In this issue:
- I’m in today’s WSJ
- 3 new speeches on energy finance
- Texas Railroad Commissioner Wayne Christian on the climate debate
In today’s WSJ: my speech at Google is mentioned in “Google vs. Google” feature
Each year, Google invites hundreds of actors, authors and other luminaries to give talks. While a small team approves speakers, suggestions come from staffers throughout the company, who then typically organize the talks.
Engineer Dan Hackney was expecting a fight when he proposed a talk by Alex Epstein, an author who has criticized the renewable-energy movement. The visit stirred debate on campus but ultimately went off without a hitch in August. “To me, that signaled the company was willing to bring people with controversial ideas,” Mr. Hackney said.
At the risk of bragging, one thing I’d add is that the talk went well because instead of leading with a whole bunch of controversial assertions I introduced a human flourishing-based framework that made a lot of sense to the audience–especially the engineers. Once I got the audience to buy into my framework I was able to show them how the facts led inexorably to the conclusion that we should be using more fossil fuels, not less.
3 new speeches on energy finance
My positive experience at Google last year was a motivation for one of my goals this year: to bring the moral case for fossil fuels to high-level audiences who are interested in energy but are outside the core oil and gas industry. I think my most valuable ability as a speaker is the ability to move a room of smart people who expect to disagree with me.
One key area to impact is energy finance.
Energy finance plays a critical role in deciding which energy projects get funded and which don’t, and if we want to make sure that we have access to the best energy technologies, it’s vital that investors make good decisions.
Here are three new speeches on the topic of energy finance I’ve developed to give energy investors a better, pro-human framework. Please share them with anyone you know in energy finance who may be interested in a new perspective for one of their events.
What Exactly is “Social Responsibility Investing”? A Human Flourishing Approach
“Socially responsible investing” is everywhere. There is an establishment of individuals and non-profits who make a living by pressuring companies into being more “socially responsible.”
But, argues philosopher Alex Epstein, there is too little discussion of what “socially responsible” means—and too much acquiescing to the demands of self-styled representatives.
In “What Exactly is ‘Socially Responsible Investing’? A Human Flourishing Approach” Epstein argues that there is a legitimate component to the social responsibility movement: companies should pursue profits in accordance with a moral purpose, so that they profit in a way that does good short- and long-term.
However, defining the right moral purpose requires a clear moral standard. Many “socially responsible” efforts today are based on the standard of “green” or “unchanged nature”: companies and actions are designated as good to the extent that they don’t impact nature.
This standard, Epstein argues, is toxic. We should judge companies not by how little they impact nature but by how much they advance human flourishing. When we use human flourishing as our standard, Epstein argues, we come to very different conclusions about what is and isn’t socially responsible.
For example, Epstein argues, today’s discussions of “social responsibility” in energy prize the concept of “renewability” above all else, leading to widespread opposition not only to fossil fuels but even to non-carbon nuclear and hydroelectric power. They are cruelly indifferent to the 3 billion people who have virtually no access to energy.
By not basing “social responsibility” on a human flourishing standard many “socially responsible” investors are being deeply irresponsible—and socially destructive.
The Moral Case for Fossil Fuel Investment
Discussions today of ethical investment are divided into two camps: that investors should divest themselves of fossil fuels for moral reasons or that, for various practical reasons, they shouldn’t.
But, argues philosopher and energy expert Alex Epstein, there is a third alternative that to consider: that investing in fossil fuels is a highly moral activity. This is the conclusion he argues in the New York Times bestseller The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels.
To be moral, argues Epstein, is not, as the modern environmental movement argues, to minimize our impact on nature (including climate)–it is to maximize human flourishing.
To assess whether fossil fuel investment is moral we need to look carefully at the pros and cons of fossil fuel use—and reject the common process of looking at only the pros of solar and wind and only the cons of fossil fuels and nuclear.
Epstein did just this as an outsider to the energy industry and found that investing in fossil fuels is essential to providing billions with access to energy—including the 3 billion people who have almost no energy. Its environmental and climate impacts are real but hysterically exaggerated, Epstein found. A careful cost-benefit analysis shows that to flourish humanity needs to use more fossil fuels in the coming decades, not less.
Those who are advocating or practicing fossil fuel divestment are being deeply irresponsible and doing humanity a tremendous disservice. The investment community needs to reconsider its position on fossil fuels.
How Moral Biases Cause Bad Investments
Just 10 years ago, peak oil supply was one of the most fashionable ideas in energy investing.
Today, peak oil demand has much the same status.
And although the theses are opposite, both positions are based on similar thinking errors, argues philosopher and energy expert Alex Epstein—a long-time critic of peak oil supply and now a critic of peak oil demand.
In “How Moral Biases Cause Bad Investments,” Epstein argues that all thinking about energy, including all investment about energy, is based on a framework—a starting structure of assumptions about how the world works, what is desirable, and how to get there.
In the case of peak oil supply, Epstein argues, investors unwittingly accepted the “environmentalist” framework that nature gives human beings scarce resources, that it is desirable to use as few non-renewable resources as possible, and that humanity’s large appetite for “non renewable” resources would inevitably lead to a crash.
In the case of peak oil demand, Epstein argues, investors are unwittingly accepting a framework that nature gives human beings a fragile climate, that CO2 emissions and renewability are the highest moral considerations in making energy choices, and that sunlight- and battery-based energy solutions have “exponential” properties that make them inevitable.
In his talk Epstein will elaborate on the moral biases shaping much of the modern energy conversation, argue that many of them are quasi-religious, not scientific or economic in nature, and argue for a different set of starting assumptions based on climate realism, human flourishing, and even-handed analysis of alternatives.
If you’re interested in hosting me on one of these topics, or any other topic, click the button below.
Texas Railroad Commissioner Wayne Christian on the climate debate
Wayne Christian, the Texas Railroad Commissioner, has publicly praised The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels, and his recent op-ed on the climate debate shows how a better framework for thinking about energy can improve your ability to speak out on challenging issues like climate.
Like everything else in life, there are advantages and disadvantages to using fossil fuels. I argue that the advantages of having cheap, plentiful and reliable energy vastly outweigh the disadvantages. Additionally, we have regulatory bodies, such as the Railroad Commission of Texas, to oversee the production and transportation of fossil fuels, mitigating the disadvantages and punishing bad actors who harm our environment.
It is arrogant for individuals on either side of an academic debate to only consider one side of an argument. The politicization of climate “science” and related attempts by academia and the mainstream media to shame “climate deniers” is both wrong and dangerous for our democracy.
We need to set politics aside and have the courage to admit what we know and, more importantly, what we don’t know — and we don’t know whether man-made greenhouse gases are impacting our climate in a harmful way. What we do know is that more than one billion human beings don’t have access to enough electricity, and as a result, have shorter, more difficult lives. It is time for us as a civilization to put mankind first and work to ensure that energy is cheap, plentiful and reliable for everyone.
Congratulations to Wayne for bringing clear thinking to the debate. You can read his entire op-ed here.