Alex Epstein’s “Fossil Future: Why Global Human Flourishing Requires More Oil, Coal, and Natural Gas—Not Less”

by | May 25, 2022

Alex Epstein’s book, Fossil Future, is a brilliant antidote to the assault on fossil fuels. Its theme is that fossil fuels are one of the greatest benefits to human civilization ever and that there is, for now, no viable substitute.

I am a scientist (psychology), so I know how science works even though I am not a climatologist. But for many decades I have read widely in many fields including the physical sciences. I have read about twenty books and scores of articles on climate issues. For many years I suspected that something seemed wrong. There were so many contradictions. Everyone seemed to report findings, using selected data, which supported their side but not findings that contradicted it. It seemed that a political agenda was constantly mixed in with a science agenda.

Soon one view became dominant: that fossil fuels were destroying the earth, maybe even in the next ten years, and needed to be abandoned to prevent a worldwide catastrophe. People who disagreed with this could be harassed, mocked, and even risked job loss. Scientific findings could only be published in some journals if they came out with the “right” results. Organizations were pressured to sell their oil stocks. Reporters for many leading newspapers learned quickly that only certain types of articles were acceptable. Opposing oil became a moral crusade, a virtual dogma. Eminent catastrophizers included: Paul Erlich, Al Gore, James Hansen, Paul Krugman, Bill McKibben, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

There have been many distortions of scientific data. But since our Constitution says we have a right to freedom of speech, all critics of the anti-oil crusade could not be silenced. Some catastrophizers openly advocate being dishonest in order to further their agenda. Epstein refutes all the critics. He presents a list of recommendations for evaluating climate claims.

Epstein’s book is a brilliant antidote to the assault on fossil fuels. Its theme is that fossil fuels are one of the greatest benefits to human civilization ever and that there is, for now, no viable substitute. Epstein covers all the relevant issues from every angle, so I will only give a brief summary here.

  1. The earth, absent the benefits of machines powered by fossil fuels and electrical energy created by fossil fuels is a very dangerous place, characterized by mass poverty, recurring starvation, death from the cold, poor medical care, poor sanitation, exhausting manual labor, bad water, inadequate shelter, devastating natural disasters, and low life expectancy.
  2. The nations that suffer the most today are those that lack such technology. Without fossil fuels, people who lack them will keep suffering because they will stay poor.
  3. Coal, oil, and gas are responsible for almost all the energy created today– about 80%. Solar and wind provide only about 3%. Fossil fuels have allowed humanity, insofar it has advocated reason, to master nature (following the laws of nature and science) thus enabling the human race to multiply and thrive.
  4. Fossil fuels are abundant in nature: plentiful, cheap, and reliable when production and transportation are not opposed by government regulations. They supply on-demand electricity.
  5. The championed substitutes for fossil fuels are: wind, solar, and batteries. Epstein notes, as have others, the many problems with these sources. Windmills do not work without wind. Solar panels do not work without sunlight. Batteries are nowhere near cost-effective enough or efficient enough to store and provide sufficient energy when the wind isn’t blowing enough and the sun isn’t shining enough. So in practice, solar, wind, and batteries are not replacements for fossil-fueled grids, they are inefficient, cost-adding add-ons to fossil-fueled grids.
  6. Epstein calls the idea that all power would be created by wind, solar, and batteries to be divorced from reality, just from the aspect of cost alone.
  7. What about pollution? Epstein shows that it has been decreasing for decades thanks to technology. Further, he identifies the ways that side effects can be mitigated.
  8. What other alternatives are there for power? Epstein favors two: waterpower from dams and nuclear. Both are safe, dependable, non-polluting, and do not take up much land or harm birds and animals. Unfortunately, both are roundly opposed by the public. He shows that biomass and geothermal are at least decades away from becoming even significant supplements to fossil fuels, let alone replacements.
  9. There is a long section on dealing with climate side effects including evidence that fossil fuels lead to fewer storm-related deaths, e.g., floods. Sea level rise today is radically less than in previous history (and can be coped with) and the danger has been greatly exaggerated as with the case of ocean acidification.
  10. The book ends with a call for freedom of production and a critique of companies, including oil companies, which have conceded the anti-fossil agenda.

I consider this book to be, by far, the best—most honest, most accurate– statement of the fossil fuel issue written so far. But each reader will have to decide what to believe by using their own rational judgment.

Explore Fossil Future: Why Global Human Flourishing Requires More Oil, Coal, and Natural Gas–Not Less.

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Edwin A. Locke is Dean's Professor of Leadership and Motivation Emeritus at the R.H. Smith School of Business, University of Maryland. He is a Fellow of the Association for Psychological Science (APS), the American Psychological Association, the Society for Industrial & Organizational Behavior, and the Academy of Management. He is the recipient of the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award (Society for I/O Psychology), the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Academy of Management (OB Division), the J. M. Cattell Award (APS) and the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award from the Academy of Management. He, with Gary Latham, has spent over 50 years developing Goal Setting Theory, ranked No. 1 in importance among 73 management theories. He has published over 320 chapters, articles, reviews and notes, and has authored or edited 13 books including (w. Kenner) The Selfish Path to Romance, (w. Latham) New Directions in Goal Setting and Task Performance, and The Prime Movers: Traits of the Great Wealth Creators. He is internationally known for his research on motivation, job satisfaction, leadership, and other topics. His website is: EdwinLocke.com

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