The Freedom Project hosted Alex Epstein, author of New York Times Bestseller “The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels,” which argued that fossil fuels offer the greatest access to cheap, reliable, and plentiful energy. The lecture was held on Thursday Sept. 17 and sparked a discussion about his controversial stance.
Epstein acknowledged that the title of his book was controversial, noting that he was surprised to find himself speaking at a relatively liberal institution like Wellesley. The author began his lecture with a poll of the room, asking the audience if they felt morally obligated to get off fossil fuels quickly, slowly, or to use more. The crowd split about half and half between the first two options, with only Epstein and a few supporters choosing the third.
Epstein began his case by explaining the moral standard he would be using. According to his reasoning, something is moral if it is beneficial to human well-being, human survival and human progress. Epstein pointed out the importance of considering positives and negatives, as well as viable alternatives, of something before determining if it is moral or not.
“I think what really needs to be taught is really the truth of the history and evolution of human well-being on this planet, and how the planet is a very dynamic and dangerous place, and how human beings have had to transform it to thrive,” Epstein said.
He also discussed the fact that the majority of what is taught in schools typically highlights only the negative effects of fossil fuels.
“I think changes need to be in academia such that there’s more of a competition among disagreeing movements versus an establishment where everybody is comfortable,” Epstein said. He went on to cite his problems with the way that the academic world tends to view fossil fuels and energy.
Almost every point in the presentation connected to the goal of maximizing human well-being, primarily through Epstein’s emphasis on climate livability as a result of fossil fuels. Epstein defines climate livability in terms of climate related deaths, saying that fewer climate related deaths means that the climate is more livable. After presenting data that these numbers are decreasing, Epstein asserted that fossil fuel use takes a dangerous climate and makes it safer.
He also noted that every resource needs to be altered in some way for people to use it.
“I think that if people understand that transforming nature is how we live, they won’t have a hostility toward it, and they won’t have a terror every time they learn that we’re making some change,” Epstein said.
He does not consider himself a climate change doubter, but rather someone who questions if the way human action is changing the planet is negative.
“When I’m in a college classroom I assume that every person in the audience is there because they’re open to an honest discussion of the issues,” Epstein said, although the majority of attendees did not share Epstein’s opinion.
The audience lived up to its end of the bargain, and those with dissenting ideas were respectful and intelligent in their questions. Participants, some students and some not, made a variety of points to challenge Epstein’s ideas about fossil fuels. Some brought up issues from their home communities that suggest climate change and other adverse effects are more problematic than Epstein acknowledges, mentioning issues that include fracking and poor air quality.
Epstein seems to welcome the controversy associated with his work, which reached a high when the author showed a clip featuring himself at the People’s Climate March in New York City wearing an “I ♥ fossil fuels” shirt. Epstein acknowledged that his shirt did not necessarily need to express his enthusiasm for fossil fuels specifically but for energy as a whole. He explained that he went with fossil fuels because he believes that right now they offer the cheapest, most reliable and plentiful option.
Photo Courtesy of Wellesley College