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Category — Energy Debate

Defeating Faux Environmentalism: Making a Moral Case for Fossil Fuel Abundance

“Unfortunately, the fossil fuel industry has not refuted the moral case against fossil fuels. In fact, the vast majority of its communications reinforce the moral case against oil, gas, and coal.” 

There is only one way to defeat the environmentalists’ moral case against fossil fuels—refute its central idea that fossil fuels destroy the planet. Because if we don’t refute that idea, we accept it. And if we accept that fossil fuels are destroying the planet, the only logical conclusion is to cease new development and slow down existing development as much as possible.

Unfortunately, the fossil fuel industry has not refuted the moral case against fossil fuels. In fact, the vast majority of its communications reinforce the moral case against oil, gas, and coal.

For example, take the common practice of publicly endorsing “renewables” as the ideal. Fossil fuel companies, particularly oil and gas companies, proudly feature windmills on webpages and annual reports, even though these are trivial to their bottom line and wildly uneconomic. This obviously implies that “renewables” are the goal—with oil and gas as just a temporarily necessary evil.

Don’t think it’s just the BPs, Shells, and Chevrons of the world who do this. Here’s a concession of “renewables’” moral superiority by the most overtly pro-fossil-fuel trade organization I know of, the Western Energy Alliance (WEA): [Read more →]

November 1, 2013   6 Comments

The Campaign to Win Hearts and Minds

“We all have a stake in the war over fossil fuels, and it’s a war that will ultimately be won or lost depending on whether we can win the moral and environmental high ground.”

As I wrote in Friday’s post, the challenge of persuading the public in favor of fossil fuels is really one of conveying the fact that fossil fuels improve the planet for human life, in such a way that you quickly capture the moral high ground and the environmental high ground—as against taking defensive stands on these issues (or none at all).

At the Center for Industrial Progress, we do a lot to help companies move hearts and minds by applying these ideas to their communications projects, and we’ve also begun a campaign to take our strategy to the public directly.

The ‘I Love Fossil Fuels’ Campaign

I’ve heard as an excuse in many industries that have to deal with the Green movement that we’re at a disadvantage because the other side has some emotional advantage.

But that’s only true if we let them own the value issues, like environment. If we own them, by giving the big picture, with plenty of examples, plenty of justified emotion—we have the advantage.

And in fact, people will be inoculated against anti-fossil fuel messaging, because they’ll know clearly and concretely how destructive it is to oppose fossil fuel.

As evidence for this, I want to show you a few images from our new Facebook campaign, “I Love Fossil Fuels.” I did not make one of these, they’re all just from people who have taken in our work. (Click for larger images.) [Read more →]

September 3, 2013   No Comments

Fossil Fuel Self-Defense

“It’s estimated that, in large part thanks to new, coal-powered infrastructure, between 1 billion and 2 billion people now have access to clean drinking water that didn’t 20 years ago.”

So far this week, I’ve argued that fossil fuels actually improve the environment for human beings, and applied that idea to two important strategies for any debate on the value of fossil fuels: taking the moral high ground and taking the environmental high ground.

I apply both in the following excerpt from my book, Fossil Fuels Improve the Planet.

How the Coal Industry Should Defend itself

Once you understand that coal and other fossil fuels improve our environment, your ability to defend them is incomparably greater.

Let’s work through an example: the controversy over coal exports in the Pacific Northwest.

Here’s a typical attack: “They’re coming to ship their poison so they can poison the people in China. And that poison’s going to come back here and poison your salmon and your children, so don’t let it happen.” [1]

That was from Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.

So let’s say you’re debating Robert F. Kennedy Jr. in the media. How do you respond?

If you’re clear that coal improves our environment, not just that it’s less poisonous than he thinks, you can completely turn the tables and make clear that as supporters of coal you’re the environmental benefactor and he’s the environmental danger.

Here’s how I might respond if I were in the coal industry: [Read more →]

August 30, 2013   2 Comments

Taking the Environmental High Ground on Fossil Fuels

“You may know that coal has dramatically improved the economies of India and China by allowing them to build super-productive factories that make their people much more well off financially. But you might not know that their environments have gotten much better as well.”

Yesterday I wrote about why it is so important for the energy industry to take the moral high ground in the debate about fossil fuels, and today I want to connect that to the related issue of taking the environmental high ground.

One of the ways in which environmentalists have been able to gain the moral high ground is by accusing the energy industry of polluting the environment and making life on earth worse. On its face that may seem plausible, but as I wrote Tuesday, if you look at key indicators of human health as they relate to the environment, fossil fuels have actually improved our environment and made us healthier than we’ve ever been at any other time in history.

For the same reason the energy industry deserves to take the moral high ground, so it deserves to and should claim the environmental high ground. Here are some thoughts on how to do that.

Taking the Environmental High Ground

Whenever possible in a debate, you want to take the high ground right out of the gate. When discussing fossil fuels, that is particularly true on environmental issues.

Here’s an example of how to do it on coal. Here’s what the industry might say to a college audience:

[Read more →]

August 29, 2013   3 Comments

Taking the Moral High Ground on Fossil Fuels

“The ideal source of energy is not some ‘sustainable’—i.e., endlessly repeatable—form, but the best, cheapest, ever-improving form human ingenuity can devise. . . . An oil industry is ideal in the same way the iPhone is an ideal for so many. It may not be the best forever, but it is the best for now and we should be grateful to have it.”

Yesterday, I discussed the idea that fossil fuels actually improve the planet for human life. This idea has major implications for how the fossil fuel industry represents itself to the public.

Because of the narrative that fossil fuels harm the planet, the industry has tended to fight for its existence defensively, with the argument that it is a necessary evil, to be tolerated because of the jobs it creates, or because of other economic benefits.

But that approach doesn’t work, and it shouldn’t work. To their credit, most people are unwilling to tolerate something they consider immoral. To win the hearts and minds of the public, the energy industry needs to present itself as a necessary good, because taking the moral high ground in the fossil fuel debate is the only winning strategy.

Taking the Moral High Ground

Imagine you are an advertising executive, and a CEO asks you: “Do you think you can help improve the reputation of my industry?”

You respond, “Sure, what are some ways your industry makes people’s lives better?”

He replies, “Well, actually, our product helps people in just about everything they do. This past year, it helped take 4 million newlyweds to their dream destinations for their honeymoons. It helped bring 300 million Americans to their favorite places: yoga studios, soccer games, friends’ houses. It made possible the bulletproof vests that protect 500,000 policemen a year and the fire-resistant jackets that protect 1,000,000 firefighters a year.” [1][2]

“If you do all that, how could you be unpopular?”

“We’re the oil industry.” [Read more →]

August 28, 2013   2 Comments

A Moral Defense of the Oil Industry

“It is the oil industry, not its opponents, that deserves the moral high ground. The moral arguments against oil pretend to be progressive but are in fact re-hashes of primitive philosophical doctrines. For example, ‘sustainability’ is a relic of centuries when human beings repeated the same lifestyle over and over–instead of finding better and better ways to do things.”

Imagine you are an advertising executive, and a CEO asks you: “Do you think you can help improve the reputation of my industry?”

You respond, “Sure, what are some ways your industry makes people’s live better?”

He replies, “Well, actually, our product helps people in just about everything they do. This past year, it helped take 4 million newlyweds to their dream destinations for their honeymoons. It helped bring 300 million Americans to their favorite places: yoga studios, soccer games, friends’ houses. It made possible the bulletproof vests that protect 500,000 policemen a year and the fire-resistant jackets that protect 1,000,000 firefighters a year.”

“If you do all that, how could you be unpopular?”

“We’re the oil industry.” [Read more →]

December 5, 2012   22 Comments

Why We Fight (Part II: ‘A Free Market Energy Vision’)

“In the U.S. energy sector, market reliance has produced economic coordination, fostered economic growth, and democratized wealth. Government intervention, on the other hand, such as oil and natural gas price controls in the 1970s, has produced shortages, civil strife, and bureaucratic waste.”

Energy is the master resource. Without energy, other resources could neither be produced nor consumed. Even energy requires energy: There would not be usable oil, gas, or coal without the energy to manufacture and power the requisite tools and machinery. Nor would there be wind turbines or solar panels, which are monuments to embedded fossil-fuel energy.

Just how important are fossil fuels relative to so-called renewable energies? Oil, gas, and coal generate the electricity needed to fill in for intermittent wind and solar power to ensure moment-to-moment reliability. Renewable energy is dependent on nonrenewable energy–short of (prohibitively expensive) battery technology assuring the flow of electricity.

As a component of all products and services, energy needs to be affordable, convenient, and reliable. To this end, public policy should respect consumer preferences and allow energy producers to meet the demands of the marketplace. This requires a respect for private property rights, voluntary exchange, and the rule of law to facilitate the global exchange of energy and its innumerable infrastructure components. Such are the key to energy sustainability.

In this election season, all political parties, candidates, and voters should revisit the fundamentals of a market-driven, versus government-engineered, energy sector.

Government Intervention

Global energy supplies are primarily owned by governments rather than by individuals, giving rise to ‘energy security’ problems for some nations and regions. In state-run economies, political elites make the decisions that otherwise would be made by the market transactions of millions of people. Win-win voluntary exchanges are supplanted by government-dictated win-lose transactions. Wealth is redistributed rather than created. Pure waste results from the intervention of (political) third parties into what otherwise would be mutually advantageous self-interested exchange. [Read more →]

April 3, 2012   4 Comments

“More of the Above” Energy Policy

“American energy has become remarkably cleaner in the past twenty years; the marketplace, not government mandates, are driving today’s ingenuity in the energy sector; consumer cost and grid reliability are not of less concern than environmental goals; and no sensible energy policy moves us forward by leaving fossil fuels, hydro, and nuclear behind.”

Senator Jeff Bingaman’s Clean Energy Standard (CES) notably improves upon his earlier push to require utilities to generate 20% of their power from renewable sources such as solar and wind power (but not existing hydroelectricity and nuclear power, much less what might emerge from carbon capture technologies at coal plants).

This time around, there is a wider range of energy technologies to bring down the sticker shock of mandating politically correct (but market incorrect) energy to American electricity users. Still, the CES is a step back from a free market and thus a burden to consumers, taxpayers, and the overall economy.

What is ‘Clean’ Energy?

A real debate over clean energy, as opposed to renewable energy, is one that should have been had two years ago (and really back in the 1970s, when the current debate first got underway). Instead, in an effort to push politically popular technologies such as solar and wind, the congressional energy debate seemed to overlook technologies with much greater practical importance for America’s long-term energy future. They include:

  • Emission-free nuclear power, to the extent it is commercially viable;
  • Fossil-fuel technologies, including coal-fired power production, exponentially cleaner in the past twenty years (with the possibility through carbon capture of making even greater gains); and
  • Hydropower, an often overlooked technology that is capable of adding significant megawatts to the grid with positive air-quality implications.

The truth is that no American energy future exists without contributions from some combination of these sources. To keep pace with energy demand, while maintaining the reliability and price that consumers deserve, the answer can’t simply be ‘all of the above’; it must be ‘more of the above.’ [Read more →]

March 27, 2012   9 Comments

Are We Free Market Energy Types Just ‘Bought and Paid For’? (New York Times, MasterResource weigh in on the bias question)

The public editor at the New York Times, Arthur Brisbane, recently wrote in his weekly Public Editor column about the trustworthiness of Robert Bryce, the nation’s leading energy journalist who has graduated to being a top energy public policy scholar, period. (Hard work, smarts, attention to detail, and open-mindedness earns the latter designation.)

In The Times Gives Them Space, but Who Pays Them? (October 29, 2011), Brisbane laid out a controversy that is worth reviewing. The question is: Does a writer’s paid association disqualify him or her as a reliable source of public policy analysis and opinion?

Here is how Brisbane asks and answers it.

PEOPLE don’t just argue about what is written on the Op-Ed page of The New York Times. They argue about who is doing the writing and why.

In a skeptical age, readers and organized groups frequently question perceived hidden interests and agendas of Op-Ed contributors who, unlike the paper’s own opinion columnists, are outsiders.

This month, a government and industry watchdog group called the Checks and Balances Project submitted a petition — signed by more than 50 journalists and educators — calling on The Times to “set the nation’s standard by disclosing financial conflicts of interest that their op-ed contributors may have at the time their piece is published.”

The group pointed at Robert Bryce, author of a June 8 Op-Ed article headlined The Gas Is Greener, which identified hidden costs of wind and solar power. The Times’s italicized author line accompanying the article said, “Robert Bryce, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, is the author, most recently, of ‘Power Hungry: The Myths of “Green” Energy and the Real Fuels of the Future.’ ” [Read more →]

November 7, 2011   8 Comments

Fifteen Bad Things with Windpower–and Three Reasons Why

[Note: This article has been updated to Twenty Bad Things about Windpower — go here.]

Trying to pin down the arguments of wind promoters is a bit like trying to grab a greased balloon. Just when you think you’ve got a handle on it, it squirts away. Let’s take a quick highlight review of how things have evolved.

1 – Wind energy was abandoned well over a hundred years ago, as it was totally inconsistent with our burgeoning more modern needs of power, even in the late 1800s. When we throw the switch, we expect that the lights will go on — 100% of the time. It’s not possible for wind energy, by itself, to ever do this, which is one of the main reasons it was relegated to the dust bin of antiquated technologies (along with such other inadequate sources like horse power).

2 – Fast forward to several years ago. With politicians being convinced by lobbyists that Anthropological Global Warming (AGW) was an imminent threat, a campaign was begun to favor all things that would purportedly reduce CO2. Wind energy was thus resurrected, as its marketers pushed the fact that wind turbines did not produce CO2 in their generation of electricity.

3 – Of course, just that by itself is not significant, so the original wind development lobbyists then made the case for a quantum leap: that by adding wind turbines to the grid we could significantly reduce CO2 from fossil fuel electrical sources (especially coal). This argument became the basis for many states’ implementing a Renewable Energy Standard (RES) — which mandated that their utilities use an increased amount of wind energy.

4 – Why was a mandate necessary? Simply because the real world reality of integrating wind energy made it a very expensive option. As such, no utility company would likely do this on their own. They had to be forced to. [Read more →]

September 20, 2010   40 Comments