Questioning The Evil Of Oil: Its Not Easy

We live in a world where climate change science and the use of renewable energy are subjects of contention. This has always been the case, and I foresee them being issues far into the future. Despite the presence of competing worldviews though, there has not been a lot of serious discussion between opposing sides of this issue. We have all seen token debates on television, with a climate change denier debating against Bill Nye, but I don’t think there is enough real discussion between people that believe in climate change and people that don’t believe in climate change. That is why I decided to read "The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels" by Alex Epstein to gain a better understanding of an opposing viewpoint.


Bill Nye always has time to talk about climate change

Once I started to read this book, I was terrified. Epstein’s argument is so much more than mere denial. You could almost make a gag reel of conservative commentators claiming that climate change is impossible because God created the earth 6000 years ago or that since it was cold on a day in January we should throw out decades of climate change science out the window. I find that stuff laughable. But I was shocked by the fact that Epstein’s argument were clear, articulate and even more shockingly based on facts. By using the philosophical framework laid out in this book I could entirely understand why someone would justify the use of fossil fuels until every ounce of oil in the world is depleted, but by the end I still disagreed with him in fundamental ways. 


The Nihilism Of Fossil Fuels

Nihilism is best described as “what does not kill me makes me stronger". This is at the heart of Epstein's position and it is persuasive. Epstein sets himself apart from other speakers on this topic by embracing the effects of climate change. In his view the potential benefits of using fossil fuels outweighs the effects of rising sea levels and raising temperature. In a shocking turn, he even claims the increased CO2 in the atmosphere and higher temperatures would improve crop yield. Epstein's position is intelligent and I'm surprised most supporters of fossil fuels do not utilize it.

One of the most persuasive parts of this book is some of the criticism Epstein brings against climate change advocates. Again, Epstein  sets himself a part of from mere denial by pointing out some of the ways that the effects of climate change have been overstated. When you hear claims from the 1980s that we would be extinct by the early 2000s if we don't ban fossil fuel use, you can't help but question if  climate change activist have overstated some of their arguments. Furthermore, Epstein demands we use a more philosophical approach, specifically in the area of semantics, to be clear on what scientist claim in regards to climate change. 


There is not shortage of people that disagree with Mr. Nye though

Like most people that spend a lot of time studying philosophy, Epstein is pretty ignorant to what happens in the real world

The underlying assumption of Epstein’s book is that fossil fuels have been unfairly persecuted. In reality, there is no nation in the world that bans fossil fuel use. Some countries might give incentives for renewable energy and raise taxes on fossil fuels, but no country in the world has serious plans to ban fossil fuels. For example, the Liberal government plans to introduce a carbon tax which might raise fuel prices, but at the same time they endorse massive pipeline projects. While Epstein hold an absolutist position on fossil fuels, most nations hold a more nuanced stance by investing in a broad range of energy sources.

Furthermore, Epstein’s philosophical approach is divorced from the simple economics of fossil fuels. Right now the greatest pressure on fossil fuels is rising prices. Anyone that drives has experienced this personally, gasoline prices are always rising. The economics of this are simple, gasoline is a finite resource and when supply falls prices rises. Even though Ontario has some of the highest electricity prices in Canada, it is still cheaper to drive an electric car for 10 miles then to drive a gas powered car for 10 miles. Epstein imagines that we will always be able to find more oil sources, when in reality oil prices are subject to the harsh reality of supply and demand.

Finally I want to respond to Epstein’s position on climate change itself. Again Epstein position on climate change is based on a philosophical approach, not the reality in the world. For Epstein climate change is just a number: the global climate has risen by 1.5 degrees Celsius. For me, climate change is the smog days that we used to have in Ontario. When we stopped burning coal in Ontario to generate energy we stopped having smog days. For me, it is critical that we maintain the environment for our personal health. I also look at the effects that climate change has had on animals. We live in a age were national Canadian symbols like the polar bear and caribou face the possibility of extinction. If Epstein was really concerned with philosophy he would ask why economic progress is more important then the well being of the animals that we share this planet with. Epstein reduces climate change to numbers and overlooks its real world effects.


Images like this show why we should serious be considering the effects of our actions. 


Epstein shows that fossil fuels are a necessary evil, for now.

The reason why I am horrified by this book is not because Epstein supports the use of fossil fuels. I understand that my life and the life of anyone reading this relies on the use of fossil fuels.  On one hand I agree with him. Humanity will most likely not be forced into extinction by rising sea level, we can simply build taller buildings. I am horrified because people like Epstein want to cling to an outdated and harmful system. He is willing to overlook decades of technological innovation and actually wants us to mourn the decline of fossil fuels. At the heart of Utopia Today Canada is the belief we can move towards a better future, starting immediately. I want us to move together towards a more balance position where we accept the use fossil fuels while working hard to develop an energy system that is superior to the one we currently have. To do anything else is immoral.

If you are interested in learning more about "The Moral Case For Fossil Fuels" check out the book on Amazon 

Matthew Griffin