I’ve read a lot of books and watched a lot of movies on the environment and leadership. The ones I find most valuable I put on my environmental leadership resource page.
Recently, I read the New York Times bestseller The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels by Alex Epstein. I put a brief summary of his case, as I understand it, at the bottom of this post. I had seen the title before but was prompted to read by reading the Master Resource blog and a conversation with podcast guest (and now friend), Michael Carlino. From Master Resource‘s About page:
MasterResource is a forum about energy markets and public policy. Precisely because energy is the lifeblood of the modern economy – the “master resource” that affects the production and use of all other resources – energy markets are often thought of as “different” and thus deserving of special political direction. We believe that the economic rules governing energy are no different from those governing other markets and are thus skeptical about government intervention. Drawing on this perspective, MasterResource hopes to better inform the energy debate in a civil but forceful manner, without recourse to political partisanship or ideological cant.
I read a lot of that blog, then Epstein’s book, then many entries from Epstein’s blog at the Center for Industrial Progress, which he founded. From its About page:
Center for Industrial Progress (CIP) is a for-profit think-tank seeking to bring about a new industrial revolution. We believe that human beings have the untapped potential to radically improve our lives by using technology to improve the planet across a multitude of industries: mining, manufacturing, agriculture, chemistry, and energy. Every individual has the potential for a longer, happier, healthier, safer, more comfortable, more meaningful, more opportunity-filled life. The keys to a new industrial revolution are a new industrial philosophy, a new industrial policy, and a new approach to communication.
Both mentioned Julian Simon a lot so I looked him up. I haven’t read his book The Ultimate Resource yet, but that link is to it available free from JulianSimon.com so I’ll get to it, as is Scarcity or Abundance? A Debate on the Environment. I started with this 1982 review of his book in Commentary, The Ultimate Resource, by Julian L. Simon, and this 2021 article in Capitalism Magazine, Julian Simon: The Ultimate Resource is The Human Mind. The Capitalism article begins
Each person born brings a mouth to feed and hands with which to scratch the ground, but most importantly, each new person brings a mind with which to have new ideas. The key, Simon argues, is freedom. When free minds are blessed with political and economic freedom, they can accomplish anything.
One can summarize Simon’s conclusion as “more people are blessings, not curses.” We are not, he argues, in danger of oustripping the planet’s ability to feed us. Malthus and so many of his followers have gotten things badly wrong by emphasizing diminishing marginal returns to labor, land, and resources. These are constraints in the short run, but not in the long run. Each person born brings a mouth to feed and hands with which to scratch the ground, but most importantly, each new person brings a mind with which to have new ideas. The key, he argues, is freedom. When free minds are blessed with political and economic freedom, they can accomplish anything.
Then I watched this video:
Here is a compilation of Simon’s world views, by Robert Bradley.
I watched Alex Epstein’s 2012 debate with Bill McKibben (whom I know):
These readings pointed me to Bjørn Lomborg, Johan Norberg, and a few others. I watched these videos by them:
Also from C-SPAN Johan Norberg talked about his book Progress: Ten Reasons to Look Forward to the Future, in which he argues that despite what he calls and endless stream of bad news, there is every reason to be optimistic about the future. I watched this video in which he talked about his book. I also watched a few videos from his New and Improved series.
Also on C-SPAN, I watched two videos featuring the main host of the Master Resource blog, Robert Bradley: chief executive officer and founder of the Institute for Energy Research based in Houston, is the author of Capitalism at Work. Mr. Bradley was formerly corporate director for public policy analysis at Enron and speechwriter for Ken Lay.
The first video including Bradley was a Debate on Randian v. Conscious Capitalism: A debate was held on two different approaches to capitalism: the Randian model (pure profit driven capitalism) versus conscious capitalism (capitalism driven by some societal purpose). Edward Hudgins and Robert Bradley argued in favor of the Randian model while Mackey and Michael Strong argued in favor of conscious capitalism. Questions were also asked by audience members. Joe Bradley moderated.
The second video featuring Bradley was: Ayn Rand’s View on Economics: October 2007 marked the 50th anniversary of the publication of Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged, of which an estimated 6 million copies have been sold. To celebrate the anniversary, the Atlas Society held a conference to discuss Rand’s philosophy and the impact of the book. The panelists talked about Ayn Rand’s thinking on economics, business ethics, and entrepreneurship. They also responded to questions from members of the audience. Robert Bidinotto moderated.
I also watched these videos of him:
Speaking of Ayn Rand, I’d read The Fountainhead years ago.
Speaking of progress and optimism, I’d read (rather listened to) Steven Pinker‘s Better Angels of Our Nature, which I’d recorded a podcast episode on. Long ago I read Enlightenment Now and posted an article on it to Inc., when I wrote my column there, Steven Pinker, Enlightenment Now, and LeadershipDespite many calling him an optimist, Steven Pinker advocates hard work.
My readings also mentioned Milton Friedman a lot, whom I’d learned some about in business school. I refreshed my memory and expanded on it by watching his ten-part 1980 television series with commentary, Free to Choose:
Next up, Epstein’s talk at Google:
and at the Ayn Rand institute
His next book is coming out this spring.
Steel Man of The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels
While reading The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels, I took notes, including trying to create a Steel Man, by which I mean stating his case strongly, as he might, not to misunderstand it. Here’s what I came up with (if I missed anything or can improve on it, please let me know):
We live in an abundant world, especially abundant with energy. We are smart and resourceful. We use energy to increase our numbers and improve our lives—that is, to increase human flourishing, which is the measure of good and bad. The more we apply ourselves to solving problems, the more we solve.
Using fossil fuels helps human flourishing in some ways and hurts it in others, or, for short, using them is good in some ways and bad in others. The predominant voice today is that they are bad, though often by measures other than human flourishing. For decades, those voices have predicted doom, but by the most relevant measures, including longevity and deaths from climate, human flourishing has increased with increased fossil fuel use. Before we used fossil fuels, we were starving in caves. In places in the world without access to fossil fuels, babies suffer and die needlessly, as do adults.
That voice is wrong, however predominant. He quotes the top experts behind it being as wrong as can be. Specifically, these experts said human population would have collapsed many times over by now, plus global cooling, etc, but humans are flourishing more than ever. If we listen to them, we should judge what they say based on their biases, track records, and measures of good and bad.
One big flaw of theirs: they aren’t looking at a big enough picture. They focus on the detriments of using fossil fuels. Yes, it has detriments, but they ignore the benefits, most of which no other energy sources provide in quantity or quality. Moreover, our ingenuity plus fossil fuel energy can solve or at least mitigate the problems to increase the benefit. The net result: the more we use fossil fuels, the more human flourishing we create. We should use more fossil fuels. If another energy source increased human flourishing more, he would promote it instead, but none does.
EDIT: Adding more resources:
- The Power Hungry Podcast: Alex Epstein: Author of Fossil Future: Why Global Human Flourishing Requires More Oil, Coal, and Natural Gas – Not Less
- The Manhattan Contrarian blog, by a neighbor of mine
- Unsettled? What Climate Science Tells Us, What It Doesn’t, and Why It Matters, by Steve Koonin
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