Fossil Future, Part 1 — the "Alex Notes"
The essentials of Part 1 of Fossil Future, in my own words
Ever wished you could get the “Cliff’s Notes” for a book that are written, not by “Cliff” but by the book’s author?
I have. Which is why I decided to create “Alex Notes” for Fossil Future: Why Global Human Flourishing Requires More Oil, Coal, and Natural Gas—Not Less.
For the foreseeable future, the full version of these notes will be available only to premium subscribers to my Substack. (This includes all of you who preordered the book and got a free 18-month premium subscription.)
Those of you who are writers might be interested to know that these notes are based on the outline I used to write and edit Fossil Future. I am a fan of very detailed outlines when one is attempting to make a comprehensive, integrated logical argument.
Here are the Alex Notes for Part 1 of Fossil Future: Framework.
PART 1: FRAMEWORK
The “knowledge system” we are relying on to evaluate continuing fossil fuel use is operating on the anti-human, anti-energy “anti-impact framework” that will inevitably cause it to oppose fossil fuel use, ignore its benefits, and catastrophize its side-effects—even if continuing fossil fuel use is indispensable to human flourishing.
Chapter 1: Ignoring Benefits
Our “knowledge system”—the people and institutions we rely upon to research, synthesize, disseminate, and evaluate expert knowledge—engages in an irrational method of evaluation when it comes to fossil fuels and other sources of cost-effective energy: supporting their rapid elimination while ignoring their massive, life-or-death benefits.
Save the World With…Fossil Fuels?
I am going to try to persuade you of something that might seem impossible: that one of the best things you can do to make the world a better place is to fight for more fossil fuel use—more use of oil, coal, and natural gas.
Questioning the “Expert” Moral Case for Eliminating Fossil Fuels
My case for expanding humanity's massive fossil fuel use might seem unworthy of even considering given that it totally contradicts what trusted sources tell us is the consensus of virtually all experts, but consider that 1) we know that sometimes what we’re told is the “expert” view turns out to be catastrophically wrong, and 2) the “expert” view that we should rapidly eliminate fossil fuel use is a radical and potentially disastrous change in how we use energy.
How to Know When the “Experts” Are Wrong
We can often detect if there’s something wrong with what we’re told “experts” think by recognizing that we acquire “expert” views via a “knowledge system” consisting of four phases—1) research, 2) synthesis, 3) dissemination, and 4) evaluation—with 2, 3, and 4 being prone to distortion in general and, I realized after doing some initial research, in the case of fossil fuels in particular.
How Research Works
Research, the foundation of any knowledge system, involves highly specialized knowledge that is hard for us to evaluate, but one way we can spot something going wrong in the broader knowledge system is when some new claim is confidently attributed to all scientists, such as the specific prediction that a 2° C temperature increase from preindustrial levels will mean global catastrophe.
How Synthesis Can Go Wrong
Synthesis, in which the near-limitless amount of specialized knowledge is organized, refined, and condensed, can go wrong through honest error or the manipulation of synthesizing bodies; one way to detect a syntheses error is when crucial variables or facts are omitted, such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) omitting the rapid decline in climate-related disaster deaths.
How Dissemination Can Go Wrong
Dissemination, in which the essentials of synthesized research are communicated to the public, is frequently highly distorted; one way to detect dissemination is to even briefly peruse the sources a disseminator is using and see if they are being accurately essentialized.
How Evaluation Can Go Wrong
The task of evaluation, in which certain institutions and people evaluate what we should do about the disseminated conclusions in a different field, is often hidden by inane refrains such as “listen to the scientists,” but it is always at work and must always be questioned; two errors to look out for are 1) using an anti-human “standard of evaluation” and 2) failing to consider the full context—which there is the strongest evidence our “knowledge system” could be catastrophically failing to do, in the form of opposing fossil fuel use on the basis of its negative side-effects without considering its massive benefits.
The Unique, Massive, and Desperately Needed Benefits of Fossil Fuels
I didn’t think our knowledge system was misevaluating fossil fuels until I learned 3 undeniable facts about fossil fuels’ benefits that are ignored or contradicted by popular portrayals of our knowledge system’s moral case for eliminating fossil fuels: 1) Cost-effective energy is essential to human flourishing; 2) Billions of people lack cost-effective energy. 3) Fossil fuels are a uniquely cost-effective source of energy, providing low-cost, on-demand, versatile, global-scale energy.
Fossil Fuels Are a Uniquely Cost-Effective Source of Energy
Fossil fuels are a uniquely cost-effective source of energy, providing energy that is 1) low-cost, 2) on-demand, 3) versatile, and 4) on a scale of billions of people in thousands of places—which is why they are growing around the world, above all in places that care most about cost-effective energy, such as China.
Cost-Effective Energy Is Essential to Human Flourishing
Cost-effective energy is essential to human flourishing (our ability to live long, healthy, opportunity-filled lives) because the more cost-effective energy is, the more people can use the miracle of “machine labor” to produce vital material values such as food, clothing, shelter, and medical care.
Billions of People Are Suffering and Dying for Lack
of Cost-Effective Energy
Billions of people lack cost-effective energy, such as the 3 billion who use less electricity than a typical American refrigerator, resulting in tragic amounts of suffering and death—such as premature babies dying because there is no reliable electricity for the incubators that could save them.