He’s been called "the energy philosopher", but Alex Epstein is best known for his provocative and revolutionary book, which promotes fossil fuels by dismantling the arguments and prejudices against them. We talked to him at Africa Oil Week, in Cape Town, where he took part in a debate between advocates of fossil and renewables.
is an American author, energy theorist and philosopher. He is the founder and president of the Center for Industrial Progress, a for-profit think tank located in San Diego, California. He is also the author of the New York Times bestselling book The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels.
You've basically written a manifesto in favor of fossil fuels. Why did you feel the need to do so?
Well, the book is really what I accidentally discovered as someone who was a philosopher outside the industry, which was that the whole discussion of fossil fuels is incredibly biased and sloppy, and I think anti-human. And that made me want to research the issue myself, and The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels is what I ended up with.
If you're promoting fossil fuels, does that mean you're opposed to having renewables in the energy mix?
Well, I have no moral opposition to or bias against solar and wind. I just want them to have to compete. And I believe that the green movement promotes solar and wind because they’re not very practical. Because I believe the movement is not in favor of large-scale energy use, so they always support forms of energy that don’t work very well. I believe that if solar and wind were the best forms of energy, the greens would find reasons to oppose them, such as the amount of space they take up, or all the waste disposal involved, or the hazardous mining practices. I don’t consider the support of solar and wind to be sincere.
Who are the main detractors of fossil fuels, and why do they oppose you?
That’s an important question. I think everyone knows that the green movement is the leading base of fossil-fuel opposition. But I think people have different conceptions of why it opposes fossil fuels. A lot of people think that they oppose fossil fuels because fossil fuels aren’t good for the environment, and I think they actually oppose fossil fuels because fossil fuels are the most powerful driver of industrial progress and the green movement is fundamentally opposed to industrial development. And one piece of evidence for this is that if you look in practice, fossil fuels have actually helped make our environment much cleaner, but the greens don’t care because they don’t want a clean environment for humans. They want an environment without humans.
So you have particular problems confronting environmental groups...
Yes. I think the basic idea of being green, which is to minimize human impact on nature, is an anti-human idea because human beings survive by impacting nature. So since I’ve been 18 years old, I’ve regarded the idea of being green as evil and repugnant and I we need a whole different approach to environmental issues that truly values human life instead of valuing untouched nature above human life.
Oil and gas are essential resources in Africa. Do you think these are where the future lies, or will there also be space for renewables?
I don’t think I have a good ability to predict the future. My concern is making sure that people are free to develop those resources and to use affordable, reliable energy generated using those resources. And today the green movement is very much threatening that freedom, so that’s where my focus is.
Tell us in one sentence why we should love fossil fuels.
Because for most of the 7 billion people on the planet, they’re the fuels that will most benefit their lives.