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The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels

The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels does exactly what the title promises: make a clear and compelling argument that fossil fuels aren't just a necessary evil, but are good, actually. As in, we should encourage developing countries to use more, and we should expand our drilling capacity. More fossil fuels is more energy, and more energy is more human flourishing. What about all the downsides? He addresses them: climate change may not be all that bad (even if we're causing it, assuming a change is always in the negative direction may be wrong), we can out-innovate human impacts, and we will not run out of fuels.

Here's the deal: I don't fully buy it. But, Epstein makes a really good argument for fossil fuels, and in popular culture—especially in my circles—these are not popular arguments. He does effectively poke holes in several common tropes against fossil fuels. But the real benefit is that he makes plain that everything is a tradeoff, and we have to be able to think about these tradeoffs instead of in absolute terms. While increased pollution in developing nations isn't good, it may be strongly coupled with a rise in economic prosperity, longevity, and health. These are very real and difficult tradeoffs that the popular zeitgeist does not consider. Now, why don't I buy it? I don't think he's an industry shill, but I do think he is far too pessimistic about clean energy, and also overly confident that everything will be okay, that technology can solve our future problems. Perhaps and very well it will, but he doesn't spend enough time talking about conservation within rich, developed countries, or economic policy that would improve clean technology viability.

Overall, it's an important book, because the perspective it offers gives us a lot to think about. I think it's mostly written for progressive-moderates, who are open-minded about these ideas, yet hold close to many "pro climate" talking points that don't hold water. For that reason, I recommend.


These are entirely subjective, and roughly try to capture my personal enjoyment and usefulness, and how likely I'd recommend it to others. Don't read too much into this unless you love my judgement. Rough guidelines:

A: Top quartile. Changed the way I think about something.

B: Worthwhile. I took away something useful.

C: Didn't hit, wouldn't directly recommend. Likely won't revisit.

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