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Dear Daniel Yergin: Give Alex Epstein the Microphone at CERAWeek

By Robert Bradley Jr. -- February 22, 2016

“If good and evil are measured by the standard of human well-being and human progress, we must conclude that the fossil fuel industry is not a necessary evil to be restricted but a superior good to be liberated.”

“We don’t need green energy–we need humanitarian energy.”

“The 2016 election presents us with a once-in-a-lifetime energy opportunity–and energy danger. There is no middle ground. There can be no more standing down. It’s time to stand up.”

– Alex Epstein, “At CERAWeek Fossil Fuel Leaders Should Make A Moral Case For Their Industry,” Forbes.com., February 18, 2016.

For many years, make that decades, I have noted Daniel Yergin’s political bias at the annual CERA conference here in Houston. Nonindustry speakers have routinely been climate alarmists and anti-fossil fuel proponents, picked from both the government and the nonprofit sector. One of many examples would be Eileen Claussen, founder and past head of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change (now the Center for Energy and Climate Solutions), who made it her mission to soften up the oil and gas industry to climate alarmism. Yergin gave her the microphone at the CERA conference to do just that.

The list would be very long of the bad guys and gals — and very short on fossil-fuel champions. I have never been invited to speak; neither has anyone from CATO or CEI or other free-market think tanks to my knowledge. And think of what a climate pro like Judith Curry could do, telling the industry that the climate models are running way too hot and climate sensitivity estimates are coming down–good news in an era of $30 oil.

How about an enlivening energy/climate debate at CERAWeek with, say, Alex Epstein versus Bill McKibben. Let the crowd see who has the better arguments and who is really the humanitarian.

A caveat. Daniel Yergin is a politically correct scholar and a revenue maximizer for himself and CERA (now part of IHS). His 1979 co-edited book, Energy Future: Report of the Energy Project of the Harvard Business School, was full of Malthusianism. [1] His epic book The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money and Power, was ghost researched and ghost written–a ‘book by committee.’ The book helped build CERA and make Yergin a go-to person. But he has been all too quiet on the solar/wind forced energy transformation front when he should have been at the forefront of the bad economic and environmental consequences of government energies.

CERA has long had a climate consultancy (I used to attend and/or listen in to some of it in my Enron days). By assuming the problem, not debating it, and by being a go-between with industry clients and those in power, CERA softened up the industry some more. [Today, the climate consultancy is called IHS Climate Strategy Dialogue.]

Alex Epstein

So it was great to read Alex Epstein’s latest column at Forbes: a special message for CERA and the dues paying members to seek the moral high ground for natural gas, coal, and oil–and slam the door in the face of the cronies and government coercionists. Stop compromising. Stop being ‘progressive’. Stop the country-club Republicanism–access to get that special government favor while proclaiming support for free markets and economic freedom.

Here are some salient quotations from Epstein’s Forbes piece, titled Epstein, “At CERAWeek Fossil Fuel Leaders Should Make A Moral Case For Their Industry:”

“In a low-price environment where profit margins are slim to non-existent, an industry needs to be as free from destructive government controls as possible–and yet the industry faces the threat of unprecedented government controls. For its own sake and for the sake of billions of people’s lives it energizes, the industry needs to vigorously fight back against the anti-fossil fuel effort–and do so on moral grounds.”

“The fossil fuel industry is not a necessary evil, it is a life-enhancing good–and it needs to make that case loud and clear this election season.”

“Today’s catastrophists conveniently ignore that, 35 years ago, they predicted planetary destruction today–and that in fact not only have fossil fuels provided 81.5% more life-giving energy than they did back then, our planet has become a far better place for human beings to live.”

“Predictions that increasing atmospheric CO2 from .03% to .04% would cause runaway warming were met by the reality that CO2 causes mild, manageable and arguably desirable warming— and certainly a desirable increase in plant growth.”

“If good and evil are measured by the standard of human well-being and human progress, we must conclude that the fossil fuel industry is not a necessary evil to be restricted but a superior good to be liberated.”

“The green philosophy is a philosophy squarely opposed to energy growth, since all forms of energy and productivity entail significantly impacting–transforming–the planet to meet human needs. It is, therefore, an anti-human philosophy. It should be rejected and be replaced by the humanist philosophy, which seeks to maximize human well-being and recognizes that transforming our environment, done rationally, is not a vice but a virtue.”

“We don’t need green energy–we need humanitarian energy.”

“It is morally irresponsible and practically devastating for the fossil fuel industry to legitimize and compromise with the moral movement against its existence. It should instead make the moral, humanitarian case for fossil fuels–to the public, to its employees, and to politicians.”

“The 2016 election presents us with a once-in-a-lifetime energy opportunity–and energy danger. There is no middle ground. There can be no more standing down. It’s time to stand up.”

John Galt Broadcast Time at CERA?

The microphone belongs in the hands of Alex Epstein, the leading energy philosopher in the US and world today.

It does not belong in the hands of energy statists from outside the industry or energy apologists from within the industry. Their tired time is up.

Daniel Yergin, it begins with you. Is it time to proclaim fossil fuels to be a moral good–or continue the political correctness that has characterized far too much of your career?


[1] Here are some quotations from this 1979 book (and note that Julian Simon’s opposite views were coming out at about the same time as Yergin et al., gloom and doom).

“The range of energy possibilities grouped under the heading ‘solar’ could meet one-fifth of U.S. energy needs within two decades.”

– Robert Stobaugh and Daniel Yergin, “The End of Easy Oil,” in Stobaugh and Yergin, eds., Energy Future, Report of the Energy Project of the Harvard Business School (New York: Random House, 1979), p. 12.

“It is clear that domestic [U.S.] oil, gas, coal, and nuclear cannot deliver vastly increased supplies, although it is equally clear that these sources cannot be ignored.”

– Stobaugh and Yergin, “Conclusion: Toward a Balanced Energy Program,” p. 216.


  1. Richard Sigman  

    Daniel Yergin is far from a leftist, and the Prize is an incredible book. The Commanding Heights also has a huge theme of free markets overcoming command economies. Daniel Yergin needs some credit, a great historian and a great author. I do agree with Epstein’s statements though.


  2. rbradley  

    Good point Richard. I need to clarify….

    Yergin is politically correct first and a scholar second. He is a ‘corporate scholar’ if there is such a thing. This said, his work and insights have been very good on some things where energy reality hits you in the face.

    The Commanding Heights’ was free market but only because the world was going in that direction on both sides of the Atlantic. Arguing against price controls and socialism is pretty easy.

    But Yergin has been missing-in-action since on the free-market front (except in very obvious situations) ever since when we needed him the most to be a voice of diversity, at least (as in ‘let’s debate climate alarmism/forced energy transformation’).

    If CERAWeek had debates and free market scholars, I would think differently.

    But there is still time. What if, for example, Yergin personally championed privatization of the subsoil around the world to democratize wealth and improve efficiency? A huge social and economic issue … But this would fly in the face of keep-it-in-the-ground crowd that he aims to please (or at least keep at bay) for ‘influence’.


    • Richard Sigman  

      I agree, I guess he has changed over the years. I thought the prize and commanding heights were really honest about the devastating affects of expropriation/nationalization while he was more mild on it in the Quest. He also made some concessions to alarmists at the end of the quest when talking about renewables as he has done on a few speeches I have watched him in. Even though it was an obvious call as you would point out, I do appreciate him championing the effort to lift the export ban of oil this past year.


  3. rbradley  

    One other comment on Yergin. While good on the question of peak oil once 1986 hit (but not before), he can say strange things such as this: “[Obama’s new offshore drilling plan] is a sign to the industry that the Obama administration is serious about exploration.”

    – Quoted in Jennifer Dlouhy, “Offshore Plan Wins Few Raves,” Houston Chronicle, April 1, 2010.


  4. John W. Garrett  

    If you would be so kind, I would very much like to know what the basis and evidence is for this assertion:

    “…His [Yergin’s] epic book The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money and Power, was ghost research and ghost written…”

    I am not able to find any credit or acknowledgement of a “ghost writer” in my copy of that book.


    • rbradley  

      I do not think any author would admit to such. In the acknowledgments section (pp. 874–76), there is a lot of hired help–the five names in the third paragraph being the main ones.

      This was book-by-committee, a form of ghost writing.

      Yergin and CERA deserve a lot of credit for the book–it was a consultancy volume that established Yergin as The Expert.

      For my Oil, Gas, and Government, a huge undertaking comparable to ‘The Prize,’ I had very little research help, and I wrote everything. I spent countless days and weeks in the library stacks with maybe 1% help from a friend who did mostly photocopying…. before I did ALL the writing from first to last draft.

      Maybe I’m jealous! But by academic standards, Yergin would have had to list at least one coauthor in a secondary way (written with …).

      But, again, this was a different type book. A CEO effort with a staff. And no doubt that Yergin set the direction of the whole project, conducted the interviews, and poured over every word and changed things. But the first draft writer? And the guy in the stacks?


      • John W. Garrett  

        Thank you for your response, Mr. Bradley.

        It is a well-known and accepted fact that the vast majority of popular (and, thus, successful and prominent) non-fiction writers these days employ unacknowledged researchers.

        I am not close enough to the trade to know for a fact whether unacknowledged “ghost writers” are common and now accepted. Regardless, the practice would seem perilously close to a form of (if not outright) plagiarism.


        • rbradley  

          Is Daniel Yergin a scholar or a consulting maximizer? He has a PhD and started his career as an academic. This makes the question interesting.

          Robert Caro and Ron Chernow do most of their own research and writing with their tomes. Me too. I think primary self-work adds both quality and confidence in the writer regarding scholarship, although it certainly does not guarantee anything.

          Did Yergin take too much of the credit? Was it plagiarism? No, because it was a CERA project with a huge budget–and it paid off very well reputation-wise, not to mention financially.

          I wrote published pieces for my CEO at Enron that were all him at the end — I appreciate both sides of the question.


  5. rbradley  

    Let me also add that the reason I brought up the ‘book by committee’ fact with Yergin’s signature book is that he is a consultant first and thus has maximized his practice by being ‘politically correct’ and liked as much as possible both by the industry (most of his clients) and fossil-fuel critics.

    If I were in his situation, I would have hosted debates on the key energy and climate issues for the industry and not shied away from both climate science and the problems of forced energy transformation based on government activism (pricing carbon). Let the best ideas win. Debate, do not assume.

    As it has turned out (to date), Yergin has hurt the industry ideologically by being too one-sided (gently siding with the climate activists).

    Is this still too much to ask? Alex Epstein with a microphone?


    • John W. Garrett  

      As a shareholder of many of the large hydrocarbon companies, I give you every assurance that I am not even a little pleased to see managements appease or (god forbid) “roll over” under pressure from what I call the CO2-Klimate Krazies.

      I’m sure you can imagine how I vote my shares on climate-related issues.


  6. hunter  

    This is a great site and I am glad to have run into it. I had the fortune of meeting Yergin in Houston when he was speaking about The Prize. I believe I have an autographed copy of it in my possession after all of these years.
    It was a great book, whether or not he headed a committee of writers.
    That said, it is long past time for Mr. Yergin, or someone of his stature to point out that the Climate Imperialist Emperor has no clothes. The Climate Imperialists are, like the British Imperialists claiming “the white man’s burden” using a fallacious non-rational social obsession to justify reshaping the world in a way that just happens to benefit their interests and imposes their will.
    That Lord Stern still gets away with (mis)defining carbon in negative cost terms, for instance, is symptomatic of how far removed from reality the Climate Imperialists truly are.
    Health, wealth, food security, quality of life by any rational measure ahs taken unprecedented leaps forward as energy- generated mostly by fossil fuels- has become more affordable and abundant worldwide. Challenging and showing the failures of the Stern’s, Ehrlich’s, Malthusians, etc. of the world is a worthwhile challenge. It is too bad that apparently Mr. Yergin does not feel up to the challenge. He could likely do it.


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