Alex Epstein is an American author, energy theorist and industrial policy expert. He is the founder and President of the Center for Industrial Progress, a for-profit think tank located in Laguna Hills, California, and a former fellow of the Ayn Rand Institute.
• Jon Taffer (Jon Taffer is a film producer.)
• Michael Konik (Michael Konik is an American author, television personality, jazz singer, improvisational comedia...)
• Michael Shellenberger (Michael Shellenberger is an American author, environmental policy expert, and cofounder of Breakt...)» All Author Interviews
My short bio:
Alex Epstein is a philosopher who applies big-picture, humanistic thinking to industrial and environmental controversies. He founded Center for Industrial Progress (CIP), a for-profit think tank and communications consulting firm focused on energy and environmental issues, in 2011 to offer a positive, pro-human alternative to the Green movement.
Epstein is the author of The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels (Penguin, 2014), which has been widely praised as the most persuasive argument ever made for our use of coal, oil, and natural gas.
Ok everyone, that wraps up this AMA. Thanks for the participation! It was fun. Check out this new video I produced with PragerU.com on climate change and the “97% of scientists” claim: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SSrjAXK5pGw. To contact me, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow me on Twitter @AlexEpstein.
Hey Alex! Big fan of your work. I have seen a lot of your debates online and think that are great.
My question is about the evidence regarding climate change. How does one differentiate between "speculative science" vs "empirically demonstrated science"? If it is true that so much of the climate change theories rely on speculation, I find it hard to believe that so many scientists would agree with the theories (even though the number of people that believe in climate change is far lower than usually reported). Is there a mix of evidence that is demonstrated with incorrect interpretation, or is it completely speculation? If you could provide an example too, that would great as well.
Thanks for the AMA!
The need for demonstration applies not just to claims about science but also claims about what scientists believe about science. Consensus is an important concept in science as a guide to what may be true, though of course it has to be thought about independently.
See The Unscientific Consensus
As I mention in the recent Prager U 97% video (and my popular Forbes column on the subject) what scientists believe has been completely misrepresented. That is, you don't have these huge majorities believing in climate catastrophism. So part of the premise of your question is incorrect.
Beyond that I do think that most scientists expressing opinions on the subject are overconfident in the degree of warming influence of CO2. There's selection bias there (it's easier and more media friendly to express that opinion). But also people in immature sciences, and climate prediction is pre-infancy in terms of results, have a tendency to overstate their claims. Now their claims may invoke demonstrated science as part of the argument but as an integrated whole their arguments are anything but demonstrated.
Hey Alex, what are your thoughts on the Black Lives Matter movement?
That's a big topic, so I'll just say this: if you're concerned about the deaths and mistreatment of innocent blacks you need to look carefully at what the major causes are. That includes injustices by white policemen against blacks and also the scourge of black on black crime. I don't hear the latter mentioned very often. It should be.
In general political correctness prevents us from having honest debates.
Can you explain your situation and what exactly happened with the subpoena? Also, can you give a short account of your work and why you think it is correct?
I'll do the second one first. I'm not sure what qualifies as "short" but I recently wrote out a 2-page summary of the whole Moral Case. Hopefully it'll be valuable as a reference.
How to think about our energy future
Is humanity’s continuing—and expanding—use of fossil fuels a moral choice or an immoral choice? To answer this question, we need to be clear on our standard of value—our metric of good and bad—in energy and environmental issues.
At the Center for Industrial Progress, our standard of value is: maximizing human flourishing. We reject the common standard of minimizing human impact.
To discover what will maximize human flourishing we must think full context—we must carefully look at the benefits, risks, and side effects of all our alternatives. We reject the common method of thinking out-of-context.
Thus, when we consider fossil fuels, we do not write them off as bad because they cause some man-made CO2 and some man-made warming, we look carefully at the full context of their potential impacts on human flourishing now and in the future.
Fossil fuels & human flourishing: the benefits
The unmet need for cheap, plentiful, reliable energy:
● There are 7 billion people in the world who need cheap, plentiful, reliable energy to flourish. Some three billion have virtually no energy by our standards, which means we need vastly more energy.
● It is extremely difficult to produce cheap, plentiful, reliable energy. In the entire history of humanity, only three industries have achieved this on any scale: the hydrocarbon (fossil fuel) industry, the nuclear industry, and the hydroelectric power industry.
The unique ability of the fossil fuel industry to meet our energy needs:
● The fossil fuel industry produces over 80% of the world’s power because it is the only industry that has figured out how to produce cheap, plentiful, reliable energy for electricity, transportation, and heating on a scale of billions.
● Since the energy industry is the industry that powers every other industry, the fossil fuel industry increases productivity and prosperity in every area of life, from agriculture (diesel-powered farm equipment) to hospitals (24/7 electricity).
● The only industries that can meaningfully supplement fossil fuel energy are the nuclear and hydroelectric industries, which are widely opposed by environmentalists. Even without this opposition fossil fuels would still be irreplaceable for decades to come. Hydro is limited by lack of suitable locations. Nuclear has the long-term potential to expand greatly, but is many decades away from scaling to the level of billions.
● For these reasons, any restriction on fossil fuel use would do devastating damage. This must be factored into all policy debates over restricting fossil fuels to reduce CO2 or other byproducts.
Fossil fuels & human flourishing: environmental concerns
The number one environmental concern: climate impacts
● To assess the climate-related impacts of fossil fuel use, we have to carefully assess the consequences to human flourishing of 1) the warming impact of CO2, 2) the fertilizing effect of CO2, 3) the protecting effect of affordable energy for all climate danger.
● The warming impact of CO2 is mild and quite possibly positive--in no way does it justify restricting fossil fuel use whatsoever.
○ It is an proven but little-known fact that the greenhouse effect of CO2 is a diminishing, logarithmic effect; each molecule of CO2 warms less than the last.
○ The belief that increases in CO2 will cause runaway warming are based on speculative climate dynamics represented in models that have utterly failed to predict climate.
○ Global average temperatures and CO2 levels are near all-time lows from a geological perspective; today’s CO2 levels are an estimated 1/20th their all time high (a highly fertile period).
○ Warming is almost universally desired among civilizations, with cold-related deaths dramatically greater than heat-related deaths. In general life thrives under warmer conditions.
● The widely-ignored fertilizing effect of CO2 is significant and positive, yet ignored; a proper energy and environmental discussion must take it into account.
○ Increasing CO2 levels is a proven driver of plant growth, which is why greenhouses contain 3 times as much CO2 as our atmosphere.
○ Satellite data show dramatic increases in plant growth in uninhabited locations as CO2 levels have increased over the past several decades.
○ Increased CO2 has also contributed significantly to crop yields and helped millions avoid malnutrition or starvation.
● The widely-ignored protecting effect of fossil fuels is spectacularly positive; it has helped us take the inherently dangerous climate and make it far safer than it has ever been.
○ While the climate debate treats the global climate system as naturally stable and safe, it is in fact naturally volatile and vicious. Climate safety requires climate protection through development and technology--both of which are fueled by affordable energy.
○ The international disaster database, which tracks climate-related deaths--including deaths from flood, droughts, extreme heat, extreme cold, storms, and wildfires--shows a 98% decrease in the rate of climate-related deaths since significant CO2 emissions began 80 years ago.
○ Fossil fuel use doesn’t take a safe climate and make it dangerous, it takes a dangerous climate and makes it safe.
For a full analysis of the environmental impacts of fossil fuels, including air, water, and resource impacts, see the book The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels.
Re the situation I think I explain it clearly in this piece:
Basically they are unjustly attacking people who challenge climate catastrophism by starting with an unpopular target--Exxon and people Exxon might be funding. The fact that they to name my org in the subpoena, even though we are for-profit and accept no funding, shows this is just about attacking ideas they disagree with.
Link to summary of the moral case: http://industrialprogress.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/MCFF-handout.pdf
Can you share your thoughts on the future of nuclear power as a sustainable process for 'clean' energy? Also, why does it engender such a visceral reaction from some people (groups) at the mere suggestion of using more of it?
I think the modifier "clean" is wrong as a binary classification (clean vs. dirty) but it's true that nuclear has the least harmful emissions end to end of any form of energy.
The fundamental appeal is the energy density that you get from generating energy via nuclear forces (1 million times the chemical forces in hydrocarbons). And in the 70s the evidence I know is that they were able to do it quite economically.
The question is: without all the green, anti-tech controls that made nuclear far more expensive, what would nuclear look like today in terms of cost-effectiveness? My inclination is that it would be extremely competitive if not the best. The way to find out is to liberate it.
It meets opposition for the same reason fossil fuels do. People have a huge bias against man-made things, whether man-made CO2 or man-made radiation. So instead of thinking precisely/scientifically about its nature and magnitude they construct these crazy hell narratives and say we should throw the whole tech out.
In regard to esthetics, and maybe besides that, what is your spiritual fuel? Where do you find inspiration?
Well, novels, movies, etc. My favorite novel (not movie!) is Atlas Shrugged.
But I enjoy the core of my work, which is trying to achieve fundamental clarity on important issues and then transfer that to others. So on a day to day basis the most fueling things is to do what I enjoy most. As a business owner it's a challenge sometimes, as there are many aspects of the business that can be draining.
Hi, Mr. Epstein! I'm a fan of yours and want to thank you for standing up for the case of fossil fuels.
Here's my question: What was the motivation behind using the F word in response to being asked to give up your email correspondence? Did you foresee your response being applauded and noted everywhere or was it a spur of the moment thing?
This article explains my motivation:
The AG behaved like thug and that is the answer she deserved for stepping outside the boundaries of a civilized society.
I hoped it would draw attention to the important issue of free speech. And it did.
Hey Alex, thanks for taking time out of your day to do this. I have two questions regarding your positions on climate and energy: Given how vocal you've been about your views, has it cost you friend/family relationships? As in, how has doing what you do affected your personal life? My second questions relates to the common argument you get about how you're paid by "Big Oil" to do what you do. How do you usually respond to and rationalize with reporters, the media, and others accusing you of being paid handsomely by oil companies?
Thanks for fighting the good fight!
It's actually strengthened a lot of relationships. People who know me know where I started, know that I came to this honestly, and have been persuaded by my perspective over time. If you look at my personal FB page http://www.facebook.com/al.x.epstein I think you'll see this.
I mentioned in another response How to Talk to Anyone About Energy. http://energychampion.net. I explain my whole approach there.
In terms of responding to the stuff about being paid and whatnot I used to focus on the fact that we're not funded (true) but the more important thing is that we are proud to defend a moral industry. People who assume that it's evil to be connected with the fossil fuel industry need to first be able to prove that the industry is evil. But I claim to prove it's good. So they need to grapple with that, not just appeal to their prejudice.
See this YouTube video where I do this in Congress, it's midway through. Boxer and others, who usually destroy people on industry affiliation, had nothing to say: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R5KoYJ64vjA
Can you share some insight into your debate preparation; How do you organize your thoughts and rehearse answers? How do you handle topics that come up that you hadn't rehearsed?
Can you comment on your perspective of the role of education in culture? (plug for VanDamme perhaps!)
My debate prep has changed a lot over the years. The one aspect that hasn't changed is that I get smart people to mock-debate with me. Eric Dennis most of all. In the early years I would get wrecked in the early mock debates and learn a lot.
But when I wrote the book I learned that it's all about framework. You need to be clear on the right framework for thinking about the issue and then get buy-in on it from the beginning. This is how I conduct conversations, debates, whatever.
A couple examples that I've cited other places:
1) This two-page summary that begins with the framework http://industrialprogress.com/fossilfuels/
2) How to Talk to Anyone About Energy: http://energychampion.net
I have a debate from last December that is finally coming out where you'll see some of the stuff. There was a 350.org person who followed the McKibben approach and you can see how it fails once the issue is framed properly.
Which of the two main presidential candidates have the best energy policy for this election?
Are there any lower level candidates that have a particularly well informed plan?
Trump gave a speech that outlined some of the right policies but he didn't give a coherent explanation of them. So at this point he doesn't have a policy.
Also I should say that as important as energy is it's not the only issue. Both candidates have a terrifyingly authoritarian bent to them. Trump's has been well-publicized but the Democratic Party recently made part of its proposed platform that the government should go after companies (and think-tanks) whose positions they disagree with!
So I'm planning on voting for neither.
Lower-level candidates there are some better ones but I can't recall at the moment.
In a culture which seems to have an ever increasing lack of tolerance for free thought, and subsequently free speech, and given the controversial nature of the subject matter at hand, what has been your experience with attacks on free speech, and how has this had a negative effect (if any) on our ability to have an honest discussion about climate change and the need to use fossil fuels?
Although there is a major free speech attack on advocates of fossil fuels (climate thinkers) most of the opinion so far is due to the indoctrination of the educational system. Which then has transferred into the media. Once you can make someone a pariah it's easier to attack their rights.
I'm an aspiring intellectual working for an Objectivist quarterly. I want to have and maintain a pretty rigorous working life, and I have ADHD—which makes the attainment of the lifestyle and results that I want incredibly challenging, with frequent setbacks and disappointments. Do you have any advice about the psychological aspect of successfully blending ambition and attention deficit?
I don't know your particular struggles so it's hard to give generic advice. I was diagnosed with ADHD as a kid (no idea whether accurate) and put on Ritalin for years.
My own experiences that might be relevant:
1) Once I found what I was really interested in I could focus a lot better.
2) I found it incredibly valuable to create environmental conditions in my life that inevitably made me more productive. See this lecture by me and also the Power Hour on productivity https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xWXP15hSA0A
Are you not a scientist insofar as you understand the facts necessary to ascertain that this green movement and CGCC (catastrophic global climate change) are nonsense?
I'm confused by the wording of this question.
"Scientist" vs. "non-scientist" is a mostly useless distinction when discussing a particular science, such as climate science. Except that if you're a professional scientist it might mean that you have some kind of familiarity with the scientific method. But that's often not the case.
I think the key categories are: subject-matter expert, informed citizen, and ignorant. I consider myself on the very upper end of informed citizen.
One thing an informed citizen can do is ask for proof of a claim. When I've done that the catastrophist position crumbles. Just as many previously popular "scientific" positions crumbled (e.g., eugenics).
I recently moved from the Boston area to the Tampa area and i'm observing a difference in attitude in regards to the politically charged ideas such as climate change. I'm curious if you observe this as well as you travel the country / world? Also, I'm not surprised that it was the MA Attorney General that is leading the charge. I was curious if you think that since there is such a large intellectual presence in the MA area, i.e. the universities does this have a more direct impact on the local citizens? If it does then the next question is are these the areas to best spread ideas such as yours? Thanks look forward to your response, keep up the great work.
First, I think people tremendously underestimate the potential to persuade others if you do it the right way. I'm in San Francisco right now and I get people interested in a different way of thinking about environmental issues all the time.
1) The summary of The Moral Case that I mentioned earlier: http://industrialprogress.com/fossilfuels/
2) A course I made called How to Talk to Anyone About Energy: http://energychampion.net
Re: the rest of your question I'd just say it varies from place to place but it's good to put most of your focus on the influencers on a debate--then your influence trickles down.
Thanks for doing this Mr. Epstein! I took an Environmental Economics class in college and my professors introduced me to you. Huge fan.
Aside from your emphasis on fossil fuels, are there any other areas the the Center for Industrial Progress focuses on?
We are working on a transition to becoming Center for Human Progress and will focus on a dozen or so industries (eventually) as well as other areas of progress. In this connection if you sign up for our mailing list at http://industrialprogress.com you'll be up to date.
Alex - I love your book because it is rational and logical, and doesn't ignore facts and rational argument that says global warming is happening. But you offer the "humanist" take on the proven facts. Refreshing.
How can we get The Masses to see that "renewables" aren't real (in the sense that they can replace fossil fuels) and won't be real on the timetable being put forward, and that if fossil fuels are massively restricted and phased out as aggressively as Al Gore and friends want, it will literally mean disaster for them?
Because they have all drank the kool-aid without knowing the side-effects.
I think the key is for people to think of energy as they do any other technology/product. Then you can just say I believe in a free market where all technologies compete. I have no prejudice as to whether it comes directly from the sun or stored from the sun (hydrocarbons) or from plentiful metals under the ground (nuclear).
Once you have that framework the reliables are revealed as unreliable.
What are realistic expectations of affects on the people of California if the 50% emission reduction by 2030 legislation is passed?
Absolute devastation, particularly of the poor--particularly if they keep their anti-nuclear, anti-hydro stance. At that point even I would leave--and I REALLY love California.
But I can't imagine that policy will actually happen. It's important to remember that any restriction on productivity creates suffering, usually most for the least productive.
How much money does your organization receive from the American Petroleum Institute and/or any organizations owned/funded by the Koch brothers (eg, The Heartland Institute)?
None. We don't get funding.
If you want to include speeches consulting, I don't discuss any private dealings with clients. I can tell you I have volunteered twice to speak for free at public events for Americans for Prosperity, a Koch-funded organization, because I believed in the cause.
Again, I'm very proud of the work I've done to empower the fossil fuel industry. I hope to do the same for other oppressed industries.
NOTE! My hour is up; I have a TV interview right now. If you ask more questions I will answer them later this week. Thank you!
Why isn't nuclear energy cheap yet, whereas renewables supposedly are becoming cheap?
Since energy needs to be reliable, unreliables (aka "renewables") aren't cheap at all--the same as having a staff of workers that come 1/3 of the time and you don't know when.
Nuclear isn't not "cheap yet" it's been forcibly made far more expensive by the green movement. See my answer to an earlier question about nuclear.
Environmentalists tend to praise renewable energy for its "clean" output yet forget about all of the inputs needed to create the energy product in the first place---many of those inputs come from fossil fuels... yet at the same time condemn nuclear energy for its "risks" and ignore its inherit clean production of sustainable, reliable, and cheap energy...
My question is: how do you think the energy industry (particularly oil and gas companies) can best communicate its value to the daily consumers in a way that gets past all of the immediate, somewhat religious, propaganda from environmentalists?
In this connection you indicate part of the solution. It's valuable for industries and others to communicate energy as a process and show very clearly what happens in every stage. Including why, say, mining for hydrocarbons is way more efficient on the front-end than getting the materials for solar, wind, even nuclear.
Hi, Alex. I have been a big supporter for years.
Was wondering what you think of the amount of work/research/publishing that has been done on the down side of the climate change agenda. Seems even people like you can't/don't cite statistics on the huge negative effects. Do you agree? Can that change?
I'm not sure what you mean by the downside. I cite specific examples like Germany all the time. The thing in with these insane proposals like 80% reductions in CO2 emissions you can't know with precision the devastation. But it's murderous.
You often said that as time goes on we pollute less and less, because we want that. But you never say how afaik. So how do we make producers of energy pollute less, should it be done through government regulation?
"how afaik"? Unfortunately the key word in your question is misspelled. But to answer what I understand of your question: the basic mechanism is a government that protects individual life that then defines health/safety standards based on the full-context of what's possible and affordable at a given time. This is explained a lot in Chapter 7 of The Moral Case and in this interview I did with Aaron Harber, which also discusses why I don't think of these issues in terms of "externalities."
If you were in a room with Al Gore and Bill Nye the Science Guy, what would be the first thing you would say to them?
If there was a camera I would ask them if they wanted to record a discussion.
If there was not a camera I would have nothing to say. Al Gore has been a tremendous source for evil in the world. Nye is 1/100th as bad but still really dishonest (he still uses the hockey stick as evidence!).
I am incapable of being phony. Same deal when I saw Barbara Boxer in first class on a flight home to LA (I'm 97% sure it was her). She acted disgracefully and I had no desire to talk to her. Of course I could make her uncomfortable but there's no pleasure in that.
You seem to be a very good marketer of your ideas. Can you rattle off some of your favorite books and resources on the subject of marketing and self-promotion?
Anything by Dan Kennedy is a good start. I also like Claude Hopkins.
What is your opinion on the safety of Fracking?
You're on my to read list so if it's there it's down to my own 'laziness'.
It's definitely there!
What are your thoughts on the IPCC, and do you think they play fair? Do you think they are honest?
Also, do you have any differences with the Heartland Institute, or any other organizations that champion your cause?
No. See my podcast Power Hour on iTunes for several episodes on this.
I have differences with every other organization but I admire many of them, including Heartland. I think my biggest difference is that I have a very specific philosophical method of thinking about things, which translates into a very specific explanatory method. Others are getting onboard but there are still a lot of differences.