We need to focus on benefits of fossil-fuel energy, not negatives: Alex Epstein

An energy transition to less productive, unreliable and unproven energy sources is akin to asking populations—especially those in developing countries— to struggle with, perhaps regress or simply tolerate less prosperity

By Maureen McCall, BOE Report, August 29, 2023

Don’t look now energy deniers, catastrophists, and fossil fuel obstructionists, but Alex Epstein’s plain language, clear thinking talking points are coming for you. And no amount of trendy emotional plays will stand up against them.

Last week Alex Epstein returned to Alberta for the Canadian Energy Executive Association (CEEA 72) Energy Business Forum chaired by Brent and Allison Quinton to present his latest data and new insights into the future of energy in North America and the world.

He last spoke in Calgary in the Fall of 2022 to an energy audience at the Calgary Petroleum Club on the topic of his most recent book “Fossil Future: Why Global Human Flourishing Requires More Oil, Coal and Natural Gas-Not Less.”

Last Thursday, Epstein’s message was emphatic:

“We do not think clearly about energy. We need to carefully weigh the benefits and the side effects—factoring in the negative and positive climate side effects of fossil fuels with precision.”

“We do not think clearly about energy. We need to carefully weigh the benefits and the side effects—factoring in the negative and positive climate side effects of fossil fuels with precision.”

Epstein pointed out that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has not been looking at the benefits of fossil fuels – they have only been viewing the negative side effects. In addition, they are exaggerating or catastrophizing those side effects while ignoring the fact that cost-effective energy is essential to the prosperity of people globally, something Epstein accurately identifies as “human empowerment around the world” or “human flourishing”.

Epstein is clear in pointing out that we live on a naturally inhospitable planet – contrary to the frequently popularized trope of a nurturing, gentle planetary environment. He asserts that cost-effective energy is in fact essential to human flourishing globally and the more cost-effective it is, the more we can prosper on a naturally inhospitable planet and fossil fuels are a uniquely cost-effective source of incredibly dense energy. He also asserts that the frequent negative interpretation of human impact on the planet completely ignores all of the positive accomplishments that the human race has achieved.

Not energy ‘transition’—energy addition

Epstein also criticized the concept of an energy transition. He asserted that there should be no energy transition but rather an energy addition as the increasing global population will require more energy, not less.

To execute an energy transition to less productive, unreliable and unproven energy sources is akin to asking populations- especially those in developing countries to struggle with, perhaps regress or simply tolerate less prosperity. Epstein identifies the intentions to rely on renewables for energy as a game of “reliability chicken”- gambling that renewable technology might fail to meet demand at any given time.

Epstein advocates for climate mastery, which he identifies as the major benefit of fossil fuels. He asserts that to do otherwise would be to look at the world from an anti-human perspective. He criticizes the concept of eliminating carbon dioxide and asserts that it should not be the number one energy goal. In addition, he stresses the essential problem with net zero is that it does not scale.

Epstein wisely points out something that most Canadians have forgotten- that there are clear common economic interests between the United States and Canada. He sees there is an increasing need to talk about them and for the U.S. and Canada to be strongly allied on energy. The challenge is that the Canadian industry needs to return to enthusiasm about its oil rather than just being enthusiastic about net zero.

“Producing oil for the world allows people to have much better lives, be much safer from climate, have much better drinking water, have the opportunity to actually enjoy themselves while they are alive. If you are really enthusiastic about having more abundance in the world that is going to go a long way toward collaborating with the U.S.”

Alex Epstein has built a few tools to source better energy policy such as his Substack as well as his website – energytalkingpoints.com. He is transitioning the website into AlexGPT – a better platform to help leaders formulate their positions and answers to energy questions.

The Energy Humanist Movement

Epstein applauded the work of several influencers like Steve Koonan, Jordan Peterson, Michael Shellenberger and Bjorn Lomborg as well as Patrick Moore and Chris Wright who have advanced the energy humanist movement that Epstein started in 2007. These are spokespeople who are currently famous, talking about energy in a humanistic way and breaking the idea that if you believe in climate change you must stand against fossil fuels.

Referencing net zero 2050 targets, Epstein analyzed the impact on developing nations and found net zero will impede their prosperity.

“Net zero by 2050? It kills developing nations. It’s saying you should not use the thing that allowed all of us to become prosperous and is still allowing us to be prosperous,” Epstein said.

“We have all these amazing examples of places, whether they had hydrocarbon resources or not, becoming wealthy. Look at Singapore – they don’t have good hydrocarbon resources, nor does South Korea or Japan – but they have certainly become wealthy using hydrocarbons.

“We have all these examples that should be inspirations, particularly for the African continent, and the free world is telling them ‘Don’t use fossil fuels, find a way to make green stuff work and you should be happy with that’. And then we will pay climate reparations that will just go to a bunch of corrupt people in exchange for you not doing what would actually make you wealthy.”

He pointed out that “unfree places” or authoritarian regimes, most notably China, will help developing nations like African nations leverage their fossil fuels. Epstein points out that the unavoidable conclusion seems that “the U.S. is not being a good partner to Africa.”

Poorer nations must fight for fossil fuels

Nevertheless, Epstein is working on improving strategic relationships. He is producing an event at African Energy Week in October 2023 to bring in a delegation to work on relationships. He says instead of the “just transition” as it is being referred to in Africa, Africa needs an energy liberation/empowerment effort. The result is that poorer nations will become an incredible voice to counter the anti-fossil fuel effort.

As for getting political alignment that appreciates fossil fuels…. Epstein acknowledges that certain myths have to be addressed. For example, the myth that “if you believe in net zero, then natural gas is not net zero because it’s a fossil fuel and so natural gas will not be welcomed.”

He says another issue with energy-transition plans is that the concept of replacing fossil fuels with renewable fuels has not been undertaken in “an economic way.” Epstein points out that this is a problem in the U.S. where they have replaced coal plants with gas plants too quickly and in a very uneconomic way.

We need lower-cost, not higher-cost, energy

Ultimately Epstein’s prescriptions for effective energy dialogue are needed just as badly in Canada as they are needed in the U.S. One of his best talking points from his August 24th Substack article titled “How I would debate energy and climate if I were running for President” identifies the energy affordability issue succinctly and addresses our current inflationary situation in Canada.

“Because energy is the industry that powers every other industry, the price of energy affects the price of everything: the lower cost energy is, the lower cost everything is—the higher cost energy is, the higher cost everything is.”

This is certainly the situation most Canadians find themselves facing in 2023/2024. Alex Epstein’s discussions continue in a very palatable and accessible way at https://alexepstein.substack.com/

Maureen McCall is an energy professional who writes on issues affecting the energy industry.

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