Author, humanist and fossil fuel activist Alex Epstein plans to release “The Energy Liberation Plan” online, his suggested energy platform to be used by the 2016 presidential candidates. It calls for the government to get out of the way, freeing up the rest of us to unleash our creativity in meeting the world’s growing energy needs—just as we have for more than 100 years.
It follows from his book, “The Moral Case For Fossil Fuels,” in which Epstein says that fossil fuels have improved the quality and safety of life for billions of people across the globe and will continue to do so in the emerging economies.
He points out that the world uses 30% more oil, 107% more coal and 131% more natural gas than it did in 1980, according to BP’s annual “Statistical Review of World Energy.” This is despite repeatedly dire predictions by alarmists, over many years, that fossil fuels are too dangerous, cause climate change and are rapidly depleting.
Epstein founded the Center for Industrial Progress, in Orange County, Calif., with the goal of looking at fossil fuels and other industries in a humanist way, evaluating their benefits to civilization and progress. He says the debate about fossil fuels is really about right and wrong.
MIDSTREAM Why did you form the Center for Industrial Progress?
EPSTEIN The reason is that before, there was no real alternative, no positive alternative, to the green movement, whose ideal is to minimize human impact on the planet.
There needed to be an organization that stood for human well-being and industrial progress as the goal. Our mission is to replace the anti-humanist “green” philosophy with a pro-human, pro-industrial philosophy. That is the root of our methodology and conclusions.
Things like fossil fuels, nuclear power, GMO [genetically modified organism] foods or whatever else we might support are means to human well-being. We’re not representatives of any industry or technology.
MIDSTREAM What prompted your initial interest in fossil fuels?
EPSTEIN It was sort of accidental. Up until I was about 26 years old, I had no significant interest in energy, let alone fossil fuels, but while working on an article on the John D. Rockefeller antitrust case, I needed to study the early history of the oil and gas industry.
I was fascinated to learn that oil or petroleum not only out-competed whale oil, but out-competed about six other alternatives, none of which were truly scalable. So the countryside was dark, and then within five years of oil being introduced to the market … the countryside started to light up. That made an impression on me, that all forms of energy are not created equal, and that it’s very important to have the cheapest, most plentiful, most reliable, most scalable form.
MIDSTREAM What did you find in your studies?
EPSTEIN The more I learned, the more I realized that we were not seeking the courses of action that would maximize human well-being, but we were operating from a green perspective, that we should pick the energy source that has the least impact on the planet, regardless of whether it’s beneficial to human life. [People who were supposedly pro-fossil fuel] and even including the oil industry, were approaching this from the view that the two least-efficient fuels, solar and wind, were ideal and that the best—hydrocarbons and nuclear—somehow were morally deficient. I disagreed with that and became passionate about it, and it motivated me to pursue it more broadly.
This is the first step and ultimately I think this philosophy will be applied to every field, and dramatically change how fast human progress proceeds and how people feel about being human. There is an incredible amount of unearned and incredibly destructive guilt about being a human being and being a transformer of nature, and that that which is an essential attribute of our survival, is bad.
A big focus of my company is figuring out how to get people to share this resource [the book] and empower others. The book is a tool to change the way people think about energy.
MIDSTREAM Describe your latest project, “The Energy Liberation Plan.” EPSTEIN It’s a proposed political platform for candidates in 2016 which takes the humanist philosophy behind “The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels” and applies it to all energy policy and gives specific recommendations. There’s a huge upside in getting this right and a huge downside in getting policy wrong. There is a lot of inertia in the way things are done, and it’s hard to find people interested in new ideas. I am no political mastermind, but I think the platform would be a winning platform.
The basic concept is that there are two wrong ways of approaching energy policy that are dominant today—one is energy manipulation—that it’s the government’s job to pick and choose, according to its prejudices or alleged wisdom, which forms of energy should be pursued and which should not.
And the other is energy deprivation, which is particularly an attack on hydrocarbons, nuclear and hydroelectric. Both of these approaches are completely wrong.
MIDSTREAM What is your recommendation?
EPSTEIN What we need is basically the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. Individuals should be free to produce and trade however they choose. It’s that policy that unleashes the creativity of millions of people to make the most intelligent and innovative decisions on production and intelligent decisions about consumption. If that happens we’ll have an unprecedented era of energy abundance.
The government needs to get out of energy (beyond maintaining rational standards for health and safety). Having a bunch of bureaucrats dictating the way to good planning … that’s not planning, that’s interference.
MIDSTREAM How do you advise the oil and gas industry to advocate about energy?
EPSTEIN The industry has tried to win over the public, in particular to support the approval of its projects, by actually agreeing with the green attack! The industry concedes fossil fuels are a necessary addiction or evil, but that it needs to continue longer, for the next 40 or 50 years, longer than the greens say is necessary. But they are still in the category of agreeing fossil fuels are evil.
This is rhetorically unbelievably ineffective … and more fundamentally, it’s false. If it were true, then we should be much more aggressive in getting off fossil fuels than the oil industry advocates.
From the humanist standard, if you look carefully at the positives and negatives, fossil fuels are beneficial now and into the future. That’s something the industry needs to learn and communicate. One of the big fallacies of communication is that you should not think about the clarity of your ideas and instead just jump to some conventional PR firm. If you have real moral clarity on the issue, you won’t need as much professional help. You need to get educated on the case for what you do.
MIDSTREAM What has been the reaction when you speak to companies about this?
EPSTEIN The book is pro-fossil fuel so of course it will get a thumbs-up from the industry, but that’s not what I’m after. I feel like I did a good job if people are empowered. Pioneer Natural Resources is a case where Scott Sheffield, the CEO, read the book and is using it to empower his 4,000 employees—he gave them all a copy.
MIDSTREAM You’ve said we owe the fossil fuel industry an apology. What for?
EPSTEIN Just this morning, I experienced an example.
I live in Laguna Beach where it gets hot at times, but … it was impeding my productivity so I got an air conditioner. Fuel as a material is useless without people turning it into useable power. People are working right now to make it possible for me to be comfortable in this room. There are people right now, every day, all over this country, benefiting from what the fossil fuel industry is doing for them, and yet at the same time, they are spitting on it! That is completely unjust.
If you think there is a fundamental problem with the way you are getting your energy, stop getting it that way. Otherwise, if you are using it, you are saying the benefit outweighs the cost and yes, you should be grateful about it. If you are not afraid of storms, heat waves or cold snaps, then certainly, thank the fossil fuel industry. There is a lot of apologizing to do.
MIDSTREAM What comes next for you?
EPSTEIN I am almost done creating a course that goes with the book, to make it way easier for potential energy champions to apply. I really believe in books as a medium. I have seen them change lives.
MIDSTREAM What should the future of energy be?
EPSTEIN I have one good idea, and that’s that I should have nothing whatever to say about it. There have been doomsday predictions of planetary catastrophe for 40-plus years and claims that fossil fuels will be replaced by clean solar and wind. Those dates have come and gone. You should still study the three categories of doomsday claims: that fossil fuels are going to cause catastrophic climate change, pollution and resource depletion.
But you need to look at the big picture. There is enormous potential to produce these fuels at increasing levels for many decades to come, and we’ll have an increasing capacity to manage any kinds of risk. As you have more technology advances, you have the ability to lessen pollution and in terms of mastering climate.
In my work I explain how energy liberation leads to energy abundance—and with energy abundance, we can solve just about anything.