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Category — Epstein, Alex

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

Dear Big Oil: Stop Acting Like Big Tobacco

The following is the beginning of “The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels: the Key to Winning Hearts and Minds”—my soon-to-be published manifesto on how fossil fuel companies can neutralize attackers, turn non-supporters into supporters, and supporters into champions. I’ve been been circulating it among our clients.

If you know someone in the industry who would benefit from this, please share it with them.

_____________________________________________________

Imagine that you are talking to the CEO of a tobacco company. He is trying to deal with the endless political and legal attacks on his industry. He tells you that he can win back the hearts and minds of the public by doing the following:

  • “We need to stress to the public that we are an economically important industry that creates jobs and tax revenues.”
  • “We need to link the industry to our national identity.”
  • “We also need to stress to the public that we are addressing our attackers’ concerns—by lowering our emissions.”
  • “We need to do all this using the best ad agencies, polling firms, and media gurus, so we can make our case in the most wide-reaching and most emotionally compelling way.”

What would your response be?

I’m guessing you would say that there’s no way this will work—because none of these address the fact that the public views their core product as a self-destructive addiction. The industry, accordingly, is viewed as an inherently immoral industry. So long as that is the case, all other communications efforts can only accomplish so much.

For example, critics would ask, in response to the industry’s communications tactics: Do we want economic growth tied to poison? Do we want more jobs where the workers are doing harmful things? Do we want our national identity to continue being associated with something we now know is destructive? Do we want to settle for making a deadly product 20% less deadly? Obviously not.

Everything above applies exactly to your industry, the oil industry. Your attackers portray your core product as a self-destructive addiction, and you as a fundamentally immoral industry. They’re wrong—but you wouldn’t know it from the public discussion of oil and, indeed, the entire fossil fuel industry. [Read more →]

October 10, 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

Fossil Fuels Improve the Planet

[Editor's Note: For the next several days, Master Resource will publish a series of posts with excerpts from Alex Epstein's book, Fossil Fuels Improve the Planet.]

“Humans have the untapped potential to radically improve life on earth by using technology, not to “save” the planet but to improve it for human purposes.”

The basic question underlying our energy policy debates is this: Should we be free to generate more and more energy using fossil fuels? Or should we restrict and progressively outlaw fossil fuels as “dirty energy”?

I believe that if we look at the big picture, the facts are clear. If we want a healthy, livable environment, then we must be free to use fossil fuels. Why? Because for the foreseeable future, fossil fuels provide the key to a great environment: abundant, affordable, reliable energy.

We’re taught in school that the key to a great environment is to minimize our “impact” on it. We 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; until the fossil-fueled industrial revolution of the last two centuries, human beings lived in an environment that was low on useful resources and high on danger. [1]

Today’s industrialized environment is the cleanest, healthiest in history. If you want to see what “dirty” looks like, go 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—the kind of air pollution that has been almost eliminated by modern, centralized power plants. Try getting your water from a local brook that is naturally infested with the natural germs of all the local animals—the once-perennial threat that modern, fossil-fuel-powered water purification systems eliminate. Try coping with the dramatic temperature and weather swings that occur in nearly any climate—a threat that fossil-fuel powered air-conditioning, heating, and construction have made extremely rare.

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 the vast majority of our physical work for us. [2] [Read more →]

August 27, 2013   Comments Off

Reclaiming the Moral High Ground (Epstein’s new energy primer)

“Although trained as a philosopher, [Alex] Epstein is perhaps best described as a happy intellectual warrior whose main goal is to rewrite the dominant romantic/authoritarian narrative that nowadays underlie energy and sustainability debates.”

To people who lived through them, the “good old days” were more akin to Hobbesian trying times where life was much more solitary, poorer, nastier, brutish and shorter than in our “Age of Energy.”

In a world where no good deed goes unpunished, however, hydrocarbons and the people who locate, refine and deliver them in usable forms are loudly condemned as toxic threats by activists who would rather have energy-starved masses consume little, distant, costly, intermittent, unreliable, and low-density alternative energy cupcakes.

Even more disheartening is how many energy executives have been shamed into paying lip-service (and a fair amount of “sustainability” and “green partnership” consulting fees) to their most virulent detractors.

Enter Alex Epstein, the young dynamo behind the Center for Industrial Progress (CIP)  and regular contributor to this blog. (Disclaimer: Alex is a virtual friend, meaning we have only met through Skype.)

Although trained as a philosopher, Epstein is perhaps best described as a happy intellectual warrior whose main goal is to rewrite the dominant romantic/authoritarian narrative that nowadays underlie energy and sustainability debates. He recently summarized his main insights and achievements in a short free e-book “Fossil Fuels Improve the Planet.” [Read more →]

July 8, 2013   6 Comments

Why Every American Needs to Watch FrackNation

The main thing you need to know about FrackNation is that you should watch it. More importantly, given that this blog’s audience is unusually educated about hydraulic fracturing–frac’ing–you should encourage friends and family to watch it.

The use of hydraulic fracturing and (less-publicized) horizontal drilling to extract oil and gas from shale rock is, to the best of my knowledge, the most important technological revolution of the last decade. The existence of enormous deposits of shale has long been known–some of the earliest experiments with kerosene involved shale–but the ability to affordably get oil and gas from these deposits has been elusive for over a century. In Ayn Rand’s 1957 Atlas Shrugged, one of the heroes manages to solve the problem, and it is rightly regarded as an epic achievement.

But, to read today’s media coverage of frac’ing, you would have no idea that it is a heroic, life-giving development. You would regard it as a health menace that must be banned from every town, city, and state.

Until you watched FrackNation. For an entertaining documentary, FrackNation does a remarkably thorough job of giving the truth about frac’ing, including: [Read more →]

January 29, 2013   4 Comments

Dishonest Land: Hollywood’s “Promised Land” Slanders the Frac’ing Revolution

The story of hydraulic fracturing (frac’ing) is one of the most important stories of our time. It needs to be told far and wide–and certainly by our top talent in Hollywood.

The true story of frac’ing is utterly inspiring. A band of renegade oil and gas executives, engineers, and rig-workers developed a technology that could transform worthless rock into wondrously abundant and affordable energy–enough to improve the lives of every single American. Frac’ing gives some states the cheapest electricity in the world, a boon to our manufacturing. It gives us the oil and gas that run our farms, warm our homes, and fuel our fun.

Whatever ways frac’ing technology has been misused–and for a pervasive technology there are shockingly few instances–our basic attitude toward the industry should be one of gratitude. And the most grateful of all should be the landowners who, thanks to the ingenuity of the frac’ing industry, now have the opportunity to participate in and benefit from a torrent of wealth creation miles beneath their feet.

A good, honest movie about frac’ing would inspire hope and inspire gratitude.

Promised Land, Hollywood’s first take on frac’ing, is neither good nor honest–it is a shameful smear-job by writer-actors Matt Damon and John Krasinski.

[Read more →]

January 7, 2013   10 Comments