My Speech about the Keystone XL Pipeline

This past Wednesday, there was a public hearing on the proposed Keystone XL pipeline (bringing oil from Canadian oil sands to the US) in Austin, TX. Center for Industrial Progress had a representative on scene to read a speech I wrote–unfortunately, he didn’t get to speak, as the event was stacked with representatives of environmentalist groups or labor groups, who are expert in getting followers to come early and dominate these sorts of events.

Here is my speech. Please pass it around.

How “Dirty Energy” Improves Our Environment

By Alex Epstein. Founder and Director, Center for Industrial Progress

The debate about Keystone isn’t really about oil sands, and it’s not even really about oil–it’s about fossil fuels as such. The main arguments people give for opposing Keystone–such as CO2 emissions and waste products–apply to all fossils fuels, whether coal, oil, and natural gas. So let’s tackle the real question: Should we be a society that continues to generate more energy using fossil fuels? Or should we reject fossil fuels as “dirty energy”?

I believe the facts are clear. If we want a healthy, livable environment, then we must be free to use fossil fuels. Let me repeat: If we want a healthy, livable environment, then we must be free to use fossil fuels–including oil from oil sands.

Why? Because for the foreseeable future, fossil fuels will be the only thing that can provide us with the key to a great environment: abundant, cheap, reliable energy.

We’re taught in school to think of our environment as something that starts out healthy and that we humans mess up. Not so. Nature does not give us a healthy environment to live in. For those of you who think that pipelines are dirty and “unnatural,” I suggest reading some history about more “natural,” pre-industrial times—or going to a country that is still living in “natural,” pre-industrial times.

Try choking on the natural smoke of a natural open fire burning natural wood or animal dung—a form of pollution that kills one and a half million around the world to this day. Try getting your water from a local brook that is naturally infested with the natural germs of all the local animals. Try coping with climate without “unnatural” modern homes, air conditioning,
and heating.

We live in an environment where the air we breathe and the water we drink and the food we eat will not make us sick, and where we can cope with the often hostile climate of nature. That is a huge achievement–an achievement that lives or dies with the mass-production of energy. We can live this way only by getting high-powered machines to do 99% of our physical work for us. Energy is what we need to build sturdy homes, to produce huge amounts of fresh food, to generate heat and air-conditioning, to build  hospitals, to manufacture pharmaceuticals. And, you should remember, it’s necessary to be able to travel around and actually enjoy the most beautiful parts of nature, which pre-industrial people didn’t have the time and energy to do.

I believe in making decisions based on facts, not fantasies. And the fact is that advocates of solar and wind have given no evidence that these technologies can produce the plentiful, cheap, reliable energy that a healthy human environment requires. Despite 40 years of subsidies and propaganda, only 2% of the world’s energy around the world comes from solar and wind–an extremely expensive and unreliable 2%, that depends on truly practical forms of energy to back it up when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing.

It is very scary to me that we are taking energy advice from activists who are telling us to stake our future on this tiny 2% of energy sources–while trying to ban the 98% that actually work. Greenpeace and other environmental groups want to shut down nuclear power plants, which produce 6% of the world’s energy, because they are supposedly “unnatural.” They want to shut down hydroelectric plants, which produce 6% of the world’s energy, because they supposedly have too big a “footprint.” And of course most want to destroy fossil fuel energies, even though they produce 86% of the world’s energy, because they are supposedly “dirty.” When a group of activists oppose 98% of energy production, we should be very suspicious.

Are fossil fuels dirty? Fossil fuels have doubled the human life expectancy and produced the cleanest, healthiest human environment in history. That, unlike the Hollywood hysteria we hear about 20-foot sea level rises, is a fact. And oil is the most indispensable fossil fuel, because it provides the most concentrated, portable energy, which is crucial in agriculture, construction, mining, building, and transportation. Oil is the lifeblood of civilization, and one of the key reasons why the environment we live in is the cleanest and healthiest in history. It’s also one of the key reasons why even though we hear so much hysteria about the one degree of climate change that has occurred so far, heat-related deaths keep going down. With practical energy, human beings can adapt to just about any climate. Without practical energy, no matter what the climate is, we’re in trouble.

Oil is not “dirty energy.” We should use “dirty” to only to refer to things that are health hazards to the human environment. Oil is a health necessity to the human environment. What about the waste generated by oil? we are incredibly spoiled and ungrateful to call that “dirty.” Every human activity in life creates waste products—certainly building monstrous solar and wind arrays
does–but technology allows us to minimize effective pollution. There are billions of people around the world who would kill for liquid fuel, carried through a magnificently robust pipeline, to help build them a modern human environment, and yet here we are, taking practical energy for granted, and actually considering destroying a vital artery of our economy.

The “dirty energy” objection is a dirty trick. Since everything creates some kind of waste byproduct, you can just oppose it by calling it “dirty.” If I told you enough about the mining and the materials that go into solar panels and windmills, and the incredible amount of coal and oil that goes into manufacturing and transporting and assembling their parts, you would call them “dirty,” too. The “dirty” objection is just a convenient trick for people who really don’t like any kind of industrial development–people who think that there’s something unnatural and wrong about the modern, industrial way of life. Don’t fall for it. Our nature as humans is to use our intelligence to build a better environment for ourselves. We should embrace oil production, embrace fossil
fuels, and embrace them with pride in the face of those who would destroy them. Remember this: No energy is dirtier than no energy. And no form of oil is dirtier than no oil.

Alex Epstein will be debating Greenpeace on October 13 in Austin.