A Review of ‘The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels’ by Alex Epstein

“There exists a certain reciprocity: as we care for creation, we realize that God, through creation, cares for us. On the other hand, a correct understanding of the relationship between man and the environment will not end by absolutizing nature or by considering it more important than the human person. If the Church’s magisterium expresses grave misgivings about notions of the environment inspired by ecocentrism and biocentrism, it is because such notions eliminate the difference of identity and worth between the human person and other living things. In the name of a supposedly egalitarian vision of the “dignity” of all living creatures, such notions end up abolishing the distinctiveness and superior role of human beings. They also open the way to a new pantheism tinged with neo-paganism, which would see the source of man’s salvation in nature alone, understood in purely naturalistic terms. The Church, for her part, is concerned that the question be approached in a balanced way, with respect for the “grammar” which the Creator has inscribed in his handiwork by giving man the role of a steward and administrator with responsibility over creation, a role which man must certainly not abuse, but also one which he may not abdicate. In the same way, the opposite position, which would absolutize technology and human power, results in a grave assault not only on nature, but also on human dignity itself.” Benedict XVI, FOR THE CELEBRATION OF THE WORLD DAY OF PEACE, January 1, 2010

While the world has frantically been reading, analyzing and interpreting Pope Francis’ encyclical Lautato Si’ I have been engrossed by The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels by Alex Epstein.
Epstein is an energy advocate and President and founder of the Center for Industrial Progress, a for-profit think tank based in Orange, CA. His book first came to my attention during a radio interview regarding its suppositions. I found him to be a debunker of the decades old unsound pronouncements made by environmentalists. Although this alone makes the book worth reading, Mr. Epstein presents a logical, well researched, and compelling case for the moral value of using fossil fuels to power our society.
The overarching ‘Standard of Value’ which he uses for making his arguments is ‘human life’; it “is about morality, about the right and wrong. To me, the question of what to do about fossil fuels and any other moral issue comes down to: What will promote human life? What will promote human flourishing – realizing the full potential of life? . . . and that of course includes the quality (or lack thereof) of our environment.” Life expectancy is the measure he uses to evaluate human “flourishing.” I agree with his assessment that Environmentalists often use “pristine” nature or “wilderness-nature unaltered by man” as their standard of value but we, as Catholic Christians, must go beyond the mere protection of God’s creation to the inherent supremacy and dignity of humanity. I agree with his assertion that we must ultimately judge the “use or non-use of any particular form of energy is whether its use makes the world a better place, most specifically a better place for human beings.” He urges us to always consider all of the benefits and all of the risks for the use or non-use of each energy source for both the human population and the environment.
Mr. Epstein begins his argument with the fact that our history with fossil fuels has been one of constant innovation which is directly linked to rising standard of living, decrease child mortality, and increased life expectancy. As evidence, he sites recent trends in two rapidly developing regions of the world, China and India. In the past several decades, both of these countries have increased their use of coal and oil over five-fold to provide nearly all of their energy. The result is that since the 1970’s, infant mortality has plummeted in both countries – China by 70 percent and India by 58 percent. He systematically lays out how restricting the use of fossil fuels over the next several decades, without a major technological breakthrough on the alternative energy side, would lead to “a horror beyond anything we can imagine” and result in “billions of premature deaths.” Additionally, the confiscation of food stuffs to produce alternative source fuels decreases the availability for human consumption and increases the cost.
With respect to future energy supply, the author produces an extensive review of every current major technology both fossil and non-fossil fuel resources (nuclear, hydro, geothermal, solar, biofuel, and wind). One such statistical analysis was conducted by British Petroleum in 2013 revealing that coal, oil, and natural gas still produce 86 percent of the world’s energy. This is only 7 percent less than the 93 percent reported in the 1980’s. Why? Because it is a very difficult technical challenge to produce an energy source for billions of people that is cheap, plentiful, reliable, and scalable. Nothing comes close to fossil fuels.
The author also addresses the global warming debate, most extensively, the “green-house effect” which lies at the center of most catastrophic climate change models. His view is that since the 1970’s, expert predictions of rapid global warming are continually overestimated. Take for example a quote from the 1986 book by James Hansen, who was head of the NASA Goddard Institute of Space Studies, who forecast that “global temperatures would rise early in the next century to ‘well above any level experienced in the past 100,000 years’“. Also Duke professor Bill McKibben asserted in 1989 that “continuing to burn ever more oil and coal . . . will lead us, if not straight to hell, then straight to a place with a similar temperature.” After observing that these and all of the other dire predictions came nowhere near what actually transpired Epstein logically deduces, “if a climate model cannot predict climate, it’s not a model”.
Countering these ubiquitous claims, he reveals several positive impacts to the biosphere produced by elevated CO2 levels. One area, shown in both laboratory research experiments and satellite images, is that increases in atmospheric CO2 leads to improved plant growth, perhaps as much as 15 percent since 1958. This fact almost always goes unreported by environmentalists. According to Epstein this is “a dereliction of duty”. “It is our responsibility to look at the big picture, all positives and negatives, without prejudice. If they think the plant positives are outweighed, they can give their reasons. But to ignore the fertilizer effect and to fail to include it when discussing the impacts of CO2 is dishonest.” Mr. Epstein also presents some surprising information showing a dramatic drop in droughts and storms. “In the decade from 2004 to 2013, worldwide climate-related deaths (including droughts, floods, extreme temperatures, wildfires and storms) plummeted to a level 88.6 percent below that of the peak decade, 1930 to 1939. The year 2013, with 29,404 reported deaths, had 99.4 percent fewer climate-related deaths than the historic year of 1932, with had 5,073,283 reported deaths for the same category.” The natural conclusion would be “with all things being equal, one would expect the total number of deaths to go up in proportion to population.” The connection here is that fossil fueled machines contribute to building societies that are highly resilient to Mother Nature. Without such man-made protections the United States would not currently have a life expectancy of 75 and an infant mortality rate of less than 1 percent. He reminds us that “the natural environment is not a healthy, safe place; that’s why human beings historically had a life expectancy of thirty.”
I found that, inevitably, Epstein mirrors historical Catholic teaching on spiritual poverty. His recurring theme is that if, after analyzing all of the numbers, we determine that we must cut the level of fossil fuel usage, “we can choose to sacrifice excess comfort for the benefit of something which we deem more important but we must do so with all of the facts currently available.”
With so much data and its corresponding analysis packed into these pages, I can only scratch the surface in this short paper. I heartily encourage reading this book in order to become better informed regarding the facts surrounding this crucial topic in order to rebut the false narrative which continues to be promoted by a majority of the media and government officials.


Another book is Climate Change: The Facts by Dr John Abbot, Dr Robert M. Carter ~ Rupert Darwall ~ James Delingpole, et al.




  1. Fred says:

    “The Moral Case For Fossil Fuels” is a truly remarkable compendium that clearly explains why climate scientists should not be trusted. The book was written in the fine tradition of those great benefactors of mankind, David and Charles Koch, who fund the Center for Industrial Progress that employs Epstein.

    How wonderful it would have been if Epstein had been around in the 1950’s to expose the lies that destroyed the tobacco industry so that we would have been able to continue to prosper its many blessings. Perhaps if people had listened to Epstein and others like him, people would still find personal relaxation and enjoyment from smoking. Everyone could still enjoy breathing second hand smoke in offices, restaurants, movie theaters, and on airplanes. Tobacco farmers wouldn’t have had to switch their production to other crops. And best of all, our country would have less of a problem supporting the aged population many of whom would have died before becoming a financial burden to society.

    • Didymus says:

      This reply falls into the classic (and common) logical fallacy called a straw man argument. It goes off on a tangential and sarcastic “what if” about the tobacco industry, as if that would have been Epstein’s desire, without raising a single counter-point to any argument that Epstein was actually reported to have made. Not to mention that the Koch brothers are invoked as if their name alone is proof of the falsity of any claim by anyone they may have come within a country mile of. It is a lot more effective when making an argument to, you know, make an argument. Passion isn’t an argument – you need germane facts, premises, conclusions, syllogisms, all of that inconvenient stuff.

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