On Wednesday, Oct. 14, about 230 people — mostly from the energy sector — attended The Future of Energy event hosted by the Chamber of Commerce Alliance. The event, held at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Ventura, included a panel with speakers from wind, solar, electric and the oil and gas industries, covering the current gamut of energy providers.
A common theme with all panelists was the challenge of environmental regulation in California. Even solar and wind projects struggle, or are even totally unable, to get approval in the strict environmental climate in the state.
But the main attraction was author and energy theorist, Alex Epstein, and the presentation of his position regarding fossil fuels.
“Humanity needs to use more fossil fuels as a moral imperative,” said Epstein. He said his moral standard is based on maximizing human well-being. He pointed to the history of environmental thinking as being biased about energy overall, and how the benefits of fossil fuels are often ignored. The 35-year-old author, speaker and sometimes activist from Chevy Chase, Maryland, wearing a green t-shirt that said, “I heart fossil fuels,” said his message is not a gimmick, and he wasn’t paid by the oil and gas industry to write his book The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels.
“Epstein gave us exactly what we wanted, a presentation that would stimulate thought and conversation from everyone in attendance,” said Scott Eicher, chair of the Chamber Alliance and CEO of the Ojai Valley Chamber of Commerce. “The best thing about this presentation is that very few people heard him say the same thing.” Take-away impressions from some at the event were full-out focus on fossil fuels; others heard a message about balancing energy sources; while still others thought the focus was on the structure of the energy debate and how facts and all risks and benefits need to be included and considered.
He spoke about his experience as a college student at Duke University studying math, science and philosophy. Ideas he focused on in philosophy forced him to question the way the conversation and debate around oil and gas is structured. He pointed to how our emotions influence the way we view evidence, and how only the risks of using fossil fuels are mentioned by environmentalists, and only the benefits of other, supposedly greener energies.
“What are your values? We have to consider the big picture. We are not taught to value human life, to not attach importance to a person in China getting their first light bulb, or refrigerator.” Things, he says are only possible because of cheap, reliable energy. And today, the only source of cheap, reliable energy for billions of people is fossil fuels.
Epstein explained that his moral case is based on the “overall benefit to human well-being, human survival, human flourishing and human progress.” When something contributes to those things it is the morally correct thing to do. When it detracts from those, it is, Epstein said, immoral and even “evil.”
So we have to examine the state of nature — how humans live in it, how we would live in it without using fossil fuels — and examine the benefits fossil fuels bring to the earth. How would we survive the cold? How would we get to work? Can we make a smart phone without fossil fuels? When energy prices rise, it hits the poorest people on earth first.
“Nature is dangerous,” he says. “We survive by transforming nature — by maximizing our impact. We transform it.” He points to a message on the Sierra Club website, telling readers, “By having a child, an American woman increases her carbon legacy sixfold.” (“Fighting Climate Change With Family Planning,” www.sierraclub.org, May/June 2012, Jake Abrahamson). That message perpetuates the guilt we are taught to feel about our use of fossil fuels. It’s not about trashing the earth, because that would not be good for humans. But it is about improving the planet for human beings.
“We are the best part of nature,” said Epstein. He contrasted his view with that of Stephen Hawking, who has said that most forms of life, humans included, are parasites on earth. “The general condemnation of our species in unwarranted.” He points to data showing that quality of life has improved, the amount of drinkable water has increased, and air pollution has decreased (overall) as more fossil fuels have been used.
“Regardless of how anyone interprets Alex Epstein’s presentations, you have to admit that he does stimulate a conversation,” said Eicher.