The Critics of The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels

It is a common myth that today’s environmental movement will eagerly attack all supporters of fossil fuels.

They will eagerly attack the weakest, least persuasive supporters of fossil fuelsBut thelast thing they want to do is clash with a strong, persuasive, dare-I-say complete case for fossil fuels.

Thus, when The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels was released over two years ago, while many others expected a flood of criticisms from environmentalists, I expected a desert of commentary from environmentalists — until and unless the moral case got so much attention that they couldn’t ignore it.

The first apparent oasis in that desert — I call it an oasis become I welcome criticism and the opportunity to refute it — was a “A Critical Look at The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels,” a prestigious piece in the Energy Law Journal by Jody Freeman, a Harvard Law Professor and a Board Member of ConocoPhillips since 2012.

Unfortunately, the piece was not a critical look at The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels, it was an attack on a nonexistent, straw man version of The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels. Freeman’s one-sentence summary illustrates the depth of misrepresentation:

The article disputes Epstein’s central claim that because fossil energy has delivered enormous social benefits in the past, there is absolutely no reason to change course and diversify our energy supply in the future.”

Of course, the book is not against diversifying energy supply — it advocates liberating all forms of energy, including hydro and nuclear, which Freeman refuses to do. And it doesn’t argue that fossil fuels are the moral choice based on the past but based on the best evidence we have about the present and future.

Freeman’s straw man summary is indicative of systematic mischaracterizations of the moralcase throughout the article. I was reluctant to respond to it because it was such a crude distortion but I realized that because of the prestige of the author and the journal, many smart people would be exposed to this distortion and lose interest in the book.

Thus, I asked the Energy Law Journal for the opportunity to respond and, thankfully, they gave it to me. My response is slated to be published in May 2017.

Thanks to all of you who promote The Moral Case for Fossil FuelsThe more you do it, the more we will get a real energy debate in this country instead of an energy monologue. And the next prestigious professor who addresses it will have to address the real moral case, not a caricature of it.

Custom Ambassador Programs

Alex brings clarity to the moral case for hydraulic fracturing.

One positive development in the energy industry has been the rise of ambassador programs — programs to train employees in the value of their industry and how to communicate it to others. Employees, as against advertising, PR people, and lobbying, are often seen as the most effective “ambassadors” of their companies.

It is not easy to have an effective ambassador program, as I’ve witnessed studying, speaking to, or working with more than a dozen of these programs. The reason is that it’s not easy to be an effective energy champion. It requires a combination of clarity and conversational ability.

Many programs short-cut this by giving employees a long list of facts and talking points, often reactive responses to common attacks. But these facts and talking points are hard to retain for the ambassador, let alone the recipient. What actually works to aid clarity and conversation is a big-picture understanding of the positive and negative impacts offossil fuels vs. the alternatives on human flourishing — and a way of framing conversations to focus on human flourishing and the big picture.

Over the last year I’ve spent a lot of time developing content that strips The Moral Case forFossil Fuels into its barest essentials so that ambassadors can learn as quickly as possible. I’ve done the same for my techniques of framing conversations.

If you have or are starting an ambassador program and are interested in customizing our content to meet your needs, let me know.

11-Tweet follow-up to Rubin Report discussion

Several months ago I was interviewed on The Rubin Report. (I also did a follow-up Q&A.) Last week, Dave forwarded me a Twitter discussion in which he was attacked for interviewing me and I was accused of “denying” science. I took the opportunity to clarify some points.

Feedback from last week’s SPE presentation:

“Very intriguing presentation yesterday, and hope I can have more effective influence to others in a positive way.”

“I want to thank you for taking the time to come and speak to us. Your speech was very well received and I had heard a lot of positive comments.”


“Thank you for sharing your techniques in how to have a conversation about this important issue. I have always believed climate change was being presented to me in a dishonest way and felt unable to question the basis of the green movement. You have exposed it clearly and illustrated a honest approach to discussing it. Looking forward for an opportunity of putting it into practice. Thank you again and keep up the good work you are doing.”

– Calvin, after taking our e-course, How to Talk to Anyone About Energy