Debating the future of fossil fuels in Europe

Over the weekend I appeared on a panel in Monaco to debate the future of energy. I had a fun time making the case that fossil fuels will be crucial for creating energy abundance over the coming decades.

A recording of the event won’t be publicly available, but here’s an excerpt. I was asked toward the end of the panel whether I supported a carbon tax to deal with the climate impacts of fossil fuels, such as sea level rise. Here are my comments (lightly edited for clarity):

There’s a very common philosophical fallacy that distorts the thinking of scientists, politicians, and economists, which I call the Perfect Planet Premise. This is the idea that nature gives us a perfect environment that is stable, safe, and sufficient. In reality, nature gives us a very imperfect planet that’s dynamic, dangerous, and deficient.

And this applies to climate. Climate is an incredibly scary force that human beings lived in terror of until they could figure out how to master it using industrialization–above all, energy. And so if we actually care about protecting people from climate, not just following a trend of trying to lower CO2 emissions, we have to look at what the core ingredients are that will protect them from climate. And I’d say that number one is high-energy industrialization.

If we’re going to try to quantify the impacts of fossil fuels on climate safety, we really need to look at how ultra cheap energy from fossil fuels helps people industrialize, and how, if we make energy far more expensive, that prevents people from industrializing. We have to take that really seriously.

And [if you have high-energy industrialization] you can deal with sea level rise. The Netherlands is very good at it. There are lots of different ways of dealing with things if you have a lot of energy and technology.

But the thing I want to encourage is that we think of these things from a human flourishing perspective, including climate, and that we really look at what is the best combination of things to keep people safe–not simply focus on lowering CO2.