If you’re one of the lucky few who have heard of Alex Epstein, the fossil fuel-osopher, it’s probably because of his book “The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels,” in which he argues that fossil fuels have dramatically improved human life and therefore continuing to use them is a good ethical decision. (Remember Rick Perry’s weird assertion that fossil fuels prevent sexual assault? That’s the Epstein influence talking.) We and others have addressed the ridiculousness of Epstein's pro-pollution position since his ‘14 debut where he brought a “I<3 Fossil Fuels” banner and such to the People’s Climate March.
As the “I <3 Fossil Fuels” push didn’t really take off, for the last few years Epstein has been trying to make “climate thinker” happen. “I don't accept incoherent smear terms like ‘climate denier’ or ‘climate skeptic,’” he once tweeted. “Neither should you. I am a climate thinker.” That tweet was posted in July of 2016, so it’s safe to say that this dramatic terminology hasn’t quite taken off in the way Epstein intended.
The effort appears to be picking up again, though, as Epstein gave a speech about being a “climate thinker” at Turning Point USA's Student Action Summit last month. For those who are blissfully unaware, Turning Point USA a conservative organization fighting what its members consider to be liberal bias in universities. Unfortunately for the group, it’s had a bit of an issue with hiring racists, and now seems to be having problems with staff mocking its founder. Their most famous protest was when their activists wore diapers and pretended to be babies as a way to protest “safe spaces,” which...did not go over well.
It is to this distinguished group of wise conservative youth that Epstein laid out five points on what it means to be a “climate thinker” as opposed to a “climate scientologist”--aka those who blindly believes in the science of climate change. His first three arguments are basically the same: a climate thinker will consider both the positives and negatives of increased CO2 levels, and also acknowledge the positives of fossil fuels. A climate thinker will also be precise about how good or bad an impact will be. Epstein uses these points to cast doubt on those who make dire predictions about the effects of increased CO2 levels, claiming they don’t consider the positive aspects and aren’t precise about exactly how bad the impacts will be.
Fourth on Epstein’s argument list is the need to distinguish between “demonstrated science” and “wild speculation”. This, again, is Epstein’s way of pushing back on what he considers to be overblown predictions about the harm caused by climate change. His last point is that a “climate thinker” will try to “explain” the science to you while a “climate scientologist” will “dictate” it.
You can see the “climate thinker” approach in action in the 90 minute question and answer session he held after his speech.
His rhetorical strategy simply casting doubt on climate science by responding to every piece of evidence with immediate doubt while offering little to no evidence of his own, to keep the conversation in the “is climate change real” zone instead of the “what do we do about it”.
Epstein’s strategy is to turn the question back on people in true philosophic loop. When someone says “I believe in climate change,” Epstein asks “what even is climate change?” That, at its crux, is what being a “climate thinker” is about.
When one student offered real pushback on his speech during the Q&A, asking Epstein to explain why he thought all the scientists got it wrong, he dodged the question by asking repeatedly for more specificity. Then Epstein told the kid he should be embarrassed for saying he believed in climate change because it’s a “sloppy” statement. Epstein’s response is nothing but bluster and evasion--and, you’ll notice, he never actually answers why he thinks climate scientists are all wrong.
At the end of the day, Epstein’s “climate thinker” tactics are really just a way for him to try and deflect accusations that he’s an industry-funded hack by trying to confuse people. While he may call himself a “climate thinker,” he still denies that climate change is a threat.
Ultimately, it makes sense that Epstein would bring his schtick to Turning Points USA. Where better to unload a bunch of shit than on a group famous for its diaper-wearing?
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