"Fossil Fuels Improve the Planet," Alex Epstein argued in a March 29 talk (which I attended) at Vassar College.
The event almost didn’t take place. Student members of the group 350.org—which opposes the development of fossil fuels—petitioned to have the talk canceled. When that didn’t work, some set out to sabotage it.
Half an hour into Epstein’s speech, a student stood up, read a prepared statement denouncing Epstein and his organization (the Center for Industrial Progress) and led an obviously-staged walkout, in which he was followed by a few dozen other students.
In a podcast, Epstein recounts some of the troubles faced by the organizers of the event:
There was an enormous amount of hostility toward the student group, and particularly the student leader, who brought me in. [That group is] called MICA [the Moderate Independent Conservative Alliance]. . . . It was led by a young man named Julian Hassan . . . and he was met with an enormous amount of resistance, up to and including vandalism and various forms of intimidation.
As Epstein said of the students who came to his talk only to disrupt it and walk out, “Their bodies came in, but their minds didn’t.”
Had those students bothered to listen, they would have heard Epstein explain that fossil fuels produce the majority of the world’s energy; that hospitals use life-enhancing products based on oil, from artificial hearts to complex machinery; and that oil provides 95 percent of the world’s transportation fuel, enabling people to deliver food, medicine, and other life-saving materials even to people living in remote parts of the world. The students also would have heard Epstein explain why the goal of 350.org founder Bill McKibben—to outlaw 95 percent of fossil fuel usage—would result in catastrophic damage to human life, including death by starvation of many millions of people.
Thankfully, many other students did bring their minds to the talk and did listen to the presentation. Even when facing hostile questions, Epstein calmly marshalled the facts supporting his case. Gradually, the mood of the room shifted from hostility and skepticism to contemplation and respect.
A recording of Epstein’s talk is available on YouTube. Perhaps the students who failed to bring their minds to the live event will bring them to the video.
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Photo of Alex Epstein, Brittney Fay Rivera, and Julian Hassan courtesy of Rivera