The Moral Case Against Fossil Fuels Matters. And It’s Absurd.

Posted on Sat 11/15/2014 by

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By Alex Epstein ~

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Photo – Getty Images

Imagine you are talking to a tobacco advocate who claims that he has a new strategy for winning the hearts and minds of the public:

  • “We will explain to the public that we contribute to economic growth.”
  • “We will explain to the public that we create a lot of jobs.”
  • “We will link our industry to our national identity.”
  • “We will stress to the public that we are addressing our attackers’ concerns—by lowering the emissions of our product.”

Would you be convinced? I doubt it, because none of these strategies does anything to address the industry’s fundamental problem—that the industry’s core product, tobacco, is viewed as a self-destructive addiction. So long as that is true, the industry will be viewed as an inherently immoral industry. And so long as that is true, no matter what the industry does, its critics will always have the moral high ground.

Sound familiar? Substitute “fossil fuels” for “tobacco” and you have the fundamental communications problem the fossil fuel industry–and anyone who supports fossil fuels–faces.

Opponents of coal, oil and natural gas have successfully portrayed fossil fuel energy, as a self-destructive addiction that is destroying our planet, and the industry as a fundamentally immoral industry.

Why is the industry viewed as immoral? Because for decades, environmentalist leaders have made a false but unanswered moral case against the fossil fuel industry—by arguing successfully that it inherently destroys our planet and should be replaced with environmentally beneficial solar, wind, and biofuels.

According to this argument, it destroys our planet in two basic ways: by increasing environmental dangers (most notably through catastrophic global warming) and depleting environmental resources (through using fossil fuels and other resources at a rapid, “unsustainable” pace).

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. That’s what gives moral standing to something like U.S.-China carbon emissions agreement, which deserves to be seen as immoral–a cap on human progress.

I have come to believe that the moral case against fossil fuels is not only false, but is the exact opposite of the truth. Fossil fuels don’t take a clean environment and make it dirty, they take a dirty environment and make it clean. They don’t take a safe climate and make it dangerous, they take a dangerous climate and make it safe. The industry doesn’t deplete resources, it creates resources out of once-useless raw materials.

This is the moral case for fossil fuels. It will give us the moral high ground in the debate over fossil fuels. It is the subject of my new book, and I will be speaking about it at Heritage on Monday. I hope you can attend, whether in person or via the fossil-fueled Internet.

Alex Epstein contributes Posts at The Daily Signal and he is the president of the Center for Industrial Progress.

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