The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels | Alex Epstein | Talks at Google

[MUSIC PLAYING] [APPLAUSE] ALEX EPSTEIN: When I woke up yesterday morning, I thought, hey, tomorrow, I’m speaking at Google And this is interesting to me because it made me think, for some reason, about what is the first time I heard about Google And back then, what would I have imagined speaking about? And it was spring of 2000 and I was a computer science major at the time at Duke University And I was in computer science class, and I remember that the TA just in passing mentioned this thing called Google And of course, at the time, I was an avid AltaVista user because that was obviously the best search engine, in terms of algorithm and scope And I said, well, what is that, Google? And then I looked it up and I’m like, oh, wow, this is actually– even then, it was pretty amazing And at the time, I wanted to be a tech entrepreneur And slightly after that, I had decided I wanted to be a practical philosopher But under no circumstances would I have ever thought that 17 years later, I would be this So this is the People’s Climate March This took place several years ago, actually And it was the largest protest against fossil fuels, I think, in human history And 100,000 people were protesting against fossil fuels, and I disagree with them very strongly, as you might tell here And so I flew over to the east coast from Orange County, California where I lived at the time, and I stayed up until 4:00 a.m figuring out how to print this giant sign, and I already own the cache of I love fossil fuels t-shirts, so I was very passionate about it already And I went and I stood out in the middle of Sixth Avenue while tens of thousands of people walked by But you can see this on a– it’s on a site called YouTube, actually You can find if you search Alex Epstein People’s Climate March So this is the last thing that I expected Many other things that I’ve done are the last thing I expected In 2012, there’s a guy named Bill McKibben, who’s considered the world’s leading environmentalist by many people, and he wrote an article saying that the fossil fuel industry was public enemy number one And the fossil fuel industry said nothing in response And I really like the fossil fuel industry, even though I wasn’t in it and didn’t even know anyone in it, at the time So I decided as actually a very poor person of the time, that I would get this guy to debate me, because I was really upset And so I offered him $10,000 and he accepted So he debated and it got covered on the “New York Times” web site Or I didn’t really ever think I’d make a “Rolling Stone” top 10 list, but a couple of years ago I made the denier elite, so I was there with the Koch brothers and assorted Republicans And as you’ll, see I disavow this label of denier But I had no expectation whatsoever of becoming even really pro-fossil fuels, but let alone a passion that has consumed, so far, 10 years of my life I didn’t really– I wasn’t really that interested in energy, but if I was, the two forms of energy that I found interesting were nuclear and solar Those seemed to be the future But the idea of getting excited about energy from three centuries ago, coal or oil or gas I mean, come on There’s nothing great about that I mean, maybe you tolerate them But why would you get excited about them? So what changed? Two realizations One is that cheap, plentiful, reliable energy is far more important to human flourishing than I thought That’s one The related one that has to do with fossil fuels is it’s also far more difficult to produce than I thought So cheap, plentiful, reliable energy’s far more important to human flourishing than I thought and it’s far more difficult to produce and therefore to replace than I thought I mean, I had had a general idea that energy was important, but until I started studying the history of energy, which I ran into on a random project on Rockefeller’s antitrust case, until I started studying the history of energy, I didn’t really have a sense that this is the industry that powers every other industry So when energy is cheap, plentiful, and reliable, and to the extent it’s cheap, plentiful, and reliable, everything else is cheaper and more plentiful and reliable And the reverse is true Every penny energy becomes more expensive, everything else becomes more expensive So it’s like those Walmart falling prices you’ve seen, those things go down, or the pump at a gas station It’s like when energy goes down in price, everything else, all things being equal goes down When it goes up, everything goes up And at the same time, when I was studying the history, I realized that– I started asking, well, why do we use some forms of energy

relative to others? Because it was just an axiom that we use gasoline for cars That’s just there And we seem to use fossil fuels a lot But I realize there has actually been enormous amounts of competition in the energy industry throughout its history, and oil itself was the winner in a competition of about six different alternatives And the gasoline car was the winner in a market that had ethanol, which was– Henry Ford’s first cars and ethanol car, and they had a battery car, as we like to call it, an electric car And what I saw throughout history was there were lots of ways of producing energy, but it was very, very difficult to make it cheap, plentiful, and reliable on a scale of billions of people And so what this made me start thinking about is when we’re talking about replacing fossil fuels or the problems of fossil fuels, is it possible that there are some unique benefits of fossil fuels, in terms of being cheap, plentiful, and reliable for billions of people that we’re not appreciating or taking into account, just as we have to take into account any potential unique negatives of fossil fuels? But those I had heard about And so I started studying the energy debate I got interested in this question of what form of energy is really best for human flourishing, or what forms or what policy? And I observed– I thought, and this is from a philosophical perspective, I thought there are three big problems with the energy debate, as it stands One is that it’s biased And what I noticed was certain with certain forms of energy, all I ever heard was positives, that would mainly be solar and wind, and then with others, all I ever heard was negatives But then when I researched the different production processes, I found that it’s actually far more dangerous to mine for the raw materials in wind turbines, rare earth metals So that doesn’t mean that coal is better than wind, but it does mean that we’re not looking at negatives of one and we are looking at negatives of another And if we’re doing that, how are we ever going to get to the right decision? So it would be like, for example, with vaccines If you just were making a decision about, do I vaccinate my child and you only looked at the negatives of vaccines You said, hey, vaccines have side effects And you didn’t look at the positives Well, when would you ever vaccinate your child? Well, never, because all you could see were negatives But if you looked at both sides, you might come to a very different conclusion So we can’t be biased in our thinking Again, this is not about whether fossil fuels are the right solution in a given context It’s about what’s the framework we’re going to use to make these decisions based on the current facts and then as facts change How can we have a framework that adapts? The second one is that it’s not only biased but it’s sloppy So let’s take the issue of CO2 levels There is a concern that because CO2 as a warming agent of sorts, it’s a greenhouse gas, or technically, it’s an infrared absorber, when we increased the level of CO2 in the atmosphere, we might expect it to have a warming impact and that’s something that’s important to study and to see how significant is this But what I found is when people were talking about CO2 levels, they talked about it very sloppily They would just say things like, do you believe that climate change is real? But that doesn’t really help me if I know– I could believe that CO2 has some impact but not a significant impact, or a significant impact but not a catastrophic impact And that’s going to make all the difference in the world We can’t be sloppy So for example, if you say, oh, there’s sea level rise CO2 levels contribute to sea level rise Well, is it a one foot contribution in the next century, as one of the major UN organization says? Or is at 20 feet, as Al Gore says “An Inconvenient Truth”? Those magnitudes make an enormous, enormous difference So to use the vaccines example again, it would be like you’re deciding whether to vaccinate your child and somebody says to you– and you say, well, how significant are the side effects? And they just say vaccine side effects are real And you say, I know, but I want to know the magnitude And they say, what are you, a vaccine side effect denier? Don’t question me Or maybe they would call it body change, right? Are you a body change denier? Body change is real And you think, but this is not a helpful way of thinking This is sloppy What I want is I want the full context I want to know the positives and negatives and I want to know the magnitudes So it’s biased and it’s sloppy Now the third thing, and this is the most controversial, and for me, the most important, is that I think the debate is extremely anti-human So one form in which I observe this is the issue of CO2, greenhouse gases You have many people in our culture saying that this is the biggest problem of our time, that we’re increasing the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere by producing the form of energy that we dominantly produce So you would think that priority number one would be, OK, let’s

find the most efficient, scalable ways on that premise to produce non-CO2 emitting energy And then if you look, there are two overwhelming forms of energy, historically, that can do this in a relatively cheap, plentiful, and reliable way, to some extent, hydroelectric power, which can do it where you can do it, but you can’t you can’t do it everywhere but it’s significant, and then nuclear power, which, at least for electricity, theoretically, you can do anywhere And then I observe, OK, who are the biggest opponents of these forms of power? Who are the people who most want to stop them? And it’s not the fossil fuel industry It’s not Republicans It’s not even Donald Trump It’s the anti-fossil fuel movement, the vast, vast majority of people who are against fossil fuels in the public debate– I know it’s a little different in the tech community– are rabidly anti-nuclear And when I looked at their arguments, well they say, oh, we care about safety And I think, well, wouldn’t you be willing, even if there were some safety risks, wouldn’t you be willing to accept those, if you could save the world on your own premise? And then I look at the safety stats and by far, the safest form of power ever devised is nuclear power, which you can ask questions about later, and the same thing with hydro, and I realized on what’s going on here With hydro, people are using explanations like, well, they’re interfering with free-flowing rivers, and with nuclear, well, it’s just– we shouldn’t– it’s unnatural You know, it creates this radioactivity And you say, OK, well, radioactivity exists everywhere What’s wrong that? And it’s like, no, but we shouldn’t make it And what I got is– and this is from philosophy– the goal, then, the goal that’s animating this is not, let’s do what’s best for human beings It’s let’s be natural Let’s not interrupt nature Let’s be green And I summarize it this way, let’s minimize human impact So it seems like many people when they’re discussing this issue, they’re not trying to do what I would say is the goal, is to maximize human flourishing, to come up with the best policy for human beings We’re talking about minimizing impact And even the way we talk about climate reveals this, because we don’t talk about climate danger or climate livability, which are human terms We talk about climate change, as if change, as such, is bad And so this is an anti-impact idea It’s the idea that we should not impact nature We should minimize our impact Not because it hurts us, but just because we shouldn’t do it And it’s important to make a decision in our framework, are we prioritizing human beings or not? And I think it’s important, then, to study There are basically two perspectives So the minimum impact perspective has a certain view of the relationship between humans and nature And I call it the perfect planet premise And the perfect planet premise is that nature is, sorry, stable, safe, and sufficient So by its nature, nature is stable, safe, and sufficient, and it will take care of us Mother nature is really our mother It will take care of us if we just don’t rock the boat too much, if we don’t change things, if we don’t destabilize it But we have this capacity of changing things a lot, and we’re generally regarded as polluter parasites When you hear people talk about human environmental impact, they don’t say– they never think of that as a good thing It’s always a bad thing But you never hear anyone talk about bear impact as a bad thing or beaver impact as a bad thing So human beings are considered this uniquely anti-planet creature who just basically we pollute it, the planet, and we plunder it And if that’s your view, if you really believe that mother nature is our mother and that the planet is perfect the way it is, or the way it was without us, then yeah, your goal should be let’s just not touch anything and it will be like the Garden of Eden But this is really how we hear people talk about things We talk about the climate, as in, the perfect climate as the one that we grew up in Now, the perfectible planet premise– and this is my premise– is very different So this views the planet as not stable, but dynamic, not safe but dangerous, not sufficient but deficient So it says the planet is an amazing place Its got amazing potential, but without us with radically transforming it, we’re going to have life expectancies of 30 We’re going to be at the mercy of nature So our attitude needs to be, let’s perfect it And that’s what we do We are perfecter producers So we can make things worse We can also make things a lot, lot better And so the goal of someone on this premise is to maximize human flourishing through intelligent transformation So I describe my framework, if you want two terms would be full context You want to look carefully at the positives and negatives

and then human flourishing We measure goodness by how much– by maximizing human flourishing, not minimizing human impact And so my goal in going into this was that I disliked the whole framework of the debate on both sides, I should say So conservatives are just as guilty of this, often So for example, when they attack wind turbines, what’s the number one argument they give? Is that it kills birds OK, but if by putting up a lot of wind turbines, we could save the earth from ecological apocalypse, we should be willing to kill a lot of birds to do that And cats already kill a lot of birds, so it’s not like killing birds is the end of the world, right? Now, the American Wind Association points this out, and they’re right to point that kind of thing out So you just see that people aren’t on a pro-human premise Now, my goal was I want to understand, from a pro-human, full context perspective, what’s actually good for human flourishing And to do that, we need to look at both the potential unique benefits of fossil fuel access, fossil fuel energy, and that includes access to energy, and it also includes maybe CO2 could have some benefits, and then potentially unique risks, the risks of CO2 pollution and then depletion So running out of them or running out of other resources So I’m spending a lot of time on the framework because I think that’s what’s most distinct in my viewpoint And I actually think that if everyone used this framework, my conclusion would be relatively uncontroversial So I think actually what the problem– my disagreement with the debate is not that I have different facts but that I have different framework And in fact, my book “Moral Case for Fossil Fuels,” is the only book that I’m aware of in the field that only uses first hand data It has no quotations from experts It has no one else It relies on nothing but analysis of the data, all of which can be recreated at, for anyone who’s watching online, moralcaseforfoss ilfuels.com/data For So you can see all the data sources Now, so let’s go through unique benefits, potentially unique benefits, and then unique risks Now, one counter might be, well, there are no potentially unique benefits to fossil fuels And this poster nicely encapsulates that So the idea is, OK, let’s say there isn’t a climate catastrophe Let’s say we pass mass restrictions on fossil fuel use Who really cares? Because we’ll ultimately get just super, super cheap energy and everything will be great So I think that this should at least be looked at with skepticism, particularly with when people talk about solar energy as free and forever, which Al Gore does Or they’ll say enough solar energy hits the surface of the Earth every minute to power the whole world for a year There’s something really off with this Otherwise This technology has been around for well over 100 years Why aren’t we doing it? So you might think, well, we are doing it And I watched the other day, I got a preview of Al Gore’s movie, “An Inconvenient Sequel.” And from watching that treatment, I would have guessed that the world is at something like 50% solar and wind, because there were just all of these inspiring anecdotes about this place and this place and this place and this place uses 100% And most of the audience had no idea what the numbers are But the numbers are solar and wind are, despite massive investment and massive subsidy, 2% still, of global energy production And we can see as I take the year 1980, because it’s the year I was born and looking back, my parents were also told that they needed to get off fossil fuels And if we look at to the present, we’re using way more fossil fuels, and fossil fuels are actually the– in terms of actual production– fossil fuels are the fastest growing source of energy in the world So there’s something going on there, unless you just believe there’s some massive conspiracy against solar and wind Now, what you should be suspicious of is the fact that when people talk about replacing fossil fuels, they only talk about solar and wind They don’t talk about nuclear and hydro And again, that’s because there’s this anti-impact bias and solar and wind are viewed as natural So people are focused on, let’s use a natural or renewable source versus a non-carbon source or a low polluting source Now they asked me if I had a video to show, and apparently I lied because I said no, and then I did So I will play the role of Jimmy Fallon No, I won’t There’s a good video which I cite in the book, and the basic idea is it was in 2000, and remember, I wasn’t interested in energy This really struck me that he was on to something He said– there was this article in “New Scientist” magazine that said, “New Scientist” magazine just reported that cars can now run on hazelnuts

And then Jimmy Fallon said, yeah, that’s reassuring, because humans cost like $8 for a bottle this big You know, what about a car that runs on bald eagle heads or Faberge eggs? [LAUGHTER] And I thought later, wait a second, but isn’t hazelnut energy renewable energy? Isn’t it renewable energy, right? It comes from the sun So why is it so expensive And it illustrates this profound point that we need to understand to evaluate different sources of energy, which is that energy is a process Energy is not a single material, it’s a process So when we talk about solar energy or wind energy or coal, it can be misleading because the question is, what is the entire process that includes but is not limited to those elements that produces the end product that we want, and maybe end products that we don’t So we have to look at the whole process, so all of these different variables, from mining to transportation to disposal So when people talk about things like zero emissions or no pollution, usually they’re only looking at one part of the process And when people have wildly optimistic expectations about some new source of energy, like, let’s say, hydrogen, they have no idea what’s going into manufacturing the hydrogen fuel They just think, oh, hydrogen’s in the air It’s in reality, so that’ll make it super, super cheap So we have to recognize, no, energy is a process So there are different things that can make a form of energy expensive I think the biggest one and the most problematic part of a process is if the process is unreliable, if it cannot generate energy on demand And this is the problem that solar and wind run into Now, solar and wind, it’s very weird this classification of renewables, because it, in our actual law, usually excludes hydroelectric power, even though that’s plenty renewable if you think of things in those terms, if you think of things as renewable So again, there’s this green bias that, oh, it has too much impact It has nothing to do with CO2 But I think solar and wind are properly– I do not call them renewables I call them unreliables, because I think that is the distinctive quality, because the energy we get is not on demand And so what happens is that, well, let’s look at the case of Germany, which is supposed to be the model country It’s invested hundreds of billions of dollars or spent hundreds of billions of dollars in subsidizing solar and wind Well, according to today’s rhetoric, that should make it cheaper, because you will hear all these cost things But those cost things never take into account the fact that if you have unreliables on a system, you need them backed up almost 100%, and so that’s why Germany keeps building a lot of new coal plants And so in practice, the Germans pay three times more for electricity, sometimes four, depending on conversion, than people in the US do And that said, only about 10% of their entire energy comes from these unreliables The more they use, the more it costs So there’s an immense amount of dishonesty and bias in the energy discussion, because the privileged forms of energy, people who aren’t looking carefully at the process And then the other forms of energy, people don’t appreciate So I think that if you look at the entire– if you actually look at the data, and again, this is on the website, moralcaseforfoss ilfuels.com/data, if you look at the data, you look at the different forms of energy, I think what you conclude is that fossil fuel energy, for the next several decades, is uniquely good at producing energy on a scale of billions of people Nuclear power probably has the most potential to, except for the green movement is restricting it And so one of the huge priorities for all sides of the debate, unless you’re just a total– unless the green– unless being green is really a religion, is to liberate nuclear power and to allow advancement in that field and to also allow hydroelectric power where it’s possible So I think those are still the biggest ones, and of course, we want innovation in these other areas, but fossil fuel energy is uniquely good at this point Now, this is particularly important because it’s not that we have a world where everyone has plenty of energy and we just need to substitute something First of all, we don’t have nearly enough energy If we had a lot more energy, we could do things like desalinate sea water and irrigate deserts and solve all sorts of problems But there are 1.2 billion people in the world with no electricity Think about that No electricity, no light bulb, no refrigerator, no modern hospital, none And then on top of that, there are 2.7 billion people who have so little energy, they’re in such a state of energy poverty that they use wood and dung to cook and heat their homes So we have a world where basically 3 billion people

are wretchedly energy poor So the energy question is not just how to keep our energy, but how to produce more energy, which means that, given fossil fuels’ unique ability to be resource efficient and produce energy on this scale, it doesn’t prove that they don’t have problems, or even big problems, but it does prove there’s a huge burden of proof in restricting the use of fossil fuels So if you talk about, hey, let’s tax them or let’s– as many people advocate– let’s strive to get rid of 80% of fossil fuel use, current fossil fuel use by the year 2050, when there will be an even bigger population That is a really serious thing to do And when you hear those things, don’t think of it as, oh, yeah, it’s just sort of like buying– I’m going to buy a Tesla It is not even– Tesla’s a massively impressive fossil fuel car, at this stage, in terms of the amount of fossil fuels that go into it And it’s great It’s a great kind of invention and we want to support those things, I just– we shouldn’t be giving them a lot of subsidies, I think But this is just a– you’re talking about a massive disruption in people’s lives, particularly the poorest people So at the very least, you cannot advocate these kinds of things casually Now, let’s talk about the concerns So there are three major concerns about fossil fuels, catastrophic resource depletion, so running out of fossil fuels or overall consuming more than we can There’s this idea of we’re at overcapacity, where we’re wearing out our welcome on the planet Catastrophic pollution, so by using fossil fuels, leaving aside CO2, there are all these destructive byproducts And then of course, catastrophic climate change, which is that we’re elevating CO2 levels and other greenhouse gas levels to the point where there’s runaway warming and catastrophic climate change I want to focus on the climate issue, because I think it’s the issue of most concern today, and I think it’s also the most plausible The depletion issue has lost a lot of steam in recent years because most of the development people call fracking or shale energy, which is that the oil and gas industry has been able to take a useless rock that was known to contain some amount of oil and gas but we couldn’t get it out, and to economically get it out And so that, for decades and decades and decades going forth, has alleviated fears of running out of oil And oil is the hardest to replace fossil fuel Coal, you have probably thousands of years left, even of known deposits But it is important, I think, to understand the general mechanism And this chart is interesting because I think what it shows is that as we– it shows the consumption at the bottom goes up a little bit So what it shows– and then proved reserves is basically in inventory, so it means the more we use, the more we have I think this is a really profound kind of thing, and what it illustrates in the case of oil is that nature doesn’t just give us a lake of oil and then we’re draining it with a straw and then we’re halfway through Nature is full of potential oil in all these different rock deposits, but it takes human ingenuity to make it valuable It takes human ingenuity to find it, to get it, and to refine it Back in the 1850s, before the oil industry began, oil was a nuisance It was useless It was something people sold as fake medicine or that got in the way when they were searching for salt So the principle, which is really important, to having optimism about humanity, including about energy, is that human beings are resource producers or resource creators A resource is not something nature gives us It’s some– nature gives us a raw material and we make it usable So aluminum is not a natural resource because it’s not naturally a resource It’s naturally useless Oil isn’t a natural resource Coal isn’t a natural resource Gas isn’t a natural resource Uranium isn’t a natural resource All of these things are resources only to the extent human beings can transform them into usable things, and the whole world is just a pile of potential resources So we should never be worried about running out of oil or running out of coal or running out of gas or running out of resources We should only be worried about running out of freedom, because as long as we’re free, we can keep figuring out ways to transform raw materials into resources, and as we progress with the kinds of things that Google and lots of other amazing companies do, our effective intelligence just multiplies over and over and over so who knows what we’ll be able to turn into a resource? So that’s a depletion one The pollution one is important because I think it’s worth noting that when people talk about the effects of energy on environment, they only talk about negative ones So there’s this idea of there’s clean energy and there’s dirty energy That’s a problem, first of all, because every other form of energy has byproducts, so it’s too binary in classification, although some are

cleaner or dirtier than others But I think the thing that’s really missing from this narrative is that energy has an enormous power to clean up nature The environment we live in is the cleanest any human being has ever lived in, in history, on average across the planet If our ancestors 300 years ago, before we started using fossil fuels, before we industrialized could see our environment and we asked them, who has a better environment, you or us? They would think it was a joke, right? They were living in filth, in human filth and animal filth, surrounded by disease Nature doesn’t give us a clean environment that we then make dirty It gives us a dirty environment that we make clean So when we’re analyzing the environmental impact of different forms of energy, we have to look at both how it cleans and how it makes things dirty, because if you say, oh, I don’t want this energy because it’s dirty, but then you lose the energy So for example, there’s a reason for this correlation here, which is with cleanliness of water and use of fossil fuels, which to date, is most of energy use, because you need water to purify– you need energy to purify naturally dirty water and to transport it from where it is to where you need it to be Now it doesn’t have to be fossil fuels, theoretically, but given that fossil fuels are the most practical form of energy for billions of people today, it does have to be fossil fuels So when you deprive people of fossil fuels, you deprive them of things like clean water Now, what about actual pollution? I think this chart does a good job of showing what’s possible Using technology, we can reduce negative byproducts, and that’s fantastic and we should continue to do that A modern coal plant, a truly modern coal plant is one of the cleanest sources of energy in history What we’ve been able to do is amazing, and what we can continue to do is amazing So we should absolutely seek cleaner and cleaner processes But this idea that pollution is getting worse and worse, that’s simply not true Now let’s talk about the climate issue in the remainder and then we’ll have– we should have 15 minutes, solid, for questions So I think of– because I’m thinking of this all from a human flourishing based framework, I don’t think of the issue as climate change I think of the issue as climate danger, danger to the livability of climate What I’m concerned about is I don’t want to– I don’t care how much CO2 is in the atmosphere or what temperature is on average, but I care if it’s helpful or harmful to human beings So I want to be clinical about that My question isn’t are we changing anything, but overall, are we changing things for the better or worse, and then, if so, how much? So I think we need to look at three dynamics in fossil fuels One is the greenhouse effect That’s the warming the impact of CO2 and then its consequent other impacts on the climate system Two is the fertilizer effect, so this is the plant growth promoting aspect of CO2 And then third is the protection effect When we choose to use cheaper energy from fossil fuels, which gives more people access to energy how does that help them protect themselves from climate, which is really important, because nature doesn’t give us a safe climate we make dangerous, it gives us a dangerous climate that we need to make safe And I have to admit, when I started studying this issue, I was still operating with some of the perfect planet premise in mind, because when I guessed, if you would ask me, how much more dangerous are we making climate? I definitely would not have guessed that it’s some catastrophe and that the world is going to end But I definitely thought, yeah, we’re probably making it more dangerous, overall, with our use of fossil fuels But it’s worth it It’s more than worth it I’m willing, you know, because of the benefits of that affordable energy to so many people But then when I looked at the data, I was shocked, and I was also shocked that no one had ever presented this data, because I think it’s the most important data And the data I’m going to show you is the data on what are called climate related deaths This is a statistic collected by the International Disaster Database, a nonpartisan international organization, and they just they just aggregate the best records they can find of deaths from storms and floods, extreme heat, extreme cold, wildfires, drought, everything that we care about from a climate perspective, everything that in Al Gore’s movies seems to be getting much, much worse So I was curious, how much worse has it gotten? Because I would figure a lot And when I ask people now, they think in the millions, you know, probably millions of people in the world are dying from storms and floods and droughts And there’s truth to that And the truth is that that used to be the case Millions of people a year often died, particularly adjusted for population, several decades in the ’30s, you have around 10 million people a year die And that’s, I think, near where we’re starting to collect decent records But I would doubt anyone in this room

can guess how many coin related deaths were recorded last year Now, here’s the trend, and then I’ll tell you last year, because my book was written in– the data was from 2013 because it came out in 2014 And people think, oh, well, I’ve heard these bad reports lately You got lucky cause it just got really– it finally caught up with us right after your book So when my book came out, it was around 30,000 climate related deaths And you see the trend that it’s going down dramatically We’re putting more CO2 in the atmosphere, but it’s going down dramatically I’ll explain why this is, but it’s important that it is, and it’s important that for several decades, people have been claiming it’s going to get worse Bill McKibben, the guy debated in the ’80s, said that by now, it’s going to be like hell or a place of a comparable temperature John Holdren, Obama’s chief science adviser, predicted in 1986 that a billion people would die from climate related deaths due to CO2-induced famine by the year 2020 So three years from now But look at how this is plummeting It’s gone down, if you average it over the decades, by rate of 98% Now, last year, the current collection we have is that 6,114 people died in the entire world from climate-related causes, 6,114 It’s very hard to find any problem in human and humanity that has that low of a number of anything I don’t know stapler or accidents or if they collect those, but it’s really hard So something is off here So let’s examine the effects And I want to just show you what the aggregate is, first So the effects are– this is the greenhouse effect, which is supposedly making things really, really warm The key thing we have to understand is that the demonstrated thing about the greenhouse effect is that it’s a logarithmic, which means a decelerating or diminishing effect Every new molecule of CO2, when we isolate the greenhouse effect in a lab, gets diminishing returns It warms less than the last So what you would expect is that in the atmosphere, as we put more and more CO2 in the atmosphere, it’ll warm but it will have less of an impact Now, there’s a counter to that by the other side, which I’ll talk about in a second But if we look at the historical context, one thing that’s important is that we’re not at an unprecedented level of CO2 We’re at quite a low level of CO2, and we’re at a low level of temperature in the history of the planet So when people talk about oh, the planet can’t handle this or the planet– if we had never– if we were at the highest point of CO2 and temperature in the history of the planet, I think that would be more of cause for concern It would be unprecedented But given that we’re at a time when we’re at 1/20 the historical high of CO2 and we’re at a low temperature, that’s another reason why it seems odd to just get completely bent out of shape about this And you notice, also, there is not a strong correlation at all between temperature and CO2 And actually, CO2 levels tend to go back You ask on the question period That’s just some historical context And then if we look at, consistent with this idea of mild warming, this is since what’s called the Little Ice Age, we’ve had warming and you usually see the warming as really big, but if you look at it on a human scale, it’s just minor So there’s such a thing as having an impact that’s not that big an impact And it’s important to distinguish between that and runaway warming So when people say, oh, this is the hottest year in history, sometimes there’s a little fudging there But if they say, this is the hottest year in history, well, they don’t really mean history, right? They mean, OK, in the last 100 years that we’ve recorded But that’s not that surprising If we were already warming before we added CO2, and then we added some CO2, yeah I mean, that makes sense I mean, if I’m gaining 1/100 of a pound a year, it could be my fattest year on record But it still could be not that big of a deal Now, the issue is, are we having some runaway effect? And this is definitely predicted by certain models But it is not the same as the greenhouse effect These are people who say the greenhouse effect is compounded by what are called feedbacks And my basic response to this is that I am not a modeler I have a little bit of experience modeling, but the one thing I do know is that models have to be predicted And so if you cannot predict the future with your model, then I don’t believe the model or the simulation And so the basic problem with modern climate models is they can’t predict climate, and they systematically over-predict it So I think that we should encourage people to come up with better models, but we definitely can’t make decisions based on climate prediction models that can’t predict climate Now the second effect we have to look at is the fertilizer effect Now, this is an effect of CO2 that’s considerably more

significant than the greenhouse effect, I think, and it’s really important because what’s happened is, because there’s more CO2 in the atmosphere, there’s been global greening around the world, including crop growth, that there otherwise would not have been And so if we’re considering taking away fossil fuels from people, that’s one thing to factor in But it’s also, in terms of how we think about things, it’s very important that we’re never taught about this The US government, I think, only about two years ago even acknowledged this, even though it was known for decades So it’s completely unfair to not acknowledge important impacts of fossil fuels because they don’t serve your narrative And that’s what’s happened So if people acknowledged all the effects and then they had different measurements or different estimates than I do, that’s good I mean, we can debate that But if they won’t even acknowledge the different effects, then I think we have a big problem Now, you might think one of maybe the biggest potential negative if we had massive warming was sea level rise, but when I look at sea level rise, if you actually look at the best measurements, sea level is mostly a local phenomenon So sea level rise, sea level fall’s primarily due to local factors, things like landmasses shrinking or lowering or rising The overall trends are just not that interesting, and if we put it in historical context, our sea level rise is far, far, far slower than our ancestors just 10,000 years ago, and we have far, far better technology to deal with So I think if we say there’s a high threshold for restricting fossil fuels, I don’t think that warming based on CO2 even comes close to meeting that threshold I think we should be focused on energy for billions of people around the world and a lot more of it by liberating all forms of energy, including nuclear, including fossil fuels, including solar, including hydro So that’s my base conclusion If our goal is human flourishing and if we look at the full context, there’s a strong moral case for fossil fuels But I do separate, there’s what’s the framework we’re using, and then, what are the facts? And I’ve tried my best to do both The first one is the thing I would most strongly argue for, and I’m interested in any arguments against, and then the second, all I can say is I’ve done my best But all of those measurements can be checked And just one final note about that, because that’s really my mission, is to get this human flourishing based framework in the discussion So far, my focus in the last 10 years has been getting human flourishing to be the guiding principle of energy progress, but I think, and this pertains to whatever [INAUDIBLE] does, it also needs to be the principle of technological progress You have a lot of people interfacing with digital technology, I think, who have this false alternative of either, let’s just use whatever technology comes our way, or, this technophobia of technology is ruining our lives It’s making us all into lab rats and this kind of thing And I think the solution is we need to think of technology not as binary good or bad, but as good when used intelligently in pursuit of human flourishing And I think there’s a lot of interesting work to be done there If anyone’s interested in discussing that, feel free to email me I’ll give you my address in a second And then, finally, my broadest project, next project is The Human Flourishing Project And the premise there is that we need this kind of framework, this human flourishing based framework in every area of life We need to be really deliberate What is the best outcome for human beings, and how can we look at the full context when we make any given choice? So if you want to learn more about any of this and get on my weekly list, you can email Google resources or you can email anything else to alex@alexepstein.com or you can text moralcase to 444999 Well, it’s not how I expected to be at Google, but it was fun and we have, I think, 15 minutes for questions, so let’s do it [APPLAUSE] You have to go to that thing AUDIENCE: Check, yeah, is this working? First, thank you so much for the talk That was wonderful, when someone presents in a concise way something you have been thinking, so thank you so much The question is, how do you deal with all your acquaintances and friends who oftentimes, nowadays, they just believe in something? They don’t really want to see that facts or think and debate They just want to take an opinion, take a stand, and that’s it ALEX EPSTEIN: What would be an issue? Just so we can make it concrete AUDIENCE: Well, about the climate change, do you believe in the climate change? ALEX EPSTEIN: Right AUDIENCE: How do we make them understand that this is the wrong question to ask without offending them? ALEX EPSTEIN: Yes, right, right So one thing you could do, and I’ve tried this many times, so I can tell you how it’s worked for me It doesn’t Is to say, you’re thinking about this all wrong, right?

That doesn’t — especially on dates, right? It doesn’t work so well I’ve been– one of the– if you email me for the resources, there, I have some resources on this I’ve been studying this a lot in the past couple years, and I call it constructive conversation So how do you have constructive conversations with people? And what I found is that it all comes down to getting people to agree to the framework– excuse me– but in a natural way So even you can do– the way even I’ll do it in a talk is I’ll just share my own story and how I came to think about it But let’s say I’m in Uber and the driver asks me, what do you do? And I say, oh, I write about energy And he says, oh, solar energy This is what always happens And I go, oh, it’s interesting I was– my background’s in philosophy and 10 years ago, I got really interested in energy and I wanted to know what is really the– if you look really carefully at the pros and cons, what are really the best sources of energy for people going forward And I actually concluded that fossil fuels were a lot better than I expected And I actually think we should use more of them, not less That’s what I call an opinion story Because nobody can disagree that you believe it, right? They can think you’re crazy They can’t disagree that you believe it, and that’s often a good way of introducing to say, oh, I come to think of it like this Steve Jobs is actually really good about this In his public interviews, he’ll just often answer things in that– he would answer things in that kind of way But one way or another, you want to get clear really early in the discussion, whether you say it as your own story or whether you ask them, that they’re going to look at the full context and that human beings are the priority So often, I’ll just say, OK, would you– whatever they say, I am always happy to talk about it So they’re like, I want to talk about how a human being– how fossil fuel executives are murdering little children and Belize or something like that So I go, great, let’s discuss the evidence for that Or let’s say, climate change is doing it Say, but, just so we’re clear, would you agree that when we’re looking at fossil fuels, we have to look carefully at both the positives and negatives and when we look at the alternatives? So we’re not just going to look at the positives of wind and the negatives of fossil fuels, right? That would be biased What’s fascinating about doing that, introducing the framework into the conversation, is that 99% of people will agree to it, but only 1% of people will practice it left to their own devices So almost in no conversation will anybody really be even handed on their own It’s very, very rare But if you make that method explicit, they’ll be much more even handed And if they’re not, you can play referee Wait, wait, wait, I thought we were going to talk about this You didn’t mention that And the same thing is true about being careful, you know, the, two feet of sea level rise versus the 20 So more in my resources, but the idea is to naturally frame the discussion very early on And it’s shocking how well that works AUDIENCE: I’m from Brazil and I just recently moved here And in Brazil, I used to work with indigenous communities, basically, how we could work with them so then they can tell exactly what’s going on on the ground And then working for Google, I realized that I was working towards making them doing something that I believe And I thought that it was wrong, somehow, because maybe they don’t want to have energy, right? So how do you measure what are human flourishes? How can you tell someone else what they need, for example? Because those ingenious communities, they just want to get their territory protected OK, with technology they might be able to tell the world that a mining company is putting their garbage or the waste in the river But how to work with those people that doesn’t have energy, to let them know that they need this energy? ALEX EPSTEIN: So then there’s the indigenous people issue is, I think, a more general issue than energy There’s a question about to what extent is political freedom a universal value So let’s say you have a community where there are practices that we would regard as barbaric, different– and this exists in different tribes around the world I’m not saying this one was, but things like female genital mutilation and honor killings and there’s all sorts of practices that occur in different populations And there is a real moral question of, to what extent do we believe that there are universal values, including freedom, including

respecting the rights of both genders, all genders, right? To what extent is that, and to what extent do we say, any group can do whatever it wants to the individual? So I’m definitely on the side of I’m an individualist I believe in freedom I care about the people in those communities that I think are being oppressed That’s not my focus here, but that’s my general view on that kind of thing And the relationship between this and energy is that, from everything I’ve seen, there are billions of people who want more energy, and we tend to– I have a friend who does a lot of– he has a really cool business enabling entrepreneurs in Africa, particularly Rwanda We just talk about this perception that, oh, people in Africa, they just want to run around like stereotypical tribes and they’re not interested in a lot of the stuff that we have But I think a lot of stuff we have in terms of freedom and energy, those are universal values, and people want them So I think that the global thing I’m dealing with is not the relatively few people who don’t want energy, but it’s the people who, do and can’t afford it And so the key there is how do you empower them to create more wealth and how do you empower energy producers to create as much affordable energy as possible? Because when you make energy more expensive, the people who are most affected are the poorest people, not Leonardo DiCaprio I think there was one You wanted to go, right, in front of him? AUDIENCE: It’s all right I can go after him ALEX EPSTEIN: No, ladies first Come on AUDIENCE: All right Thank you ALEX EPSTEIN: At the risk of being chauvinistic AUDIENCE: Hi, so I grew in China, and I really agree with your points and it’s something I’ve never heard during my whole time living in China I’m wondering have you thought about there’s some way for your framework to impact the thinking of people in China, especially given the internet control and stuff happening? ALEX EPSTEIN: Well, I would love to talk to you about it I haven’t had much impact there, and I’m very interested in it So if you have any ideas, even if you don’t know people, but of places to try to impact, I’ll definitely do it But I’m glad you like it There’s lots of interesting things There’s so many interesting things being done well and not being done well, at the same time So it would be really interesting to discuss things with people there AUDIENCE: I see Yeah, that’s good to know because my dad works in oil in China and their industries put out high techs and very restrictive restrictions Maybe I will try [INAUDIBLE] ALEX EPSTEIN: Awesome AUDIENCE: Something can make an impact as [INAUDIBLE] who really cares about my people in China ALEX EPSTEIN: Thank you AUDIENCE: Thank you AUDIENCE: Hi Thank you very much for coming I appreciated how your book affected my thinking One of the things that I think is very important is to be focused on human flourishing, and I agree with that central premise And I also agree that historically, fossil fuels have been a great driver of human flourishing But it seems like at this point in time, there is a lot of scientists that are telling us that in the net, going forward, there are a lot of harmful side effects that the carbon emissions are producing, are creating So how do we know that just because the historical trend is they’ve done more good than harm, is still going to be true going forward, in the face of all of these scientists telling us that they’re creating a great deal of harmful side effects that we haven’t really felt much yet, but we will feel in the future? ALEX EPSTEIN: Really important issue, generally, of how do we– what is the relationship between expert claims and our own thinking? And I think the two prevalent ways of dealing with this are wrong So one is just defer to experts or even bow to experts or meet what media tells us experts, so the people who say, well, if 97% of scientists agree, who am I to question that? So that’s one kind of view And the other is that consensus doesn’t matter, experts are always wrong And that sort of– I think those are both obviously wrong So you need experts, but historically, we know that experts are extremely, extremely fallible and are often used in very bad ways In the field of nutrition, for example, let’s say, the government sponsored Food Pyramid as a universal guide to food, almost everyone agrees, OK, that was wrong But at the time, if you go back, now, we could say, oh, they were wrong but we were right But but we were them once And in maybe one of the worst examples

is in the field of genetics, people conflating evolution with eugenics and having many leading thinkers and scientists in society being in favor of things like forced sterilization and different forms of racism and whatnot And that was put forward as the experts tell us It was, I call it not global warming but global dumbing That was the theory, that, oh, if you allow people to procreate without sterilization, then all the dumb people are going to sleep with each other and we’re going to have too dumb people And so we need to clamp down and the science says this is what we do What we really need to do is we need the proper relationship with experts, which, one basic thing is that I describe it in the book as they should function as advisers, not authorities So an authority is somebody you bow to It has a religious connotation An advisor is somebody who has much more context in a given field but who gives you an explanation, who gives you a very clear explanation of what he knows, what he doesn’t know, what he sort of knows, what the strength of evidence is And that’s what we really need from the field of climate science And unfortunately, we have not gotten that whatsoever for various structural reasons But whatever the reasons are, we have not gotten that And the whole sloppiness issue is a huge part of it We just have all these– the public agencies say 97% of scientists agree that, then it’s not really clear, and then you look into it and it’s, oh, it’s actually that of the mild amount of warming that we’ve had, we caused over 50% And then you see, well, how can you prove that? And they have no mechanism of proving that And then you look into 97%, and then it’s actually not anywhere near 97% This is– there’s a 97% section in the book about the actual data here So this is a field where the actual state of knowledge in the field is systematically mis-reported And that’s one thing And then another thing is, so how accurately is it reporting things badly? And then the other thing is, how much do they know? So one question is how much– every field has a different degree of maturity So physicists applying laws of mechanics, or, let’s say, applying quantum electrodynamics have huge amounts of precision at making lots and lots of predictions Climate modelers have no success whatsoever That’s not to demean them as human beings It’s just they’re not there, just like economic modelers, generally, have very poor records So we need this objectivity from fields to know how developed a field is this, and what is the best of what they can tell us? And so when you hear when they don’t do that, it’s very, very hard to operate, which is why I spent a lot of time– so you’re basically saying, well, all these scientists say this How can you say differently? And I’m saying, well, I looked into it, and I don’t think that they say that, and to the extent they say that, they can’t prove that So I think people need to look into it for themselves But one giveaway in your question is that these scientists say that it’s harmful So harmful is an– harmful of any environmental factor is always going to be a combination of environment and technology, right? So a harmful storm 200 years ago could be a romantic setting today, because of the state of technology Right? A harmful storm then can be just a nice rainfall now There’s just no– so as soon as they start talking about harm, and then they start talking about policy, that shows that they are out there overstepping their field and they don’t even know nearly enough about their field So experts as advisors, not authorities, and I know you said you read the book, so I– but I guess I can say, read it again [LAUGHTER] Yeah, there copies there Are you giving those out or are you selling them? AUDIENCE: Giving them out ALEX EPSTEIN: Wow, look at this guy AUDIENCE: Thank you for your work, Alex I’m an energy engineer I work in energy innovation I want to build a little bit on your last answer, in that we’re in a place of great innovation And I want to put a little context to you and pose a problem that I was recently introduced to So our lieutenant governor recently posed a problem, a challenge, actually, to the power industry So we have a problem in California that renewable power is around $0.15 a kilowatt hour Fossil power is around $0.02 a kilowatt hour The problem we posed was, we have a poverty rate of about high 30% in California Lieutenant governor placed some blame on that on the energy industry Obviously, that poverty rate with cost of living is, or, at least, many people fall into that category in this room, with the cost

of living in Mountain View But the challenge would be how many people out of 30 plus percent of Californians, maybe 10 million plus Californians, by changing energy policies and adjusting policies, et cetera, and getting rates down, how many of those 10 million could you lift out of, would you say, poverty? ALEX EPSTEIN: I think it’d be hard to say, exactly, even for somebody whose focus was being a number cruncher in that way, which mine isn’t, although I’m pretty good at telling whether they’re BS-ing or not, which is a lot of the time But the mechanism of energy being the industry that powers every other industry and energy being a cost that exists and gets passed on through everything else, that’s just a fact I mean, there’s nothing really to say about that except that’s a fact So if you can dramatically decrease that, then it has all sorts of positive impacts for local industry, which will mean a lot more, all things being equal, a lot more jobs for people and power costs So the idea of energy poverty, I don’t know the energy poverty numbers for California, but I’m sure they’re high for the US Usually people and people in poverty are spending 10 plus percent of their income on energy, which is a very significant thing One of my– my main researcher lives in Germany and he just tells me that they have this term, energy poverty, that’s come into common use since solar and wind started becoming massively subsidized And people have a lot more trouble paying their bills, fewer people are paying their bills So it makes this difference It will make a direct difference, but the longer term difference is even harder because of all the productivity and job opportunity it creates But I’ll also say that many of the same anti-freedom ideas that are infecting energy in California are infecting the rest of our policy So I think we just have this incredible thing in California where we’ve got this amazing innovation and we have software, digital technology industry that, because it’s not super, super physical, in so many ways, is not subject to modern environmentalism and anti-development policies And so it’s been able to proliferate and be amazing But then we inflict– many of the people in this industry inflict anti-development policies on poor people in this country and around the world And I think a lot of people in California have contempt for that and I think they have contempt for the water policies and for us dumping water into the ocean because a form of fish that came into existence 30 years ago And I think, in general, we should think a lot more about that 30% of people, particularly if we’re victimizing them, which I think we are All right It’s a wrap I’ll be here if anyone wants to chat, but thank you very much It was fun [APPLAUSE]