Yesterday at an Axios event, Energy Secretary and tiny-minded dancer Rick Perry was so effusive in his praise for fossil fuels that he went so far as to suggest they could prevent sexual assault. In advancing the coal industry’s favorite talking point, that fossil fuels are a solution to “energy poverty” in the developing world, Perry went even further than most in broaching the subject of sexual assault.
As Twitter quickly made clear, this is an obviously ridiculous claim. Perry’s central “thesis” that darkness increases assault risk doesn’t hold up, as Axios swiftly pointed out. And there are, of course, cheaper ways to bring electricity to rural areas than coal plants or gas pipelines--namely renewables.
But there’s a backstory to Perry’s petro-pandering we were hoping we wouldn’t have to cover: Alex Epstein and his for-profit Center for Industrial Progress, a pro-fossil fuel “think tank.” Epstein is, essentially, a fossil fuel cheerleader. He is paid to give talks at fossil fuel industry events and tell the audience that the industry is made up of heroes, that their product is a godsend and that the incredible human and environmental toll of fossil fuels can be ignored because it makes money.
Last week at an an oil conference in South Africa, Energy Secretary Rick Perry sat next to Epstein, “seemed interested” in his naked glorification of fossil fuels, and the two “had a good conversation afterward.” Epstein, you see, recounted the whole exchange in one of his regular emails out to subscribers (and unlike most newsletters, these don’t appear to have a linkable “view this in your browser” URL, but here’s a screenshot).
But Epstein wasn’t just recounting this conversation to inflate his sense of importance to his newsletter subscribers (something of which he does plenty). Reporting indicates Perry himself mentioned Epstein in his talk at the conference. We’ve written about Epstein in the past, and even noted back in September that Perry was sounding like him. Clearly Perry is now going whole-hog for Epstein’s polluter praising propaganda.
Perry and Epstein’s argument is ridiculous (Max Fawcett of Alberta Oil Magazine considers “self-delusion and false hope” to be “Alex Epstein’s stock in trade”) and Perry’s sexual harassment example of its logical conclusion is beyond serious consideration. Yet serious consideration has been given to Epstein’s book, The Moral Case for Fossil fuels, courtesy of Harvard’s Jody Freeman. In a detailed assessment (.pdf) published by the Energy Bar Association, Freeman shows multiple examples of how “Epstein selectively relies on evidence that supports his worldview; presents false, incomplete, or misleading data; mischaracterizes his opponents’ claims; and dismisses or ignores serious and substantive counter-arguments.”
If you’d like to witness how Epstein handles tough questions (for example, how he laments that his fossil fuel industry clients are “oppressed”), he did two reddit AMAs to promote his book and blog back in 2014 and again in 2016. It’s particularly interesting in these AMAs how he simultaneously claims in a single comment to be paid by the fossil fuel industry, but isn’t also funded by the industry.
For those who prefer not to dip into the cesspool of reddit, energy transition activist Rob Hopkins provided a breezy rebuttal to the academic research arm of the UN back in 2015. In addition to busting the myths in the Moral Case, Hopkins points to a video of Epstein sort of defending child labor. It appears to us watching the video that Epstein is obviously struggling to maintain the ideological stiffness his unquestioningly pro-capitalism messaging requires in the face of such an obvious counterargument. It shouldn’t be hard to blanket condemn child labor as morally wrong, but for someone who claims to believe capitalism is flawless and fossil fuels are morally right, even the basic ethical question of child slaves requires mental gymnastics.
As the absolute insanity of Perry’s extension of his pro-pollution philosophy shows, Alex Epstein is just another paid troll presenting bad faith arguments that make the “all energy matters” approach seem nuanced, clever and emotionally intelligent.
Which is certainly an accomplishment in its own right.
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