My comments on the latest Harvard protest against fossil fuels

In this issue:

  • My comments on the latest Harvard protest against fossil fuels
  • Our ongoing need for low-cost energy
  • Houston event with Michael Lynch
  • Best of Power Hour: Dr. Amesh Adalja on the Threat of Infectious Diseases

My comments on the latest Harvard protest against fossil fuels

Last week the publication Campus Reform asked me to comment on the latest anti-fossil fuel campaign at Harvard. In this case Harvard Law students were protesting recruitment efforts by a law firm (Paul, Weiss) that successfully defended ExxonMobil in a recent lawsuit.

Here are some of my comments that were quoted in the Campus Reform article.

“If these students truly believe that fossil fuels are ‘evil’ they can make themselves aware of all the ways in which they use fossil fuels and cease those activities or try to do them using the wildly inferior alternatives to fossil fuels. Instead, they are calling for measures that will make energy more expensive for billions of people who are not nearly as fortunate as they are. They are also supporting complete travesties of justice that deny free speech rights to companies like ExxonMobil whose product we ask for and willingly buy.”

“These students are the enormous beneficiaries of ExxonMobil and of all other fossil fuel companies because they willingly use their product. More importantly, they are the beneficiaries of all the free time we have to gain knowledge that’s only possible because of oil- and fossil fuel-powered agriculture where we can get machines to do the work for us instead of doing manual labor. The whole university system is completely dependent upon low-cost reliable energy.”

Our ongoing need for low-cost energy

During a recent speech to members of the fossil fuel industry I was asked, “What do you think about the privileged people in the developed world who oppose those in the underdeveloped world using fossil fuels to lift themselves out of poverty?​’” Here’s a (lightly edited) transcript of my answer:

Alex: If you look at how fossil fuel opponents view people in what I call the unempowered world, it’s often a museum perspective: “Oh, isn’t it interesting there are poor people and more primitive ways of life. Let’s not disturb that.” 

But most people in that part of the world aspire to a much better life.

And what even the “privileged” people don’t realize is how much the continuation of their “privilege” depends on fossil fuels. 

There’s this viewpoint that we can afford solar and wind for everything, but poor people can’t. That’s not true at all.

The reason we’re wealthy is we’re using a lot of fossil fuels. If you increase the cost of energy, it increases the cost of everything. So if you commit yourself to using processes like solar and wind that nobody really knows how to do at low cost, then we become poor. 

It’s important to remember that most of the wealth that exists has to be produced continuously: food, heating and cooling, purified water, even buildings have to be regularly maintained. We need to continuously transform the world to make it livable, and that requires a continuous supply of energy. 

If energy becomes higher cost, then everything becomes higher cost, then we can produce less. We are able to do less with mental labor and machine labor, which means more things require manual labor. 

An example that partially illustrates this is Venezuela. That was a wealthier country in Latin America, but bad policy decisions, including bad energy decisions, have made them incredibly poor.

Twenty years ago it wasn’t conceivable they would have massive food shortages and people starving and going without clean water and basic health care. But that’s the reality today.

It wasn’t the result of “green” energy policies, but it illustrates how quickly we can regress without low-cost, reliable energy.

So it’s not just that we’re preventing the unempowered world from becoming empowered. We can disempower ourselves. 

Houston event with Michael Lynch

On February 27, the Houston chapter of the U.S. Association for Energy Economics will be hosting a talk by former Power Hour guest Michael Lynch. The topic will be “Long-term Outlook for Natural Gas, Domestic and International, Challenges and Opportunities.”

If you’re in the Houston area, I highly recommend you check it out. You can find more information here

Best of Power Hour: Dr. Amesh Adalja on the threat of infectious diseases

On this week’s Power Hour “best of” episode, I talk to Dr. Amesh Adalja, infectious disease specialist and professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, about the nature of infectious diseases, epidemics, and how to master these natural threats both on an individual level and on a societal level.