral-case-fossil-fuels/

    Alex Epstein then invited Rod Adams (from The Atomic Show) back to be interviewed on his own podcast.

    http://industrialprogress.com/2015/01/14/power-hour-rod-adams-on-the-secret-history-of-nuclear-power/

    Past interviews have been pro nuclear as well.

    http://industrialprogress.com/2012/05/16/nuclear-power-is-the-safest-power-the-best-of-power-hour/

    And this manifesto appears to also be pro-nuclear (I skimmed it).

    http://industrialprogress.com/2013/11/21/the-industrial-manifesto-2/

    • #5
    • January 19, 2015 at 11:46 am
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  6. Member

    Tom Meyer, Ed.: …but the clear winner is its indifference to human well-being.

    I wish it was just indifference. Too often environmentalism seems to spill over into anti-human animus.

    The Population Bomb folks don’t seem to understand the solution to what ails us environmentally will come from people, not Gaia.

    • #6
    • January 19, 2015 at 11:49 am
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  7. Member

    Claire Berlinski:I hate to comment on a book I haven’t read. Just noting that this book as described in the blurb–and believe me, I know how blurbs are written, so I know this may not be what the book says–has some heavy lifting to do:

    If this somehow ends up as an argument against nuclear power, it’s going to have to be a pretty impressive argument to win me over.

    Want to tell me how it does that? Or if that’s just marketing blurb?

    I have read the book. It is not really an argument against nuclear power. Rather, he argues (pretty persuasively) that fossil fuels, at present, are more economical and have less environmental impact than nuclear.

    I think a good illustration of what he means can be shown with ship propulsion. Back in the 1950s the Next Big Thing in ships was supposed to be the nuclear-powered ships. It seemed a natural development. But low-speed diesel proved more economical (at least in part because a diesel is easier to maintain than a steam plant). Except for a few specialized applications (submarines and large warships) nuclear-powered ships disappeared. (The Next Big Thing in ships proved to be the container.)

    Similarly, while he likes hydro and geothermal, he argues these cannot produce enough power. They are not scaleable.

    Epstein’s biggest bricks are aimed at solar and wind, which he maintains are much more damaging to the environment than fossil fuels.

    Seawriter

    • #7
    • January 19, 2015 at 12:26 pm
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  8. Contributor

    Claire Berlinski: If this somehow ends up as an argument against nuclear power, it’s going to have to be a pretty impressive argument to win me over. Want to tell me how it does that? Or if that’s just marketing blurb?

    It’s not anti-nuclear, but it does prevaricate about it more than seems necessary:

    The opposition has led nuclear power to be considered far more dangerous than other sources, unjustifiably. And it means that the nuclear industry has become an essentially government-controlled industry—which, like many a government-controlled industry, has higher prices than others. Thus we don’t really know what nuclear would cost without the pseudoscientific opposition. What we do know is that, besides fossil fuel energy, it is by far the most scalable form of energy in the world.

    In the best-case scenario, though, nuclear is still decades away from scaling to becoming a leading global source of electricity, let alone somehow providing transportation solutions at the level oil can. Thus there is no prospect of nuclear “replacing” fossil fuels anytime soon.

    It’s the sort of argument he’d be really quick to dismiss were it directed at fossil fuels.

    • #8
    • January 19, 2015 at 12:28 pm
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  9. Thatcher

    Tom,

    This is right on target. However, one of these days somebody really needs to get tough with the environmentalists and make an estimate of just how many lives have been damaged by their false and exaggerated theories over the last 45 years.

    Trillions of GNP lost, billions of lives economically crippled, millions of high paying jobs lost, millions of families not started and millions of babies not born.

    It’s time to present the environmental movement with the bill. Of course, they won’t be paying up but maybe the rest of us will think twice before we give these ideologues any more benefit of the doubt.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #9
    • January 19, 2015 at 12:35 pm
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  10. Member

    Full disclosure: I am and have been a petroleum geologist for nearly 40 years.

    That said, I’m not sure that the opponents of hydrocarbon energy are really concerned about fossil fuels hurting the earth… if they were they’d be much more aware of the devastating environmental effects of mining the rare earth minerals used both in solar cells and wind turbine magnets.

    I think that underlying opposition to fossil fuel development is fueled by two factors.

    1) Among the naive and poorly informed, it’s the same sentiment that drives the de-industrialization movement generally: an inchoate belief in Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s imagined primitive state of nature in which injustice and inequity could not exist.

    It’s not just hydrocarbon energy. Opponents of cheap energy like Paul Erlich have famously said that have said things like “the prospect of cheap, inexhaustible power from fusion is “like giving a machine gun to an idiot child.

    If they were genuinely concerned about carbon dioxide emisions, environmentalists would be at the forefront of those advocating the development of advanced and safe nuclear power generation. Unlike this idiot.

    dontneedgeoecienceanymore

    2) Among the elites it’s a desire for political and social power, combined with an unsuprising degree of scentific illiteracy and a stunning lack of self-awareness. The restrictions they advocate for the rest of us do not, and will not ever apply to them.

    At the Copenhagen UN Climate summit of 2009: Copenhagen’s international airport reported that just during the peak period of the climate-change summit, it is expecting almost 150 private jets — so many luxury planes, in fact, that they will have to fly to other nearby airports to wait for their passengers after dropping them off in Copenhagen. Ironically, one of the main talking points right now is the imposition of high global taxes on air travel, presumably to fund more “green” initiatives (more likely to fund government largesse like private planes and limos).

    At the New York People Climate March: It’s been a crazy, busy, gas-guzzling summer for Leonardo DiCaprio, the famous actor and environmental activist.

    On Sunday, as the summer wound down, the mega-rich DiCaprio (estimated net worth: $220 million) was in New York City to join a mile-long swath of protesters for the People’s Climate March, reports the Daily Mail.

    At the very beginning of this summer, in mid-June, DiCaprio jetted into Brazil on a private plane to take in the opening match of the 2014 World Cup.

    While in Brazil, the 39-year-old plump playboy stayed on a 470-foot yacht owned by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan of Abu Dhabi, according to Arab News. The glitzy yacht, called the Topaz, is the fifth-biggest yacht on earth. The fancypants vessel boasts a gym, a movie theater, two helipads and three swimming pools.

    • #10
    • January 19, 2015 at 12:37 pm
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  11. Moderator

    Tom Meyer, Ed.: Fuel For Humanity

    4748891804_1bceaa2679_z

    • #11
    • January 19, 2015 at 1:13 pm
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  12. Contributor

    Tom Meyer, Ed.: Quoting Alexander Epstein:

    ‘In the best-case scenario, though, nuclear is still decades away from scaling to becoming a leading global source of electricity, let alone somehow providing transportation solutions at the level oil can. Thus there is no prospect of nuclear “replacing” fossil fuels anytime soon.’

    This depends on national policy and will. Given a green light for nuclear development, existing nuclear fission power could provide more than 70% of electricity worldwide by 2050. (This is what I’ve called the “3500 reactor scenario” since 1998). Moving from grid electrical power to mobile transportation is more complicated. The first fix is to simply replace all fixed electrical energy and heating with nuclear power (this will require a massive upgrade of the power grid, in addition to the nuclear power plants). Then you look at synthetic fuels including hydrogen, produced both from natural gas with wellhead reformation and carbon sequestration, plus electrolytic production of hydrogen from seawater. Electric vehicles with fast charging from the grid will meet the needs of many people. I would have required a range greater than that of current electric vehicles only twice the the last 20 years.

    This is a big project, but comparable to building out the Interstate Highway System in the U.S.

    • #12
    • January 19, 2015 at 3:57 pm
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  13. Contributor

    Today the world is emerging from poverty at a rate we’ve never seen before. Each year, between 50 million and 100 million people “cross the line” out of poverty. This is an astonishing trend, and it’s among the biggest under-reported news stories in the world.

    There is simply no way to keep this trend going — to bring another four, five, six or seven billion people out of poverty — without extracting a huge amount of fuel from the Earth. Conservation alone cannot possibly provide enough power to bring so many more people out of poverty. Whether we can do this mostly with nuclear power, or whether we’ll also need fossil fuels, is a question for experts.

    The political issue is whether those of us who aren’t in poverty will prevent those who are struggling to emerge from poverty from getting the fuel they’ll need. When the environmentalists tell us they want a “clean” Earth, we must point out to them that keeping the Earth “clean” also means condemning billions of people to perpetual poverty.

    Now, that’s an argument we should welcome….

    • #13
    • January 19, 2015 at 4:21 pm
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  14. Member

    Herbert E. Meyer: The political issue is whether those of us who aren’t in poverty will prevent those who are struggling to emerge from poverty from getting the fuel they’ll need. When the environmentalists tell us they want a “clean” Earth, we must point out to them that keeping the Earth “clean” also means condemning billions of people to perpetual poverty.

    Environmentalists are generally those rich enough to afford the fad of environmentalism or those whose rice bowl is built on environmentalism.

    For both, condemning billions of people to perpetual poverty is a feature, not a bug. The former hire cheap labor to tend to their needs from these poor. The latter use the poor to guilt the rest of us.

    Seawriter

    • #14
    • January 19, 2015 at 4:43 pm
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  15. Thatcher

    Seawriter:

    Herbert E. Meyer: The political issue is whether those of us who aren’t in poverty will prevent those who are struggling to emerge from poverty from getting the fuel they’ll need. When the environmentalists tell us they want a “clean” Earth, we must point out to them that keeping the Earth “clean” also means condemning billions of people to perpetual poverty.

    Environmentalists are generally those rich enough to afford the fad of environmentalism or those whose rice bowl is built on environmentalism.

    For both, condemning billions of people to perpetual poverty is a feature, not a bug. The former hire cheap labor to tend to their needs from these poor. The latter use the poor to guilt the rest of us.

    Seawriter

    Sea,

    Bingo.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #15
    • January 19, 2015 at 5:10 pm
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  16. Contributor

    Claire Berlinski:If this somehow ends up as an argument against nuclear power, it’s going to have to be a pretty impressive argument to win me over.

    Want to tell me how it does that? Or if that’s just marketing blurb?

    Having finished the book, just wanted to circle back on this.

    The book’s thesis is more properly a defense of energy and industrialization in general, with an overwhelming focus on fossil fuels in particular. Every time Epstein mentions nuclear energy — even fusion — it’s to say that it’s the only real alternative to fossil fuel, that it should be pursued, and that the Greens are absolutely insane to oppose it. But he never really develops that point beyond a quick aside, which is frustrating.

    That said, I do really recommend the book. Lots of great information and the arguments are very solid. He’s really good at describing just how pervasive our dependence on energy is, and how much better off we are for it.

    • #16
    • January 28, 2015 at 11:12 am
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  17. Member

    Tom Meyer, Ed.:

    Having finished the book, just wanted to circle back on this.

    The book’s thesis is more properly a defense of energy and industrialization in general, with an overwhelming focus on fossil fuels in particular. Every time Epstein mentions nuclear energy — even fusion — it’s to say that it’s the only real alternative to fossil fuel, that it should be pursued, and that the Greens are absolutely insane to oppose it. But he never really develops that point beyond a quick aside, which is frustrating.

    That said, I do really recommend the book. Lots of great information and the arguments are very solid. He’s really good at describing just how pervasive our dependence on energy is, and how much better off we are for it.

    Second what you said. As to the nuclear argument, the best defense of nuclear power I read was written nearly 40 years ago: The Health Hazards of Not Going Nuclear by Petr Beckmann. It may be a little dated, and (as I recall) it exaggerated the hazards of fossil fuels, but it is a good companion to The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels.

    Seawriter

    • #17
    • January 28, 2015 at 12:19 pm
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  18. Member

    At least this savant thinks fracking is done

    • #18
    • January 28, 2015 at 5:31 pm
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  19. Member

    ParisParamus:At least this savant thinks fracking is done

    He should feel free to sell fracking short then.

    It is worth pointing out earlier he predicted an end to the fracking boom because it was going to cost too much to drill, and looking at this he is now predicting the an end to the fracking boom because fracking is too efficient.

    Seawriter

    • #19
    • January 28, 2015 at 5:45 pm
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  20. Contributor

    Seawriter:

    Second what you said. As to the nuclear argument, the best defense of nuclear power I read was written nearly 40 years ago: The Health Hazards of Not Going Nuclear by Petr Beckmann. It may be a little dated, and (as I recall) it exaggerated the hazards of fossil fuels, but it is a good companion to The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels.

    I’m really just amazed at how ignorant people are about nuclear energy. They really think radiation is something magic. It’s not.

    • #20
    • January 28, 2015 at 5:51 pm
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