Thursday, April 30, 2015

Earth Day: CIP’s Alex Epstein NJ vs. the Sierra Club's Jeff Tittel

On Earth Day, New Jersey Sierra Club director Jeff Tittel posted a guest column in the New Jersey Star-Ledger titled On Earth Day, a call to hold N.J.'s elected officials responsible to protecting the environment. Included in Tittel’s column is:

Thousands of people throughout New Jersey have come out opposing pipelines, not just in their communities but in environmentally sensitive areas of the state.

Tittel is a leader in the Environmentalist Movement’s jihad on pipelines. Environmentalists view pipelines as a leading battleground in their fight to kill the fossil fuel industry.

I left this counterpoint in the comments section:

If you listen to Environmentalists, you’ll get a completely biased, irrationally prejudicial view of industrialization and particularly fossil fuels. The jihad against pipelines is a prime example. Despite the fact that natgas and petroleum pipelines—all 2.6 million American miles of them—deliver most of the energy that our lives depend on, all you hear about are the negatives and risks. You’ll never hear about the much more massive positives of those pipelines.

By the way, the “Thousands of people throughout New Jersey [who] have come out opposing pipelines” include plenty of NIMBY hypocrites who spout environmentalist dogma to rationalize their hypocrisy. I wonder how many of them will feel when their electricity goes off and their gasoline stations run dry when the pipelines passing through other communities are shut down.

For balance and objectivity, try this for an alternative, pro-human life view of how we should think of the environment on Earth Day:

[Alex Epstein is the president and founder of the Center for Industrial Progress]

Related Reading:

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Ad Hominem No Substitute for Reasoned Criticism

Before I leave the Quora question, What do people think about Alex Epstein's new book "The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels, I want to revisit the answer submitted by Mike Barnard, which I alluded to in my 4/1/15 post.

Barnard employs classic ad hominem tactics. But he only damages his own credibility. For example, he writes:

First, I think Epstein is a climate-change denier:

The temperature has increased very mildly and leveled off completely in recent years. The climate-prediction models are failures, especially models based on CO2 as the major climate driver, reflecting a failed attempt to sufficiently comprehend and predict an enormously complex system.

Apparently, Barnard didn’t comprehend the very quote he references. Clearly, Epstein acknowledges that climate change is real. Barnard goes on:

These are both such widely falsified statements that it's literally incredible to me that anyone would consider putting them in a book. Epstein is selling to deniers, not to the people who actually accept the science.

The temperature record for the past 135 years is widely available. This graph clearly validates Epstein’s first sentence. This graph shows the recent warming to be well within the 800,000 year temperature range; which was flat, lending statistical credence to the view that natural fluctuations are at least one significant cause of the current warming cycle. These graphs are readily available, so there’s no excuse for Barnard’s intellectual sloppiness or his use of the Nazi smear implicit in the term “climate change denier.” And Epstein presents plenty of evidence to back up his failed-model claims. Barnard breezily asserts the “widely falsified statements” claim, but doesn’t present a single example of Epstein’s evidence being wrong. (There are no word limits imposed by Quora, so there’s no excuse for Barnard’s negligence.) Barnard continues:

Two, I think Epstein is attacking scientists for being right because ... I'm not sure, maybe he's an idiot:

But many professional organizations, scientists, and journalists have deliberately tried to manipulate us into equating the greenhouse effect with the predictions of invalid computer models based on their demonstrably faulty understanding of how CO2 actually affects climate.

Once again, this is a such a ludicrous conspiracy theory that it's remarkable to me that anyone would take seriously someone who printed it.

Nowhere does Epstein charge a conspiracy theory. He challenges the credibility of “many professional organizations, scientists, and journalists,” to be sure—and again, backed by plenty of evidence. But that doesn’t equate to “conspiracy theory.”

Barnard goes on to acknowledge that “His premise is correct up to a point”:

Fossil fuels have allowed billions to be raised out of poverty, and they have made it possible for sciences and arts to flourish by giving people freedom to explore things other than hunting for enough calories or shelter.

But then Barnard writes:

However, his ignorance and willful denial of the significance of the downsides of fossil fuel consumption, along side his refusal to accept that there are viable alternatives that are replacing fossil fuels which have none of those downsides makes his case absurd.

On the one hand, he massively understates the negative impacts of fossil fuels. On the other hand, he refuses to accept that there are alternatives without those downsides. He publishes complete crap about renewables, material which is so false that it amounts to propaganda, and pretends it is reality.

The moral argument is that we should respect how far fossil fuel consumption has helped us get, and we should replace it now that we have better alternatives.

When you compare the immense good of fossil fuels—raising billions out of poverty and into flourishing—with “the negative impacts of fossil fuels,” it’s obvious who is “massively understating,” and overstating, what. That said, Barnard and his ilk are free to “replace it now” with “better alternatives”—except that as yet, there really aren’t any better alternatives to fossil fuels as civilization’s primary energy source. Barnard’s close befits his ad hominem style, with snide references to Ayn Rand and “Randian Objectivists”:

Everyone else can happily ignore this useless addition to the discussion and keep focusing on more productive efforts, except for those dealing with countering the pernicious intellectual impacts of that cult-leader and failed philosopher's reaction to Stalinism.

I submit that a conclusion like that indicates a cowardly lack of confidence in one’s viewpoints. I left these comments:

If Epstein’s argument is so “useless,” why the ad hominem hysterics? Why urge people to “ignore” the book? It seems you should urge people to read The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels. Then they will know first hand how right you are. Or, will they? Perhaps you’re afraid to find out.

If there really are “better alternatives,” why are newly industrializing nations choosing fossils rather than these “better alternatives?” Why did “green” leader Japan turn to fossil fuels rather than so-called “renewables” to replace its shut down nuclear reactors after the the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami. Why is Germany, the heralded leader in “renewables,” once again building coal-fired electricity plants? Why do the world’s people still rely on fossils for 87% of their energy? Why haven’t the “better alternatives” won out, especially after decades of untold $billions in solar and wind subsidies? Why the concerted effort to use government to force a transition away from fossils? Why do the champions of “alternatives” feel it necessary to force out fossils through government policies rather than market persuasion? Nobody is trying to shut down wind or solar energy (except other environmentalists).

Better ideas and better ways of doing things will always win out over time, no matter how entrenched existing technologies. Ask John D. Rockefeller, whose dominance in nighttime illumination via kerosene gave way to electric lighting. Ask Eastman Kodak, the former film photography king bankrupted by digital photography. Ask IBM, whose mainframe dominance of the computer industry gave way to the personal computer makers. If solar and wind can replace fossils, they will.

Let the market decide. If you’re right “that there are viable alternatives that are replacing fossil fuels,” then fossils will go the way of kerosene lamps, film photography, and mainframe computers. But if you’re wrong, and fossils are forced out without some energy equivalent of personal computers to replace them, the result will be future generations facing an energy-starved world of impoverishment that would make our current “polluted” fossil fueled world of plenty look like a Garden of Eden. Risking such a bleak existence on future generations would be the ultimate cruelty.  


Barnard gave me a chance to deepen my case, with this reply:

As for the market deciding, the market requires some regulation in order to operate effectively. And it needs some guidance to avoid obvious known problems such as global warming. Revenue neutral carbon taxes would provide the right signals to the market, but as global warming and pollution are unpriced negative externalities right now, the market ignores them to the detriment of all.

Here is my response:

Translation: “I don’t like the voluntary choices of others, so I get to force my choices on them, with government as my hired gun.”

The fact is, fossil fuel use already pays substantially for its pollution side-effects in the form of anti-pollution laws (as it should). Steadily advancing anti-pollution technologies—and objective laws requiring anti-pollution technologies as they become available—is the right way to deal with the so-called “negative externality” of pollution. This approach works, as actual fossil fuel-generated air pollution has been cut in half in America over the past 40 years, even as fossil fuel use has increased substantially. Carbon taxes would only skew the market, and punish energy consumers for enjoying the far more extensive “positive externalities” of fossil fuels.

Another fact: global warming is far from an “obvious known problem.” By all known indications, the average global temperature has increased by 1.4 degrees F. since 1880, with half of the increase coming before widespread use of fossil fuels. In my lifetime (66 years), average temps have increased less than a degree—a change perceptible only through precise scientific measurement techniques. Global warming is only a “problem” when viewed from the premise that any human-caused change in the environment is ipso facto bad—a fundamentally anti-life perspective.

Related Reading:

The Secret History of Fossil Fuels—Alex Epstein

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Epstein’s Energy Book: Is the Moral Case Necessary?

Yesterday I quoted from an answer to the Quora question “What do people think about Alex Epstein's new book "The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels” written by Josh Velson. I want to revisit Velson’s answer, because he seems largely to get Epstein’s main point. Nevertheless, Velson said:

I would not bother with it.

The book is, at its core, basically equivalent to the moral case for increased human energy usage as a method increasing human well-being and decreasing human misery.  The fossil fuel aspect is treated upon at length, and is the focus of the book, but frankly it's ancillary to what I consider to be the only substantive point of the whole piece.  

But here's the thing: anybody practically involved with energy infrastructure knows that there is a moral case for increasing energy use among the population of the poor and economically disadvantaged - and that the only possible way to do that, at least in the short term, is to continue using the infrastructure and fuels that we sustain ourselves upon now.  

Velson’s claim that the moral case is known to “anybody practically involved with energy infrastructure” seems very unlikely, given the fossil fuel industry’s weak, apologetic response to the anti-fossil attack crowd. But it’s undeniable that the moral case for energy is virtually unheard of in the broader culture. Fortunately, Mark Coldren demolished Velson’s assertion that the moral case is in any way obvious, rendering Epstein’s book unnecessary:

My primary reaction is to your qualifier "anybody practically involved with energy infrastructure" to "knows that there is a moral case for increasing energy use among the population of the poor and economically disadvantaged."

My impression growing up in the US educational system and interacting with US culture is that most people don't know there is a moral case for increasing energy use - carbon-based or otherwise. That's why Hans Rosling's TED talk is significant. It's not a very popular idea.

Don't you think it's worth having a clearly communicated popular-market book expounding the virtues of energy-dense civilization? That's what Alex's goal was, and with a publisher behind him he's written this new book with more time and resources than much of his past work, and I've been led to believe the citations are excellent. [Rosling’s talk,  The magic washing machine, extols energy growth in a simple yet powerful presentation. Worth watching.]

Velson, I think, gets Epstein’s main point. But he side-steps Coldren’s question when he answered:

I do own the eBook.  The problem is that in order to "expound the virtues of an energy-dense civilization" Epstein tries to advance the thesis that fossil fuels are the only option, and in order to do so implies that the environment does not have intrinsic value, that renewables are not worthwhile (citing much dubious research, for example on bat and bird deaths) and that climate change should be evaluated using metrics that understate its severity, among many others.  The first point is debatable - like Epstein, I hew to a more anthropocentric viewpoint rather than a naturalistic one - but the others go too far.  In acknowledging that energy is essential for alleviating human misery Epstein overstates his case for fossil fuels.

It’s not true that Epstein holds that “fossil fuels are the only option.” Fossils are the best option for most of our energy needs in the context of today’s technology. But Epstein doesn’t discount the possibility—actually, the near certainty—that some new energy technology, even some advanced form of direct solar energy, can and will eventually supplant fossils. Epstein makes this clear on page 34 (hardcover edition):

“Ultimately, the moral case for fossil fuels is not about fossil fuels; it’s the moral case for using cheap, plentiful, reliable energy to amplify our abilities to make the world a better place—a better place for human beings.”

It is certainly true that Epstein rejects the intrinsic value theory of nature. Intrinsicism is the fallacy that value can exist absent a valuer. The intrinsic value theory of nature implies that anything man does is destructive and thus immoral if it affects the natural world; which means, virtually anything man does is immoral. Intrinsicism is the essence of environmentalism and goes to the heart of Epstein’s case for fossil fuels; pristine, unaltered nature as the standard of value vs. human life as the standard of value—anti-life vs. pro-life.


Where do you hear prominent people openly extolling the virtues of “cheap, plentiful, reliable energy,” and calling for increasing our usage of energy? More likely you’ll hear incessant calls for government-mandated energy conservation, government-enforced switching to unreliable forms of energy, efforts to stop fossil fuel projects, and other forms of energy privation. How often do you hear the kinds of words energetically uttered by Hans Rosling in the above mentioned talk: “Thank you Industrialization; thank you steel mill; thank you power station; and thank you chemical processing industry that gave us time to read books!”

Related Reading:

Epstein to Coal Industry: Claim the "Environmental High Road"

Saturday, April 25, 2015

In his Book ‘The Moral Case,’ Is Epstein Attacking a Straw Man?

Joseph Boyle posted this reply to my Quora review (see yesterday's post) of Alex Epstein’s book The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels:

Seriously? Every climate change warning I've seen is about terrible consequences for people, while solar is well below $1/watt and the anti-wind cranks (who actually ARE pushing a mythical idea of unspoiled nature) are well skewered by Mike Barnard.

Read Josh Velson's answer to this question. Nobody is advocating the strawman this book harps on.

In his answer, Velson writes:

The book is, at its core, basically equivalent to the moral case for increased human energy usage as a method increasing human well-being and decreasing human misery [which is true].  The fossil fuel aspect is treated upon at length, and is the focus of the book, but frankly it's ancillary to what I consider to be the only substantive point of the whole piece.  

But here's the thing: anybody practically involved with energy infrastructure knows that there is a moral case for increasing energy use among the population of the poor and economically disadvantaged - and that the only possible way to do that, at least in the short term, is to continue using the infrastructure and fuels that we sustain ourselves upon now.  

It’s transparently directed against a straw-man version of an environmentalist that opposes all practical forms of energy provision (this resembles, for example, the Sierra Club and Greenpeace, hardly majority organizations).

Here is my rebuttal:

“Every climate change warning” has been wrong to date, and Epstein looks at the track record.  There is no evidence to date for catastrophic climate change; only perpetually failed predictions of catastrophe. I read Ehrlich’s “The Population Bomb” in 1968, when I was 19. I was horrified. Mass starvation within 10 years! Guess what? No catastrophe. Yet, he’s still around. Same for the steady parade of catastrophe predictions since. No catastrophe. Just a better life for billions.

“Nobody is advocating the strawman this book harps on.”

It’s true most people are not anti-industrial. But bad ideas must be exposed and countered before they can take hold and metastasize. And bad ideas can and have taken hold before. Marx’s “scientific socialism” led to 20th Century Communism. The science of eugenics helped set the stage for Nazi Germany. Likewise, the logical consequences of the environmentalist ideological agenda will be devastating for people, if and when it passes into implementation.

I hope you’re right that Epstein is attacking a straw man. But consider this. There is no evidence that solar and wind can ever be more than an intermittent supplemental energy source. Yet intellectual and political leaders the world over want to cut carbon emissions by 80% in a few decades. If and when unforeseen breakthroughs allow “alternatives” to supplant fossils as a primary energy workhorse, they will without any help from government or any concerted effort to legally strangle fossil fuel development and usage. To force such a drastic cut in carbon energy beforehand would be cruel beyond words. Yet, that is what many leaders advocate, based only on unsubstantiated hope for “alternatives” to come along just in time. The Sierra Club and Greenpeace may “hardly [be] majority organizations,” but their ideas about pristine nature being the ideal, and fossil fuels being bad, have become mainstream. My own observations bear this out. In NJ, 3 new pipelines have been proposed. Opposition is fierce and one-sided, with not even passing acknowledgement by these activists or anyone else about the enormous life-serving energy benefits these pipelines can deliver. Plenty of letters against. But aside from mine, almost no one is openly supporting the pipelines. A straw man? I think not. We ignore bad ideas at our peril.


I don’t know who Boyle is referring to when he attacks “anti-wind cranks.” No one I’ve read or heard is against wind energy. Many, including myself, are against government taxpayer subsidies for wind energy (I’m against all corporate subsidies). But being against wind subsidies is not the same as being anti-wind. It seems Boyle has his own straw man. Or perhaps Boyle is referring to anti-wind environmentalists, who do push the idea of “unspoiled nature; in which case he proves my point. (Boyle says this perspective is “well skewered by Mike Barnard.” But Barnard doesn’t “skewer” anything but his own credibility. I’ll address Barnard’s comments, which is little more than an ad hominem rant, in a later post.)

Related Reading:

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Epstein’s Refreshingly Objective Presentation of the Pros and Cons of Fossil Fuels

Quora is a nice little social media website founded by two former Facebook employees. According to Wikipedia:

Quora is a question-and-answer website where questions are created, answered, edited and organized by its community of users. The company was founded in June 2009, and the website was made available to the public on June 21, 2010.[3] Quora aggregates questions and answers to topics. Users can collaborate by editing questions and suggesting edits to other users' answers.[4]

You can also reply to other users’ answers.

I posted this answer:

There is a fundamental moral conflict underpinning the fossil fuel debate—pristine, unaltered nature as the standard of value vs. human life as the standard of value. From the first, culturally dominant perspective, fossil fuels (and, more broadly, industrialization as such) are fundamentally immoral. From the second largely unidentified perspective, fossil fuels, being the most practical form of industrial energy at this time in history, is good. Epstein draws the moral battle line—unaltered nature vs. humans’ need to alter nature—and takes the pro-life side.

Unlike anti-fossil ideologues, however, Epstein presents a balanced view to support his case. He doesn’t shy away from fossil’s negatives. He tackles the main objections and risks of fossils, from pollution to climate change, head on. (He also explores the horrendous pollution consequences of wind and solar). He then compares the negatives of fossils side-by-side with the benefits—and compares fossils with their alternatives—in a clear and succinct style, and lets the facts determine his conclusions. And there is a wealth of facts.

Committed anti-fossil ideologues won’t read the book or take it seriously. Whether they acknowledge it or not, their opinions are dictated by a particular moral view and standard of value—unaltered nature as the good—and no amount of facts will alter their position unless they re-examine their embedded moral premises. But for people with a healthy respect for objectivity, The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels is a real value. It is a needed counterpoint to the grossly one-sided, mainstream drumbeat against fossil fuels, which is steeped in an anti-fossil prejudice so irrational that it would make any racist look rational by comparison.


I also engaged other correspondents (no surprise there). I’ll post their comments and my replies next.

Related Reading:

The Secret History of Fossil Fuels—Chapter One, The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels by Alex Epstein

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Social Security 'Solution': More Taxation?

Writing as a New Jersey Star-Ledger “guest columnist,” University professor and occasional political appointee Richard F. Keevey suggests A solution for the social security dilemma; eliminate the earnings cap for Social Security taxes. Keevey comes to his conclusion after noting other proposed fixes, such as raising the retirement age and “privatization” (private investment accounts controlled within Social Security. All of these approaches have merit, he says, but none match his “more simple approach”:

Specifically, instead of taxing only the first $118,500 (plus annual increases based on COLA), individuals would pay on full salary. Thus an individual earning, for example, $750,000 would pay the rate on the full salary rather than just to $118,500. There would be no increase on others.

Keevey concludes:

This approach would solve the social security dilemma and guarantee payments to all citizens, particularly seniors most in need for the next 75 years and lessen the projected debt. Just as important, it would remove social security from the national crisis agenda, making federal budgetary decision-making simpler and focusing attention to where it should be - containing health-care costs and reforming national tax policy.

I left these comments:

Since inception, Social Security tax rates on workers have risen from 2% to 12.4% (including the alleged “employers share,” which is only a gimmick to hide the fact that the worker is actually paying the full freight). Over that same time frame, compensation subject to SS taxes has risen from $3000 to $118,500. Despite that gargantuan, double-barreled confiscation of Americans’ hard-earned wealth, the politicians have over-promised the “earned benefits” by at least $13.5 trillion (some estimates are much higher).

It’s a fantasy to think more taxes would make SS sustainable. Expanding the tax base to all income would just give the politicians even more incentive to over-promise benefits. Overspending is never a tax problem. The fundamental problem is political control of SS proceeds and benefits. Wherever politicians control proceeds and benefits (Medicare, public employee pensions, highway trust funds, etc.) there is an “unfunded liability” or “under-funding” crisis. SS is no different. Keevey’s “solution” is to force the most productive taxpayers to pay for the politicians’ gross mismanagement of the system. I can’t think of anything more counterproductive than expanding the tax base.

And what will plundering people who have already “contributed” the current maximum amount get them in return for their massive increase in taxes? Keevey doesn’t say. But we can guess the answer; nothing! One of the least unfair aspects of the current Social Security set-up is that the benefit payout is at least loosely correlated with taxes paid in. True, benefits are skewed toward the lower end of the income scale. But at least people know that the more they pay, the more restitutional return they’ll get. That would make Social Security even more unfair than it already is, because it would break the already tenuous bond between “contributions” and benefits, and tip into overt wealth redistribution.

I say Social Security is fundamentally immoral, because everyone is forced into it whether they want it or not. It essentially punishes people who are responsible enough to plan their financial lives long-term, for the sake of people who aren’t.

Having said that, I understand that SS not going to be phased out and repealed, as it should, anytime soon. So I suggest, as a compromise between the status quo and full repeal, the next best thing—full privatization: Take control of SS “contributions” and “benefits” out of the hands of politicians. Convert the system into a private account set-up, so account ownership and control of investments is held in the individual “contributors” own name, like an Individual Retirement Account, preferably a Roth (since SS taxes are not income tax deductible when seized from workers’ paychecks).

What would be accomplished? Imagine . . .

  • Real savings to replace the fraudulent “trust” fund that is spent by Congress in exchange for a promise to raise taxes on future generations to cover the phantom “surplus.”
  • Unlike currently, each SS participant would have a property right to his savings: He can use his savings as fits his personal circumstances—buy an annuity for monthly payments, pay off a house, donate to a favorite charity, take a long-delayed vacation, invest it—and pass on unspent funds to his heirs.
  • Each “contributor” getting quarterly statements showing his growing balance. (Let some politician suggest messing with that! Now that’s a real “lockbox.”)
  • No more politicians using SS for vote-buying or demonization of opponents for political advantage.
  • Pride in knowing your future benefits are funded by your own earnings, rather than sucked from younger workers’ pockets.
  • No more national unfunded liability “crisis.”
While government has no right to impose forced savings, personal accounts would be far better, and far less unfair, than the status quo. What responsible, self-respecting person would object to that?

Related Reading:

Social Security is Much Worse Than a Ponzi Scheme - and Here's How to End It—Richard M. Salsman