The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels, by Alex Epstein. New York: Portfolio/Penguin, 2014. 256 pp. $27.95 (hardcover).
Who would argue that producing and using fossil fuels is not only not shameful, but also positively virtuous? Alex Epstein would. And he has done so eloquently and thoroughly in his book, The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels.
Epstein aptly summarizes his book with its final sentence: “Mankind’s use of fossil fuels is supremely virtuous—because human life is the standard of value, and because using fossil fuels transforms our environment to make it wonderful for human life” (p. 209).
The main strength of Epstein’s book is that he explicitly and clearly states the fundamental alternative at stake: Will we embrace nonimpact on nature as our moral standard, or will we embrace human life as our moral standard? If we accept the idea that the standard should be to refrain from impacting nature, or to impact it as little as possible, then we will regard fossil fuels (and industrial civilization) as evil. But if we see that the standard should be to improve human life, then we will see the production and use of fossil fuels as profoundly moral because they play a vital role in supporting, improving, and extending human life. That basic alternative frames the entire book.
In making his case, Epstein demonstrates three main factual claims: First, fossil fuels have greatly benefited mankind; second, the harms of fossil fuels have been dramatically overstated by various experts and pundits; and, third, no other fuel source has the potential to replace fossil fuels at least for the next few decades. Epstein’s Moral Case is filled with fascinating data supporting these points. A few examples:
- Despite the relative growth of so-called renewable energy—growth driven largely by government mandates and subsidies—the world’s population now uses dramatically more oil, coal, and natural gas than it did in 1980 (p. 11).
- The use of fossil fuels has supported dramatic increases in life spans and wealth (e.g., pp. 14, 77).
- Proven reserves of fossil fuels have risen dramatically over the past few decades (pp. 17–18). . . .
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