My fireside chat at Fossil Fueled: The Concert
"Everyone talks about making the world a better place. That is what you're actually doing in every dimension of human life....So be proud of that"
On April 18th, I had the honor of participating in a landmark event called Fossil Fueled: The Concert in Midland, TX. Fossil Fueled was hosted by Innovex, whose CEO, Adam Anderson, prominently used arguments very similar to mine to take on The North Face several years ago.
Fossil Fueled was the first public, corporate-sponsored event I know of that is proudly, unapologetically, pro-fossil-fuel.
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Here’s my fireside chat with Adam Anderson. My goals were to 1) share the clarity that leads to my passion for the fossil fuel industry, and 2) share what I’ve learned about how to effectively advocate for fossil fuels and energy freedom.
I think I succeeded. Here’s the full video of my fireside chat, followed by a transcript.
I appreciate everyone coming. As I look out in the audience and see a lot of friends, and a lot of new faces, it's awesome that so many people came out to support the event and what we're trying to do here....
So as we were pulling this event together, I thought one of the most important things to do is to bring in somebody to talk to the audience who is an energy expert, and has a particular gift at articulating the benefits of what we do for the world. So I'd like to welcome Alex Epstein, esteemed author, philosopher, and general energy expert. One of the things that's fascinating about Alex is he, again, he's probably the most articulate person, has probably done the most to convey the message of what fossil fuels do for the world. And he's totally outside the industry. He grew up, I think, in Washington DC, lives in California. I don't think he has ever worked on a drilling rig.
No, I haven't, no.
We could get that changed. I'm sure we could hook you up afterwards. But so somebody from totally outside the industry...I come to this with a whole bunch of different biases for a bunch of different reasons, and Alex is the opposite. He looked at it as an outsider, as a philosopher, and thought through what it is that was missing from the conversation. And I think inspired a ton of people, has inspired me to think through and talk about these topics more broadly.
Alex has two bestselling books. The first, The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels, which was fantastic and its clarity and its simplicity in articulating the message. And then, most recently, Fossil Fueled. Both…
Fossil Future, apologize. I got confused, understandably.
I think part of what inspires people about Alex is, one, he develops very coherent arguments. But then, he's also willing to go debate or talk to anybody about these topics. In fact, he's even debated many... He's been to campuses. I think you mentioned yesterday you might have been on a campus and had some experience.
Yeah. If we have questions, you can ask me. Some students at Mississippi State yesterday attempted a walkout on me, which I don't think anyone will ever attempt again after what happened to them.
One of the images of Alex that I love is he crashed one of the many anti fossil fuel rallies. I think the biggest anti fossil fuel rally. So we have an image here of Alex in an I love fossil fuels t-shirt. Can you see that? You know what the picture looks like.....So there's tens of thousands of people here in the streets of New York.
There's 300,000 people walking down Sixth Avenue.
And did they harass you mercilessly while you were doing this?
Well, we harassed each other. So, they had a lot of things to say to me that were empty. But I had a lot of lessons to teach: I told them what their clothes are made of, and what made it possible to be there and stuff. So it was fun. You can look it up on YouTube, “People's Climate March.” Or I think we have some cards back there. Make sure to get your I love fossil fuels pins. If you fill out the card, you can get on our list. And I'll send you a whole bunch of resources, including that. Or if anyone is watching this later, just send an email to email@example.com and you'll get everything you need.
Awesome. I was also able to get my 21-year-old daughter to wear this shirt to my birthday party a couple of years ago, since it's classic. One of the other hostile audiences that you frequently get a chance to go interact with is Congress. And I think we have a clip here where you were interviewed by Barbara Boxer on your appropriateness as a distinguished speaker on the topic of energy security, energy freedom. So I think if we can roll that clip real quick.
Mr. Epstein, are you a scientist?
You're a philosopher?
Okay. Well, this is the Environment and Public Works committee. I think it's interesting, we have a philosopher here talking about an issue-
It's to teach you how to think more clearly.
So given everything we've been through in the last few years, I think her perspective of bringing a philosopher in to help us think about important topics is particularly poignant. So maybe I would just get your thoughts on your reaction to that question, and how you think about that core question you get asked by folks like this?
Just a quick thing on that common cliche which is, “Listen to the scientists.” And the plausibility is that when you're making important decisions, you need to consult experts including, where there's a science involved or multiple sciences involved, you need to consult scientists. But the fallacy of this idea is that there's no science by itself that can tell you what to do, for two reasons.
So reason number one is that any policy question is always going to be interdisciplinary. It's going to involve many issues. So, for example, in energy, it's not simply the climate effects of different forms of energy, there's also the benefits of different forms of energy. You have to consider that. And a climate scientist knows nothing about that, insofar as they're just a climate scientist. And then, the other thing is that any policy question, or any what's called normative question, any action guiding question, always involves values. And I think...we'll talk about that today. But, sometimes, the people who are saying, “Hey, we need to stop impacting the climate.” Sometimes, people are saying that because they're really concerned about human beings and they think we're facing climate apocalypse. But I think most people leading that charge actually just think it's wrong for us to impact the climate. And stopping that evil act should take precedence over 8 billion people getting energy. And I disagree with those values, but that's a value issue.
Let me just say a little bit about this event because I'm super excited about this event. And, for me, this is a real landmark in the history of this industry. At least, I've been studying energy for 16 years now, and this is the first corporate event I've ever seen, that's a public event, that is totally pro-fossil-fuels in its conception. And that's just a really exciting thing. So I want to give a round of applause to Adam, but also to you guys for being here because this is a big thing.
And as will emerge, I think, as we talk, I really, really believe this industry is good. I believe the industry has made the world a much better place. And if it's allowed to function freely, will continue to do so. So it's been really hard for me, as somebody who I think appreciates what the industry does more than the industry does, to see for years and years and years apologizing, and just adopting all the opponent's slogans.
And so this is really exciting. I see this as, okay, this is a great milestone. And then I'm also excited, and it's related, to be involved with this with Adam. Because Adam was the one, I think many of you probably know, who wrote that amazing letter to the North Face years ago, when the North Face ridiculously refused to make branded jackets for oil and gas companies. Even though oil and gas is literally the physical basis of their product.
And I thought Adam did speak up, and continues to speak up, in a very principled way that's fundamentally pro-human and pro-energy. And that it's not simply about his narrow interest as somebody in oil and gas. It's part of why I actually like the name Fossil Fueled. I know some people don't, but I like it. Because it's saying, “Hey, this whole class of forms of energy is good.” Not just throwing coal under the bus, because coal is crucial to billions of people's lives and will remain so for a long time. So yeah, I think this is a very, very exciting event. And I want to do whatever I can to help you guys just become...Two things. One, just even prouder of your industry. And then, maybe even more important, two, is: be able to be more persuasive and effective with other people. This is an ability that I've developed, I think, to a pretty extreme degree. And I'm very eager to share any insights that I can about it.
Yeah, no, I appreciate that. And that makes... Yeah, I love your perspective on those topics. I guess if we back up on... The challenge that you've taken up, and you made your life's work in many ways, is quite the hill to go take, so to speak, in this environment, where fossil fuels have been under so much pressure. And when you were 22, graduate of that mediocre university, Duke University, and you were thinking about what you wanted to do with your life. What prompted you to think, “Hey, this is the battle that I want to go take.” What prompted you to think, “I'm going to be maybe the primary champion for fossil fuels on the planet”?
Well, so when I was 22, absolutely nothing prompted me to do it. And I had no enthusiasm for fossil fuels at all. And I was fairly afraid of climate catastrophe. I think though, I did know that I wanted to be what I call a practical philosopher. And so I think of philosophy as an incredibly practical subject. Really, what it's doing at the core is, it's studying what are the fundamental principles that guide all of our thinking and all of our action....And it has, I think, three basic aspects you can divide it into. So one is our thinking methods. So how do we go about coming to different kinds of conclusions, making different kinds of decisions? And I'm always interested in, where is there good thinking? Where is there bad thinking? And early on, I didn't know anything about fossil fuels.
But when I was 26, 27, I started learning about the history of the oil industry. And, in particular, Rockefeller, I was studying. And to understand him, I needed to understand the early industry. And I realized... This anecdote really stuck with me and changed my life. That in 1859, there was the birth of the oil industry in Titusville, Pennsylvania. And before that, there were more than half a dozen forms of alternative energy, including very close things to ethanol. But the countryside was still dark. Why? Because while people could technically produce energy, they couldn't cost effectively produce energy.
And this made a huge impression on me. Because, by 1864, so just five years in, the countryside in many places was bright where it had been dark. And I just thought about what would that be like for me to undergo that transition? And then I quickly learned, wait a second, there are billions of people who still haven't undergone that transition to a significant degree. And not transition in the energy transition, which is a term I hate, which I'll talk about, but in the sense of energy evolution and energy progress. And I think, as Kaes [Van’t Hof, and earlier speaker] put it, energy expansion, which I like those terms.
So I really realized, wait a second, it matters so much if energy is cost-effective. And maybe the reason we're still using fossil fuels for 80% of our energy, and maybe the reason it's still growing, is because fossil fuels are still the most cost-effective choice for billions of people. And it was pretty clear, you study, wow, fossil fuels, there's nothing compared to oil for air transport. There's nothing that can compare for a lot of forms of industrial process heat for directly burning fossil fuels. There's nothing that can compete with oil for a lot of mobility applications.
And then I realized, wait a second, the whole society that I've grown up in, and I've gone to elite schools my whole life supposedly, they're not talking about these benefits at all. They're only talking about negative side effects, particularly climate effects. And you need to look at both, but you need to carefully weigh them. And so a very basic principle of thinking is, carefully weigh the benefits and the side effects. And yet, I realized our leading thinkers in institutions are totally failing at this with regard to fossil fuels. So I realized how important energy was, and I thought, “Wait a second, using philosophy, I could help change the thinking of the world about the industry that powers every other industry.” So I thought if I could improve the thinking, that would be amazingly effective.
And, unfortunately, I didn't see many people thinking about it clearly. And, unfortunately, I didn't see much from the industry either. The industry was mostly capitulating. And I think there's a lot more to improve. But I do think the industry has improved quite a bit in talking about the benefits of what it does. And so it's been very exciting to come in as an outsider, who's saying to people, “Wake up. What you're doing is amazing and you have to tell the world that.” And then me telling the world that. So it was not at all expected, but in retrospect, it makes sense. Because I'm a philosopher who likes thinking clearly, and this is the most important issue in the world. And everyone was thinking about it insanely.
Yeah, I think that resonates with me when you say, “Wake up.” What we do for the world is amazing, is fundamentally one of the things that I think we need to change out there, part of what this event is about. So turning to what you think we, as an industry, can do, we're under attack today in a bunch of different dimensions. You see some, let's say, green shoots of leaders in the industry talking more positively about what we do. What do you think, from here, given that we're in a fairly tight timeline, given the push towards energy transition and transition away from oil and gas, what's your recommendation? How do you think the industry can best articulate what we do for the world?
Okay, I'm curious first, I want to take a quick poll. So you guys in the back, too, I'd love your input on this poll too. So I'm just going to take a poll. And so the question is, on a... And I'm curious where you think the industry stands today. I think it's improved, but I'm curious where you think it stands. So here's the question. On a scale of negative five to five, how good is the oil and gas industry at winning hearts and minds? So on a scale of negative five to five, how good is the oil and gas industry at winning hearts and minds? So first of all, for bonus points, I'll send you a signed copy of Fossil Future. Why is my scale negative five to five, instead of one to 10?....So I would put it this way, when you're communicating, it's very, very important to recognize that just attempting to persuade somebody doesn't mean that you're going to get any positive result. The most common case, I would argue, with most public persuasion is zero, nothing. But another common case is that you actually make things worse. So you have to contemplate, maybe it would be better off if we had never said anything. And so what I'm going to do is I'm going to count down. So five will be like Steve Jobs for computers. So if you think the oil and gas industry is at that level, then raise your hand at five. Zero is going to be everything amounts to nothing. And then negative five is going to be somebody who makes things worse.
I don't know a good example that everyone will understand. Does anyone know the example of Amber Heard? So some people might know that example. So just if you can't think of that, think of somebody who made something worse by talking.
Okay, so raise your hands at one of these levels. So how good is the oil and gas industry at winning hearts and minds? Five? Four? Three? Two? Do we have any twos? One? All right, good, we got some ones. Zero? So everything has amounted to nothing. So none of those dollars should have been spent. Okay, negative one? Negative two? Negative three? Negative four? Negative five? [Most hands are neutral or negative.]
All right, so this is actually really good news. So why do I say this is good news? Because if we were at a five, and we had the state of the world and policy the way they are today, that would be really bad if you're doing the best possible thing and this is the result. So I think it's very cool if there can be a much better result. So I hope that motivates us. I think it's possible. I would put it at a zero or a one right now. So it's gotten a lot better since I started, but it needs to get a lot better.
And I think what I'm going to say about this is going to be controversial. Because, in a sense, what I'll say, the easy thing for me to say, and there's a lot of truth to this, is that what you need to do is, there are two keys to persuading other people. There's being able to frame the conversation the right way. And then having access to the facts.
And so framing the conversation, a big part of this that I always try to do is basically establish to people, “Hey, before we get into the facts, the most important thing is to agree how are we going to make these decisions?” And, “I believe in carefully weighing the benefits and the side effects. Do you agree?” And everyone agrees to this. It's a really important thing. Everyone agrees to do it. You can call it cost-benefit analysis. You can call it pros and cons. But it's really, really important to establish to people that they agree to think about the positives and negatives in a fair way and an even-handed way, and a precise way. If you can do that in a conversation, you can move mountains. Because the default is people just look at the negatives and they exaggerate them. So the number one thing is framing.
And then the number two thing is understanding the basic facts, in terms of what are the key facts about the benefits of fossil fuels? What are the key facts about the side effects, including climate side effects? And I highly, highly recommend here a resource I've created called energytalkingpoints.com, where you can get all the facts you need about anything. But just to give you some of the really important facts, I think. One is that fossil fuels are a uniquely cost-effective source of energy. So in terms of providing energy that's affordable; reliable; versatile, which means powering every type of machine; and scalable to billions of people in thousands of places, fossil fuels are unique. That's why they're 80% of the world's energy. They're still growing.
I said, I hate the term energy transition. That implies a free market shift away from fossil fuels. In fact, what we largely have is an anti-freedom addition to fossil fuels. So we have an energy addition that's right now anti-freedom. And a lot of the technologies that are being added are not cost-effective in the way they're being added. I'm not against solar and wind. But I do believe that they should only be used if they can help provide reliable electricity at a competitive price. Not sell unreliable electricity, and then leave the rest of us to suffer for it, which I think happened with the Texas freeze, which is a whole long story.
So you need to know these essential facts. And with climate, for example, one of the essential facts is fossil fuels help us become safe from climate. Because they power all the machines that keep us safe from climate. And one fact I like is that climate related disaster deaths, so deaths from storms, and floods, extreme heat, et cetera, are down 98% over the last 100 years. So there's a lot of facts to learn. We don't have time to go through all of them. I think Adam will have some specific questions. You can get them all at energytalkingpoints.com. And the framing is important.
But what I want to stress is, don't think of communication first and foremost as something that you just need to find the right words for someone else. The key to communication is, you need to find the right words for you. You need to be so convinced in your mind that what you do is good, and then that's what'll make you persuasive and that's what'll make you passionate. People say to me, “Oh my gosh, you're courageous. You stood in front of these people. You talk to these people. You don't care if people walk out.” But it doesn't take that much courage to do those things. The protest is a slight risk, and it would be a much bigger risk today because violence has been normalized, unfortunately.
But these other things, it's just people talking. And if you believe strongly enough in something, you don't care about people talking. It's right. Imagine most of us in here, I think, if there was a real wave of racism and people saying, “Hey, we should have segregation back.” You would stand up and fight against that. I believe you would. And so, for me, it's the same thing. If something I know is really right, and the world is really wrong, I have the internal clarity, then I'm going to fight about it.
So I'd really suggest companies do, and individuals do, is really think about this issue for yourself. I think Fossil Future can be a great guide. But really think about, “Do I really believe in what I do? Do I know in my bones this is good?” Because I know what you do is good in my bones. And if you have that, that is the key to becoming unstoppable. And that will exude from you in everything. You'll just be so enthusiastic about what you do. You'll see the world without you as a horror show. And you'll love the world that you've made. One example, when I learned about petroleum... People think of petroleum as dirty; it ruined the planet. When I learned that you could take this black goop from the ground and turn it into a plastic cup, a Sleep Number bed, a vacation, an artificial heart, I thought, “This is the greatest improvement of our environment in human history.” We turned useless glop, and we turned it into life. And when you have that perspective, you will be unstoppable. And that's what I'm trying to give the industry.
Amen. So maybe I'll turn to a couple of specific questions. I think you did a good job giving the overall view of why we should be passionate in what we do as an industry. But the critics of the industry have a number of very specific arguments that you consistently hear them make. Maybe the first place I would start is the obvious side effect of burning fossil fuels, as it releases CO2, which impacts our environment, leads to incremental warming. So what's your perspective on how much should we worry about that problem? How much is the burning of fossil fuels leading to catastrophic climate impacts that we should worry about?
For sure, this is the number one issue. Sometimes, I take a poll and I ask, “What is the most popular political idea in the world?” And I don't think there's any question that the most popular political idea in the world is that what many of you do for a living should be rapidly eliminated. It's some form of net zero, carbon-neutral, et cetera. And I don't want to burst anyone's bubble here, but we are not capturing enough CO2 in the next 27 years to be carbon-neutral with a robust hydrocarbon industry looking anywhere near what it looks like today. That is simply not happening. Unless, some miracle breakthrough that you find out how to use it incredibly productively, and you have 100 times the demand for industrial CO2. But, otherwise, China and India are not doing this. Anyway, you can ask me more about that.
So this is the number one idea in the world, that we should rapidly eliminate fossil fuels. And the basis of it is this idea that we're causing climate change. And that's the bad thing. And the first thing I want to note about this is the framing is wrong. Because what it's looking at is, it's just saying, “Hey, fossil fuels have a side effect we don't like, therefore we should get rid of them.” And that's invalid thinking. What you need to think about is, what is the net good or bad if you carefully weigh the benefits and the side effects? And for climate, it's especially important because fossil fuels have a warming impact on climate, but they also have a neutralizing impact on climate danger.
One of the key things we use fossil fuels for is what I call climate mastery. So taking climate danger that exists in the world and neutralizing it. Sometimes, we even make it better. Like with snow, I like snowboarding and snowmobiling in Utah, that's a really expensive thing to do. That snow used to be a terror. That used to be a climate harm. Now, it's a climate benefit that people can make a fortune from. So the more we have mastery over climate, the less we have of any climate problem. And we can actually turn problems into opportunities often. Of course, heating, and in particular here, air conditioning, how livable Midland has been made, Houston has been made, thanks to fossil fuels. Can you imagine... People say, “Oh, we've warmed the earth one degree, it ruined the climate.” Can you imagine living in the climate here with no air conditioning, and it's one degree cooler versus having air conditioning?
And think, around the world, people lack air conditioning all over the place. Air conditioning is still a luxury. You think people in India wouldn't take air conditioning plus two degrees warmer? They absolutely would. They'd take air conditioning and 10 degrees warmer, probably.... Now, this is just background for you. This is not how I answer it if someone is talking to me. But I just really want to enforce in your mind, and reinforce, the way people think about this makes no sense. And it's really valuable to think about it in a careful, weighing benefits and side effects way.
So the simple answer is: fossil fuels have not taken a safe climate and made it dangerous. They've taken a dangerous climate and made it safe. So the climate mastery benefits of fossil fuels, so their ability to neutralize climate danger, is far more significant than any negatives they've had so far. And I believe the evidence is that they will continue to be far more significant than any negative. So, so far, we've had one degree of warming, the climate death rate has declined, from disasters, by 98%. How could anyone really believe that it's going to get another degree or two warmer and then everyone's going to die from climate? This is just like a religious hell narrative. It doesn't make any sense scientifically. And if you look at all the so-called science, predicting that earth is going to become hell, it's all climate mastery denial. So it just denies our ability to adapt to things, to master things.
And it pretends that, oh, if sea levels rise by a foot in 50 years, we're going to all be displaced. We're absolutely not going to do that. We have 100 million people who already live below sea level. People thrive many feet below sea level in the Netherlands. So the really simple answer is fossil fuels have made our climate more livable. And they will continue to do so. It's not just: they're not as bad as you think. It's they're actually good.
So I think the next perspective people have is: it's easy to replace fossil fuels. That what we do for the world, it was good over the last 100 years, they will recognize much of the benefit that modern society has gained from fossil fuels. But I think an argument that's frequently made is, A, their time has come for much of the concerns you just discussed. And the argument is solar, wind, hydrogen, all these different things, are cheaper, cleaner, better in every dimension than fossil fuels. In fact, I think the bank, Lazard, puts out an annual LCOE cost study to compare the cost of these things. And consistently shows the cost of wind and solar getting cheaper and cheaper. Cheaper than natural gas generated electricity. So, therefore, it's very obvious that we should transition to these things for all the benefits we get from a CO2 reduction, but just from a pure economic factor.
And I think this is probably one that many of you are not sympathetic to, although you might hear it. So I want to focus on is: What are the most efficient ways to refute this? Because there's so many things wrong with this, it can just be overwhelming. But here's what I would focus on. The two high level points are that fossil fuels are demonstrably a uniquely cost-effective source of energy today. And then, we live in a world that desperately needs far more energy. Those, at a high level, are two points that get ignored. And when I say uniquely cost-effective energy, so here are the basic facts I think make this undeniable. One is: fossil fuels, despite over a century of aggressive competition and huge cultural hostility, produce 80% of the world's energy today. And are still growing. So that's fact one.
Number two is, they're growing particularly in the parts of the world that care most about cost-effective energy, namely China, which I think cares the most. And they are using, overwhelmingly, coal to produce solar and wind that they're selling to us. So if solar and wind are actually cheaper, why is China overwhelmingly using coal? Did they not get the memo that solar... Did they not read the Lazard study? No, they know the Lazard study is trash. And why do they know this? So what's going on? So you really need to understand, just the reality is that people are acting like fossil fuels are uniquely cost-effective, including people who would have every incentive not to. Why does Japan continue to pursue fossil fuels? They don't have any resources.
So you have to recognize there's something very special about fossil fuels. We could go into what that is into what that is. I think with solar and wind, the key thing to recognize is that, one is, today, they're only providing electricity. So electricity is just a fifth of the world's energy. So electricity is not the same as energy. And when people equate electricity and energy, they don't know very much. But the other thing is that they are not at all replacements, let alone cheaper replacements, for fossil fuels in electricity. And the basic reason is the unreliability problem. As the Texas freeze showed, solar and wind can go near-zero at any given time. So at the worst part of the Texas freeze, solar and wind were at less than 1% of their theoretical capacity. Not because wind turbines froze, but just because the wind died down and the sun obviously died down, as often happens during a winter storm. And so if something go can go near-zero at any given time, it needs basically 100% backup.
And so what does this mean? This means that you either need to use batteries, you need to try to use batteries. Which, I've run the numbers, three days of global storage to back up, at Elon Musk's best prices, is $600 trillion. So this is more wealth than exists in the entire world. Okay, so this is just an insane idea. So, in practice, it requires fossil fuel. So what you need is... What you end up doing is, you pay for a reliable grid and an unreliable grid, which adds huge infrastructure duplication costs. And this is why I say Germany has such expensive electricity. Or what you can do is, you can try to be clever, like Texas and California have tried to be, and you play reliability chicken. So reliability chicken means you try to get away with as few reliable power plants as possible. And hope that the unreliables work all the time or when you want. So you hope it doesn't get too hot, it doesn't get too cold, the sun shines enough, and the wind blows enough. And this, obviously, isn't going to happen.
And so that's why we've had catastrophic blackouts in California and Texas. And so what happens is, you have some short-term cost savings, although costs still generally go up. In Texas, costs have in part gone down because you guys have honestly fleeced the rest of the country through wind and solar subsidies. So that's part of what's happened. But even then, what is the cost you paid in terms of unreliability of the grid? It's something like $10,000 per household, so many years worth of electric bills. So when you play reliability chicken, you screw with reliability. And you ultimately make people pay the catastrophic cost of unreliable electricity. So, right now, solar and wind are not cost competitive replacements. They're cost adding failures.
Now, this does not mean that I'm against solar and wind in principle, but I am only for solar and wind if generators use it to provide reliable electricity. So as I said before, we need to get rid of the scourge of the grid allowing people to sell unreliable electricity for the same price or greater than reliable. And we need to require all generators to supply reliable electricity. And they can use whatever mix of inputs they want. So at a high level, fossil fuels are uniquely cost-effective. It's true, for the reasons I gave. The world needs far more energy. I didn't elaborate too much on that. But the world is just desperately short of energy. And these claims about solar and wind are fallacies. But it doesn't mean being anti-solar and wind, nor does it mean giving lip service to solar and wind. It means saying, “Hey, I'm for a truly free market in energy. I want solar and wind to actually compete to provide reliable electricity.” I'm all for that. But we should totally oppose today's regime of forced solar and wind. And it is absolutely gutting our grid and ruining many lives.
Did not parse many words there.
Yeah, and why do it? Life is too short to parse words.
So I got one or two more questions, but I think we're going to take questions from the audience. Do we have runners? Okay. As they're getting set up, I will maybe have one last question for you from here, and then we'll take questions from the audience. So related to that topic, and you mentioned Elon Musk, but what's your perspective on the potential for EVs? We hear they're going to radically replace internal combustion engines over the next decade or two decades, certainly in your home state. They're awesome vehicles, technologically amazing, super fast. But what do you think their potential is to transform transportation over the next couple of decades?
So with all these things I want to just focus on, there's a danger of being partisan or tribal. To say like, “Oh, EVs suck.” Or, “EVs are amazing.” But the real thing that we want is we want as much energy abundance as we can get. And that requires what I call energy freedom. And the reason I focus on fossil fuels is, fossil fuels are the form of energy freedom and energy abundance that are most significant and most dangerously under attack. Nuclear is, in a certain sense, more under attack, but it's more marginal today. Fossil fuels, you can literally destroy the world as a livable place for billions of people by following the policies. That's why I'm so focused on this issue. Even though, technologically, I actually like nuclear more. I find it more interesting than fossil fuels, although fossil fuels are interesting too. But it's so significant.
So I always want to focus on, okay, we're for freedom and we support fossil fuels because they're really good. But we don't support them exclusively or tribally. I think you're much more persuasive that way. And, Adam, this is something you are, I think, almost uniquely good at in the industry, is that you do not come across as, “Oh, I'm just for oil and gas.” You come across as, “I'm for all forms of cost-effective energy.” And I think that's a really great thing for others to model.
So with EVs, how does this apply? Well, we should have freedom for transportation. So I'm all for Elon Musk being free to build whatever vehicles he can build. And sell them at whatever prices the market will bear. And then people will like them or not, depending on the price, depending on the convenience. And, crucially, depending on, do we have enough electricity on the grid?
Now, the problem with forcing it on people is, one, you're forcing an inferior thing. If it weren't inferior, you wouldn't have to force it. So you can say, “It looks cool.” Or, "It's fast." But the price performance of most EVs is not the best option for most people. And this is even with companies like Ford just totally hemorrhaging and covering up the costs of EVs by eating huge losses. So one thing is, you're just forcing cars on people who can least afford it. So it hurts the poor and the middle class the most. That's really, really bad too, because you're taking away their ability to have mobility, which is just such an iconic American thing.
But then, on top of that, you're trying to force a radical increase in demand for reliable electricity on a grid that is being gutted of its supply of reliable electricity. This is so dangerous and so immoral. And yet, it's pervasive. So look at Newsom, where I live in California. Newsom says, “Hey, everyone, no more internal combustion engine vehicles by 2035.” Literally five days later, he says, “Hey, Californians, don't charge your EVs. We don't have enough electricity.” Think about that. And it's because he's so focused on solar and wind and not having enough reliable electricity. So the EPA currently has plans that, if implemented, could take off 20% of our current inadequate, reliable capacity, mostly coal. And you guys should not be against coal. Coal is currently keeping our grid alive. And it keeps billions of people alive. Again, we need more energy and we should not be shutting down these coal plants without viable replacements, which we do not have in the pipeline right now.
So we have this catastrophic threat to the reliable supply, and then we're going to have our [electric] transportation increased 10x in Biden's latest plan. This is the most obvious, stupid thing that nobody's saying anything about. It's exactly as obvious as Europe, even more obvious than Europe, just totally gutting their ability to supply themselves for reliable hydrocarbon energy, and depending on Russia. And like, “Oh, this is going to turn out well. We can count on Russia, why not?” This is like, “Oh, economics doesn't exist. We can just increase the demand for something and decrease the supply and nothing will happen to the price or availability.” So the EV movement is a profoundly destructive movement because it's trying to force an inferior technology on a grid, while simultaneously gutting the capacity of the grid. So that is horrific. But you can still be excited about EVs. And I would be excited about them too, except they don't have as much space as internal combustion engine vehicles. They're not vehicles with a lot of space.
They're really, really fast.
Yeah, until the speed limit becomes 150, I don't really care about that.
So, at this point, maybe we got 10, 15 minutes to open the floor up for questions. So if anyone has a question, just raise your hand. We've got a couple of mics that we can pass around to anyone that has anything they want to add to it.
Alex, this is Shad Frazier from earlier.
Oh, hey, how's it going?
Great. What we're seeing with Germany right now, we've seen in the last week that they've shut down the last two of their nuclear reactors, or two or three. And they've immediately seen price increases of about 20%. Is that our future five years from now?
Sorry, did you ask about nuclear in Germany?
Yeah, he said, “Is it our future?”
So, I just want to apologize. There's a lot of echo, so I may slightly misinterpret your questions. But I hope to give a generally useful answer and then you can come up to me afterward, anyone can, if I don't quite get it. So Germany, when I got started on this, so in 2012...It wasn't when I got started, but it was my first really major debate with a guy named Bill McKibben, who's the leader of the divestment movement, which became a lot of the ESG movement. His star example when we debated is Germany. “Germany is amazing. Look at what Germany is doing. They're showing we don't need nuclear. We don't need fossil fuels.” And what happens is, they gut their nuclear ability in a panicked, bizarre reaction to Fukushima, even though nobody died from radiation in Fukushima. And then they're still anti-fossil-fuels.
And they're a really important example because they are embodying the essential policy of the anti fossil fuel movement, which is to be anti fossil fuel and anti-nuclear. And as I argue in Chapter 3 of Fossil Future, the fact they're anti fossil fuel, anti-nuclear, usually anti-hydro... And there's also a lot of opposition to solar and wind increasingly because of the impact they have. It's really a movement that's not about improving human life through more energy. It's really a movement that's about eliminating all human impact, hating all human impact, and really opposing energy. I think, really, it's an anti-energy movement. And they claim to be for energy.
But here's a question... It'll take too long. But nobody has ever gotten the answer right anyway. But I want you to think about it. “What is the only form of energy the green movement has ever supported?” So just think about it for a second. And you're going to think about, “Is it nuclear? Or is it hydro?” And it's all wrong. The only form of energy they've ever supported is imaginary energy. So they only support forms of energy that will supposedly work in the future that don't work now. So they supported natural gas as a bridge fuel before it became prolific. And then they called it fracking. They supported nuclear until nuclear became effective, and then they opposed it. They even supported coal for a while to oppose nuclear. So it's a very anti-impact movement.
And the reason I'm stressing this is, yes, it is a preview. Because as long as we're dominated by this mentality that really is hostile toward human impact on earth and views us as a cancer, you're going to have anti-energy policies everywhere that do these insane things, seemingly insane. But for the leaders of the movement, it's not insane. Because their goal is not to advance what I call human flourishing on earth. It's to eliminate human impact on earth. And so they don't mind poverty. They embrace poverty. It started with: green energy is going to make us richer. Now, it's started to be like, “No, it's not going to make us richer, but we should suffer for the climate.” And then it's starting to migrate into, “Let's all eat bugs.” And then it's going to migrate to, “We all need to die.” So that's the trajectory of it. And Germany is really embodying that slide....
By the way, one thing to say good about Elon Musk... He and I have a checkered history. He blocked me on Twitter years ago. Unblocked me recently for calling the Tesla S a really good fossil fuel car, which I thought was a nice compliment that I paid him. One thing he should be a model of though is, he is the only person that has a public company, or I guess... Well, he has multiple public companies, I guess, or at least one, who's worth over $10 billion, who's willing to say anything controversial. And I really admire that about him. None of the stuff he says, Zuckerberg or Bezos or any of these other guys, who in many ways I admire more than Musk, [would say]. He should be a model....You guys can say the truth. It's okay. You're not going to get killed. Okay, other questions?
Hey, Alex, Mike Howard.
A question for you. I got asked recently on stage, as an executive in the oil and gas business, with all these facts that you put out, why is it that there's a persistent ideology to try to go against facts that thermodynamics and mathematics can prove? Energy is not an opinion, it's a mathematical reality. What is the ideology? What's causing the ideology to go so against facts?
So I think I got most of that one too. Well, there's a certain argument. So why are people going against the facts with energy? I'm a little bit optimistic about it because 10 years ago, even 15 years ago when I was getting started, you just heard this narrative of: solar and wind are getting cheaper and cheaper than fossil fuels. And nobody was challenging it. So part of what's happened is, there's been an establishment narrative that so-called renewables, which I usually call unreliables, because that's what they're actually providing today, is unreliable electricity. And the renewable movement opposes hydro most of the time. So it's not really about renewables.
So the unreliables movement, they just had all of this propaganda and a huge villain. I don't like to be too hard on the industry, but a huge...let's not say villain, but a huge enabler was the industry. Because the industry would just say, "Hey, we're for all of the above." Which, vaguely, okay, you can say that. But are you really for all the above, are you for animal dung? Are you for wood? Or are you for everything as long as it does anything? You should be for all of the best things, or always the best, or something like that, or all of the cost-effective.
And so what happened is, there was all this ridiculous propaganda that defied reality, including in some ways, physics. And then the industry basically didn't counter it. And there was this narrative... Because I've talked to lots and lots of comms people in the industry. I used to do consulting work for the industry in this respect. Now, I focus on politicians. But there was this narrative of, “Oh, we don't want to be anti-solar-and-wind.” But there's a false equation there, what's called an equivocation in philosophy. You don't want to be anti-solar and wind, and you don't want to be anti-freedom for solar and wind. You don't want to be in principle against solar and wind. But you want to be against forcing inferior solar and wind. And you absolutely need to point out, these technologies are not cost-competitive. They cannot actually replace what we do.
Imagine Apple not being willing to say it has a superior phone, or Samsung. In what other industry is the best product afraid to say it's the best product? So the combination of this bizarre narrative, but then the industry reinforcing it, led to everyone living in this fantasy world, which is a disaster. But I think now that people are speaking reality, it's becoming more and more revealed because it's pretty easy to explain. You just say, “Look, the full cost of any... You have to look at the full process.” And the full cost of solar and wind is not just the sun, and the wind, and the transmission lines, and the panels, and the wind turbines. It's the whole reliable infrastructure needed to give it life support 100% of the time. And then people get, “Oh yeah, wait, it's not really cheaper. It's adding cost. It's not replacing cost.” So I do think it's actually pretty easy to change people's minds. But there's been this huge hole dug by the green propagandists, and then the fossil fuel industry enablers, which is happily changing.
I think maybe.... Is that Jim Wicklund has a question?
The US government has subsidized the unreliables to the tune of trillions. And, now, international is doing the same thing. The Energy Secretary for the EU said, in response to the shortage of power from wind and solar, was to build more wind. With all these trillions of dollars in subsidies, how do we ever see clear to the future that you talk about?
Can you just say the last... Sorry, can you say the last part of the last sentence? How do we ever see what?
How do we ever get to the point of the common sense that you talk about, when it's being shrouded by trillions of dollars of subsidies that people think are actually economic operations?
Yeah, this is a really important question. And it adds some complexity to what I just said. Because I said, you can explain it. It's pretty simple. But it's also true that the subsidies do obscure it. So you've seen this in Texas, I mentioned the huge subsidies that the rest of the country paid Texans for solar and wind. That's part of what obscured the real cost of solar and wind. The main thing that obscured it was just the decline in the resiliency and the reliability of the grid, which that's the kind of thing that you pay a delayed price for. And that's, as I said, and as we've seen, a catastrophic price.
So I think, just those of us telling the truth, it's still pretty easy. But you need to be really clear on itemizing all the different forms of preference. And, in particular, because there is this false narrative, and you should never repeat this, that, “Oh, solar and wind are outcompeting fossil fuels on the free market.” And so I think the two things are, one, is: have a clear positive policy, as I mentioned. Everyone should have to compete with no subsidies, providing reliable electricity with universal standards that are technology neutral. I think that's one key thing.
And then the other key thing is just to have really good breakdowns of all the preferences. So on energytalkingpoints.com, there's an article called “End Preferences for Unreliable Electricity.” And, usually, the way I break it down is, one of the preferential policies, the worst one, is paying the same for reliable and unreliable electricity. Two is direct subsidy. So taxpayers paying companies for this usually unreliable electricity. And then three is mandating. So actually forcing people to use it, regardless of cost, including concealed cost. And I think these things are pretty easy to explain. And then I think it's the job of other people, researchers, to try to document it.
I work with something like 200 political offices. And, recently, we got some requests for, “Hey, what's the true cost of the Inflation Reduction Act?” And so if you search on Energy Talking Points, we have something called the [limitless] hidden costs of the IRA. And we broke down all the different costs. And I'm hoping they'll hold hearings on that soon. So we need to just...The more they try to conceal things with subsidies, the more clear and articulately we need to be able to explain what the subsidies are and how damaging they are. And it adds some difficulty, but it's certainly very possible. And you guys can get it all for free at energytalkingpoints.com. Also, please, anyone watching later, get in our network, just email firstname.lastname@example.org, or fill out a card and put on your name and email address. The easiest way to become a champion is to rip off an effective champion. I'm an effective champion, rip me off.
Awesome. Well, Alex, thank you so much for taking the time to join us. Thank you for sharing your views. I think you make a very compelling argument for our industry. And so as a leader in the industry, I just want to say thank you and give you a big round of applause for taking the time.
Thank you. And I would just say, as somebody not in the industry, but your biggest fan, is just really, every day... Everyone talks about making the world a better place. That is what you're actually doing in every dimension of human life. From how safe we are from climate, to our ability to get food, to our ability to get clothing, to our ability to enjoy nature. You're making that better, directly or indirectly, for every person on earth. So be proud of that, and know that some of us know that.
Thank you very much.
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