Why I speak–an unforgettable day in Missouri

I did not expect one of the most rewarding speaking experiences of my career to occur at the Missouri Institute of Science and Technology, a school I had never heard of, in Rolla, MO, a city I had never heard of. But that’s exactly what happened this past Wednesday evening.

But first, let me go back to how it got started.

Almost two years ago I met a very bright, pro-energy, pro-freedom couple named Wayne and Gail Laufer and gave them a couple dozen copies of The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels. They read the book, liked it, shared it with friends and colleagues, including Dr. Joseph Smith at the Missouri Institute of Science and Technology. Dr. Smith then invited me to this year’s Laufer Energy Symposium.

Whenever I speak anywhere, I always offer to speak to multiple audiences in the same day, both so the host can get as much value as possible for their investment (for in-demand speakers, this ends up being upwards of $20K) and so I can reach as many people as possible.

Thus, this past Wednesday I spoke to not one audience or even two, but four.

First thing in the morning I spoke to some leading energy thinkers and researchers (as well as a dean) at Washington University in St. Louis. Dr. Richard Axelbaum liked the methodology of my book and invited me to come speak with his colleagues–and then (briefly) to his students, which I of course did. My favorite moment was when an African student asked why people are so biased against coal–I’m glad that students at an elite university are learning to ask such questions! Much credit goes to Dr. Axelbaum, who is a true believer in open inquiry and objective thinking.

Right after my Washington University visit I went to the Midwest Energy Policy Conference 2016 event to give the lunch keynote. The audience was a combination of business leaders, community members, and academics. I got to meet a few digital acquaintances in person. Here’s a comment from one of them.

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As good as that was, it was dwarfed by what came next.

I took a cab 90 minutes to Rolla. I was met by a very bright young member of the faculty who had attended my first presentation and was coming to my second presentation, as well, even though it was the same topic. I asked why and (this is from memory) he said, “These are new ideas. I want to see what happens when the students hear them.”

So did I.

img_0660Before the presentation I chatted with Dr. Joseph Smith and the early arrivals. It was clear that Dr. Smith has a great rapport with his students and that they are eager learners. I thought: Oh, this may be even more fun than usual.

Then, when the event started, an amazing surprise. Dr. Martin Capages, a frequent email correspondent, read this letter out loud and presented me this gift: a piece of the first offshore oil rig (ever!) in the Gulf of Mexico. This was a prized possession in his family and I was honored that he thought I deserved it.

Then, the speech. My topic was energy poverty and its causes, including the long-range cause of living in a culture that values unaltered nature over human flourishing.

My speech was quite interactive and I found the students (and faculty) to be thoughtful, inquisitive, and passionate.

In one particularly moving moment, a student from Ghana told the story of a three year period in which his country lost reliable electricity and what that meant to him. (I asked him if he would come on Power Hour to discuss it and he said yes.)

Several students came up to me and told me with obvious sincerity that my book (and in one case my recommendation of Atlas Shrugged) had changed their lives.

“It was great meeting you yesterday at the Midwest Energy Policy Conference. Thank you for signing my book, and for the outstanding talk. You’re a remarkable communicator. I particularly admire your careful use of terms and your constant demand for clarity. It was exciting seeing you here in St. Louis and I hope we can bring you back in the not-too-distant future.”

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On top of that–or perhaps, contributing to all of it–I was able to articulate my vision of a pro-human environmental philosophy in the most effective way I have done so far.

The hard part of what I do is not standing up to hostile people, it is figuring out better and better ways to explain the truth to honest people. On Wednesday I was able to do that with at least several people that could become major positive forces in the world.

In this newsletter I often mention my past speaking or upcoming speaking in passing, but it’s important for me to be clear why I do it–why it is so important to me and to the hosts who graciously invite me. I look forward to many more speeches like this past Wednesday’s. Hopefully, you will be at one of them.

If you’e interested in hosting Alex at your university, please contact Nikki Norris at nikki@industrialprogress.net for more information, or visit our speaking page.

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