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Category — Energy Education

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

‘Simple Rules for a Complex World’: Five for Energy Policy

“[P]ermanence and stability are the cardinal virtues of the legal rules that make private innovation and public progress possible. To my mind there is no doubt that a legal regime that embraced private property and freedom of contract is the only one that in practice can offer that permanence and stability.”

- Richard Epstein. Simple Rules for a Complex World,  Cambridge:  Harvard University Press, 2004, p. x1.

In U.S. Energy Policy and the Pursuit of Failure–and in a recent blog post at MasterResource–I have argued that for government energy policy to be effective it has to be modest—modest especially in what policy can be expected to accomplish.

But for modest policy to be effective, there must be some basic understandings about what energy policy should or should not entail. Here are my rules for effective energy policy.

  1. Make energy policy be about energy. Seems too obvious? Not to policymakers. Since the 1970s, energy policy has been said to have near magical qualities. Proponents of energy legislation have claimed bills would: reduce the U.S. trade deficit, aid farmers, build U.S. manufacturing capabilities, provide world technological leadership, strengthen the dollar, reduce inflation, boost economic growth, protect the American way of life, and restore America’s confidence. And of course, energy legislation is always supposed to create jobs – thousands, hundreds of thousands, even millions. I find it hard to take seriously any policy that claims to deliver such long lists of goodies, especially since, to date, most energy legislation has delivered little or nothing of value. [Read more →]

October 4, 2013   3 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

Useful Learning, Real Money: A Glimpse Into the Hydrocarbon Educational Future

The oil and gas boom has revealed a shortage of skilled labor. Some educational institutions are responding. But should the industry itself enter into the educational field and form for-profit training programs? Such would further remove the need for government (taxpayer) education, a win-win for the economy.”

Julian Simon said it first and best: the scarcest resource is human capital. His proof? The rising cost of labor relative to other inputs, even so-called depletable resources. And such is a mighty tribute to capitalism, as David Boaz noted.

A recent article in the Houston Chronicle, “San Jacinto College’s fast-track pipefitting fabricator program responds to industry need (Cheryl P. Rose, June 28, 2013) made me think of Simon, the hydrocarbon-energy boom, and the purpose of education.

We will soon have the Internet capability of getting a world class education at virtually zero marginal cost. Listen to the Harvard or Princeton professors at their best, not to mention the exciting economics coming out of George Mason University. There will be a fee, but it is on its way to ubiquity.

Dear workforce to come: Self-educate yourself at night with the classics because the world needs your skills during the day. Make good money in your youth to expand your world later on, whether by hobbying, traveling, art collecting, or just buying more time to read and study.

Read Rose’s account of this community college opportunity for yourself and decide where the future of education is going. [Read more →]

July 3, 2013   2 Comments

Don’t Divest, Educate–An Open Letter to American Universities

“What we ask for is a more rigorous education on energy and environmental issues. Today’s students do not learn even basic facts about the energy sources that make our civilization possible. But they are encouraged to take strong policy positions on the basis of extremely speculative predictions by individuals and institutions who falsely claim to represent the conclusions of all informed scientists.”

Dear American Universities,

You have no doubt heard the calls by certain environmentalist groups for you to publicly divest your endowments of any investments in the fossil fuel industry. We ask that you reject these calls as an attempt to silence legitimate debate about our energy and environmental future.

The leaders of the divestment movement say it is not debatable that the fossil fuel industry is “Public Enemy Number One”—that it deserves to be publicly humiliated by having America’s leading educational institutions single it out for divestment. But the divestment movement refuses to grapple with, let alone educate students about, the staggering, and arguably irreplaceable, benefits we derive from that industry. [Read more →]

June 11, 2013   8 Comments

Why We Should Love the Oil Companies (Straight talk from an industry outsider)

“We should never forget that the oil industry, whatever its problems (and most of those are caused by bad government policies) is the single most vital industry in the world.”

This election year, America faces many crucial legislative choices in the oil/gas industry–and the PR strategy of oil companies will certainly affect the outcome.

What should oil company executives do to improve their industry’s reputation and secure their freedom to produce the lifeblood of civilization?

Unfortunately, the conventional answer is: pretend they’re not oil companies. BP’s John Browne some years ago infamously declared his company’s aspirations to be “Beyond Petroleum”–a slogan that obviously does not aid the industry’s desire for more petroleum drilling rights. (BP, to its credit, no longer trumpets this slogan, which defaults BP back to the implicit original, British Petroleum.)

Chevron’s mega-PR-campaign, “We Agree,” features 10 empty slogans, not one of which expresses pride in producing oil, and some of which are downright offensive. “Oil companies should think more like technology companies,” the campaign says–as if the ability to extract the greatest portable fuel known to man from once-useless shale rock 10,000 feet below the surface of the Earth is not a technological achievement.

This kind of posturing is self-defeating–no one believes that oil companies are anything other than oil companies. And it is a disservice to both their industry, which does not deserve flagellation (except when they rent-seek or engage in self-flagellaton), and to the American people, who desperately need to know the positive importance of the oil industry in their lives.

We should never forget that the oil industry, whatever its problems (and most of those are caused by bad government policies) is the single most vital industry in the world. [Read more →]

June 15, 2012   13 Comments

‘Hard Facts: An Energy Primer’ (New IER educational effort launched)

Energy, the master resource, enables high living standards and promises future progress in virtually all areas of human betterment.

Energy heats our homes, lights the night, fuels our transportation, and powers our machines. Affordable energy improves economic efficiency and keeps the cost of goods and services down. All of us as consumers and as business people save money.

Low domestic energy prices create high-productivity jobs at home up. Energy made American great as a key input for a (relatively) free economy, and today’s home-grown energy boom can help keep America great.

Appreciated another way, energy plenty allows us to spend more time with our families and friends–and less time merely working to survive. Moreover, by making transportation less costly, affordable energy gives us greater freedom to live, work, and play how and where we want.

There are, however, a number of challenges to maintaining a sufficient supply of affordable energy. Seemingly every year there is a new energy bill in Congress that alleges to fix our energy problems. The flawed premises of these bills result in misplaced, repeated calls for a new national energy policy in place of greater reliance on free-market forces.

Energy policy would be greatly improved if policymakers took into account the actual energy landscape. Far too often, energy bills are based on incorrect assumptions, such as the notion that new, revolutionary technologies, such as affordable cellulosic ethanol, are just around the corner if only the federal government provides the energy industry sufficient mandates and subsidies. Time after time, experience has shown that the government cannot force new technologies to market.

Policymakers should take time to understand the facts about energy and the obstacles to making it affordable and reliable given its critical role in our lives and our economy. America is home to vast natural resources, but many of our energy policies are built on the notion that energy is scarce and becoming more scarce.

The reality is that we have more combined oil, coal, and natural gas resources than any other country on the planet. We have enough energy resources to provide reliable and affordable energy for decades, even centuries to come. The only real question is whether we will have access to our abundant energy resources, not whether sufficient resources exist.

What follows are many key facts , hard facts, that energy educators must stress to the citizenry, media, academics, and lawmakers. The fact list begins with fossil fuels, continues with renewables and nuclear energy, and then looks at energy efficiency and environmental issues. (For the full IER report, see here) [Read more →]

April 30, 2012   5 Comments