Discover more from Energy Talking Points by Alex Epstein
My Speech and interview at African Energy Week
"What would be your key message for COP 28?" "My key message for COP 28 is: Withdraw from the Paris Agreement."
Last week I shared the talking points that were to be the basis of my speech at African Energy Week in Cape Town, South Africa. This week I want to share the speech itself, plus the brief on-stage interview that followed. I will also soon share an in-depth discussion I had with Jusper Machogu, a Kenyan energy activist who is doing a lot of great work in Africa.
A few notes on my speech. I was very happy with what I was able to cover, including an unambiguous call for African nations to withdraw from the Paris Agreement—which was met with shock and then applause. And I was very happy with the level of engagement of the audience that attended my talk. However, due to some major delays at the conference, combined with my tight travel schedule, my speech ended up being moved from the large main hall of the event to a smaller, less central room. (The only way for me to have stayed in the main hall would have been to miss my flight and risk missing another speaking engagement I had committed to.) Many people who wanted to attend my speech ended up missing it, and many more who would have learned about me in the main hall ended up not getting exposed to my ideas.
To make up for the lost opportunity to reach the full live African audience I was supposed to, I am working with African Energy Week to spread this recording of the event as widely as possible in Africa. I hope that my readers share it widely, as well, particularly with any Africans you know.
The following is a full transcript of my event.
And this session is going to offer a unique opportunity to explore the ethical dimensions of fossil fuel use. Alex Epstein is also a leading advocate for fossil fuels and will present his compelling arguments about why fossil fuels continue to play a crucial role in modern society. He will delve into the ethical considerations surrounding energy choices, emphasizing the benefits of affordable and reliable energy sources for improving human well-being across the globe. Alex Epstein, we're looking forward to hearing from you. We got your tweet ‘I’m going to Africa, to African Energy Week, to tell the truth.’ So welcome to the stage. Thank you.
All right, can you guys hear me? All right, so this is mainly going to be a one-on-one interview, but I wanted to say about 10 minutes of thoughts first. And so just to give you a little bit of background on me, I've been at this issue for 16 years now, and the beginning of it was I never expected to be interested in this industry. I grew up in an anti-fossil fuel political environment in the Washington DC area. I had no family in the industry, no industry connections, nothing like that. I was actually a philosopher who was just really interested in good thinking. And once I started to understand how important fossil fuels were, I quickly determined that the thinking about fossil fuels made no sense. And in particular, it made least sense of all for the poorest regions of the world, including Africa. So what I observed is that when we're thinking about most products and technologies, we do something which seems very simple, which is you carefully weigh both the benefits and the negative side-effects.
So if you're considering taking an antibiotic, you weigh the benefits, you weigh the side-effects, and then you compare them to the alternatives. Does anyone disagree with this? So this is what you normally do. And yet I started learning about the benefits of fossil fuels. For example, fossil fuels provide the natural gas that are the basis of the fertilizer that allows us to feed 8 million people, and we have no near-term replacement for that. And so getting rid of fossil fuels means starving the world. It also means starving the world because we need diesel fuel that's uniquely good for agricultural machines that allow us to be 1000 times more productive than we would be without them. Like a modern combine harvester. And yet people talk about getting rid of fossil fuels and they don't talk about the benefits. So this would be exactly like if somebody said, hey, let's get rid of antibiotics in the next few years, and they just look at the negative side-effects and not the benefits. That would be a terrible decision, right?
Because you might avoid certain side-effects, but you would kill probably billions of people. And I concluded that this was true of fossil fuels, and I thought this was bad for everyone. I thought it was bad for me as an American. And so far as we pursue these kinds of net-zero policies, I thought it was bad for the developing world, but in particular, it was obviously worse for the least developed parts of the world, particularly in Africa. And so I started talking about this and really the key to what I'm doing is I'm just being even-handed, which everyone agrees that you should be, but almost is for fossil fuels, just being even-handed, looking at both benefits and side-effects, not just one or the other, not exaggerating one, not underestimating one.
And just by being even-handed, I was able to get a pretty big following and had two major bestselling books, The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels and Fossil Future, and people really started to react well and to the point where in the past few years, I've gotten a lot of interest from political officials and I now advise 200 major political offices in the United States, this is US senators, US congressmen, governors, and now four or five presidential candidates as well. So what I'm going to share with you today is something that's been really taking off and I think is really, really important. And I'm particularly excited to bring these ideas to Africa because I do think you're the biggest victim of the anti-fossil fuel movement. So I'm excited.
I'll also say, I'm probably going to say some things that make some of you uncomfortable. One of the gifts that I have in life is that I don't work for any government, I don't work for any company. I have my life set up so I can say exactly what I think is true, and that's what I'm about to do. So what I think is true is that... Let's put it this way, everyone is advocating here for a just energy transition, right? This is what I'm saying is a just energy transition. So let me be clear. I am not in favor of a just energy transition. I don't believe there is such a thing. There's no such thing as a just, rapid energy transition to net-zero. What I'm in favor of is a just energy expansion. That is what is actually justified.
And so I want to make two points. One is Africa needs rapid fossil fuel growth, which is totally incompatible with the net-zero agendas. It needs rapid fossil fuel growth, which is totally incompatible with the net-zero agenda if Africa is to develop and prosper. And then number two is that the net-zero leadership is actually very weak, and you can be very effective at challenging that. So the thing I want you to take overall is Africans tend and should challenge this global net-zero agenda, not just modify it a little bit by saying, hey, we want to transition, but a just transition. We're going to do everything you want, but just let us use a little fossil fuel or give us some money.
No, no, no. You want to be saying: We are proud. We want an energy expansion and we're going to use as much fossil fuel, as much cost-effective energy as we possibly need to, to develop and profit just like Japan has, just like Singapore has, just like South Korea has, et cetera. So in case it's not obvious, which it should be obvious I think, but Africa absolutely needs as much fossil fuel as it can get and it can use to develop. So we know for a fact... These are three facts. Fact one, so every prosperous country has developed using fossil fuels. Anyone knows an exception, you can let me know, but you don't because there is no exception to that. So every prosperous country has developed using fossil fuels including... And it doesn't even matter whether you have domestic fossil fuels or not. There's a lot of talk about using your domestic fossil fuel resources, but many countries have become very wealthy, even not having domestic fossil fuels but by using fossil fuels.
Singapore is probably the greatest economic story of the last 50 years going from almost total poverty to the richest per capita nation in the world in the last 50 years. Does anyone know what percent fossil fuels they still use? 99%. So Singapore is using cost-effective energy to develop and prosper. I mentioned Japan, I mentioned South Korea. And the reason is because nothing can match fossil fuels in terms of providing energy that's affordable, that's reliable, that's versatile, so it can power every type of machine, and that's scalable. So they can do it for billions of people in thousands of places. So that's fact one. Every nation that has developed and prospered has done so using fossil fuels.
Fact two is that even prosperous countries can't replace fossil fuels with solar and wind. So you're being told, “hey, don't use too much fossil fuels, just go straight to whatever, solar, wind, green, hydrogen and all this stuff.” But nobody can even do that if they're rich, they're running into huge problems. I live in the United States and particularly in California, and we try to do just a fraction of this green energy agenda and it drives up our prices and it lowers our reliability. And the reason is because solar and wind are unreliable forms of energy, and we don't have incredibly cheap storage. So what that means is you always need to build both an unreliable grid with solar and wind and then a reliable grid to support it. And that's really, really expensive. And if you shut down reliable power plants too early, you get reliability problems. So it's just absolutely insane that Africa is being encouraged to do something that's failing for rich countries. How are you going to get out of poverty by doing something that rich countries can't afford? It makes no sense whatsoever.
Now, let's talk about the third fact, because what people say is, “Well, but you can't afford, the world can't afford to do it because of climate change.” The idea is, well, fossil fuels are causing climate catastrophe, but this is just false. Fossil fuels impact the climate, but they're not causing a catastrophe. The fact is that fossil fuel development isn't causing a climate crisis. It's actually making humanity far safer from climate. And one fact that I've been stressing for years, which we're finally hearing now in the US and around the world and from our presidential candidates is actually if you look at what's happening, don't just look at rhetoric or anecdotes about, “Hey, this flood killed this many people.” But if you look at how many people are dying overall from climate-related disasters like floods and storms and heat and cold, that's not something that's getting worse. That's something that's getting much better.
The rate of climate disaster death has gone down by a factor of 50. So it's gone down 98% in the last 100 years. Why? Because whatever warming impact we've had on climate is trivial compared to our ability to neutralize climate danger to what I call master climate. If you have a lot of energy to power irrigation systems and to power crop transport and to heat and to cool, and to build sturdy infrastructure and to have storm warning systems to tap evacuation, you're going to be incredibly safe from climate. So climate change doesn't matter compared to climate mastery. And the way you get climate mastery is having cheap energy. And the only way you can get cheap energy on a large scale right now and for the foreseeable future is fossil fuels. So undoubtedly, Africa needs far more fossil fuels to develop and prosper, and that's not going to cause a crisis.
It's going to make you far safer from climate. You're already safer from climate than it used to be, but it's going to make you far safer because you'll have the energy to deal with climate and with every other problem. So that's my first point, is that Africa absolutely needs to massively increase the use of fossil fuels to develop and prosper. And that totally contradicts “net zero by 2050.” Net-zero is basically saying commit suicide and Africa go first. And I don't think anyone should do that. And in fact, China and India obviously aren't doing that. The US and Europe are starting to do it, and it's ruining our economies, and you guys should absolutely not play along at all.
So my second big point is that the net-zero leadership is morally weak and it cannot withstand a confident African challenge. So what I'm seeing is Africa has definitely improved in the past 10 years or so in terms of fighting back against this agenda, but it's still 10 times too weak. And this is something I can say again because I don't work for government, I don't work for a company, but just as somebody who likes energy and wants to see people succeed, just calling for a just transition, just saying, “Hey, let us use a little bit more fossil fuel and we promise to do all these other things,” that's not going to cut it. That's not good enough to develop and prosper. If Singapore had done that, they would not be Singapore today. You need to be really uncompromising. Now, the fear I think is, well, the net-zero movement is such a powerful movement.
It's all these countries and they're going to cut off aid or they're going to punish us in various ways, and it's kind of scary, and I don't think that's true. I think that if Africans stand up confidently and say, “Hey, we have the right to develop, we have the right to prosper. It's good for us to use fossil fuels, we're proud of that. We're not going to apologize.” I think the prosperous world will just back off because Joe Biden, António Guterres, all of these people, these are not courageous people. These are just people who follow the trends and who just say net-zero because nobody is opposing them. But if you just point out, look, this is incredibly unfair for you to do this, for you to hold us back, we have every right to do this and you are wrong for stopping us. I believe that these guys are going to back down.
And if they start to threaten you behind the scenes, I would say publicize it. If you're getting threatened behind the scenes and people are saying, “Hey, we're going to cut off this.” Tell the world, bring in a tape recorder, I always record anything I'm having with somebody who's possibly going to threaten me. Really, if the world learns that the West is telling Africa not to use fossil fuels and holding back Africa's aspirations that will look terrible. One thing I can say for sure as somebody who's been a lifelong resident in the US who knows US and European culture really well is the number one thing that Western officials are afraid of is looking bad in two ways. There are two aspects of this. They're afraid of being anti-poor and they're afraid of being seen as in any way anti-people who are non-white. These are the two things.
If you look in the US, we will get destroyed. If your views are anti-poor or anti-black, you'll absolutely get wrecked. And yet, what is the net-zero policy? It's the most anti-poor, anti-non-white policy that has ever been conceived in history. And I do believe you can, and you should call it racist, and I do not use that term lightly, but I believe that what's happening is people don't really believe and it's really disgusting, but they don't really believe that Africans want progress. A lot of the West doesn't believe... they think Africans, they don't really care about having a lot of energy. They don't want progress. They don't want modern life. They just want to stay the same way that they've always lived. I know for a fact this isn't true. It's demeaning. But this is... How else could you justify these policies of saying... I mean, 3 billion people use less electricity than a typical American refrigerator. Vast majority of those people are in Africa. How can you justify keeping people in poverty?
The only way they justify it is they think people in poverty don't really want prosperity. That's disgusting and that's racist, and you can call that out. So my belief is if you can really just be confident and say, “Hey, we have a right to develop. We have a right to prosper.” Don't do compromises, don't agree with this idea of energy transition. No, it's about energy expansion. That's the number 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 priority. Then I think you can make a big difference. And what I'll say just before to the discussion is just as I help for free 200 major offices in America, anyone in Africa who wants to do the right thing and fight, I offer my services free of charge. I'll help you with the right messaging. I'll give you the points you need.
I think this is good for two reasons. One is it'll be really good for Africa, and that's just a really good thing. And I love Africa and I just love to see people succeed. But I have a really selfish reason as well, which is I think Africa has by far the best chance of standing up to this net-zero movement that threatens everyone. I think the net-zero movement threatens the rich world, the poor world, everyone, everything I care about, and I believe that Africans standing up to it is not only an Africa's interest, is going to help save the world from this mass destructive movement that everyone is following like lemmings. So I want to do whatever I can to help with that. And I hope some of you join me. So thank you very much. So sitting here?
Yes. Give him another round of applause. Let's chat a little bit further to things that you said. And there are millions of youth on the African continent who are looking for a better world in terms of the environment, but then they also want Africa to develop and prosper. So how do we balance this? Because the continent is populated…
Sorry, what was the last part of it? You said the continent is populated by what?
Mostly by youth. Young people. And they want to see development on the continent. They want to see prosperity and they want to live in the world that is much better in terms of climate issues.
I think the... So if you want the world to be a better place to live in terms of having more of an opportunity to have a long life, a healthy life, a safe life, also a life with more opportunity, higher environmental quality, better ability to enjoy nature, everything that I think human beings care about, energy is fundamental to all of those things. Because the lower cost of energy is, the lower cost it is to use machines, and machines are what make us productive and prosperous, without machines, the world is very inhospitable to humans. It's a more natural place and it's a worse place. The more we use machines, the more we live in an abundant and safe world. I think though that... So the more energy you use... And people have this idea that, well, energy is good, but then it hurts the environment. But if you think about environment in a human sense, energy helps our environment. For example, I mentioned energy keeps us safe from climate disasters. So here's a question. Are we better off climate-wise today than we were a hundred years ago?
Does anyone here want to live in the climate a hundred years ago with that technology? Raise your hand. Okay, so if you care about climate from a human perspective, then there's no trade-off. Fossil fuels have been good because the climate-related benefits are so much more significant. Or take clean water, for example. How do we get clean water? Nature doesn't just give us Evian and Perrier all over the place, right? It gives us clean water, doesn't exist all that many places. Water is naturally dirty. So we need to purify using energy and it's naturally distant, so we need to pump it using energy. So I think there's this false idea of, oh, we care about energy, but we care about the environment. We have to balance them. It's really if you want a better life, you want more energy, then you want to minimize unnecessary pollution from it.
But I don't think Africa should be concerned about CO2 right now. It should just not be a priority. One thing is it's totally not within your control. The only way to actually reduce CO2 is long term, if you want it to be humanly, this long term and doing it with innovation, so innovating in nuclear, innovating in geothermal, et cetera. That's not what is going to happen in Africa in the near future. Once Africa becomes really prosperous, that's great. Then Africa can lead in the development of new technologies. The wealthier world is going to lead in the development of new technologies, but Africa should only be using the technologies that are cost-effective now and for the foreseeable future.
I'm sorry, everyone involved in green hydrogen, but Africa should not be focused on green hydrogen, which is totally unproven. It should be focused on using things including coal, like coal is the best way for most countries to get electricity, the poorest countries to get electricity. So if the youth are concerned about... If you're weighing at all, let's reduce CO2 emission, but let's get energy, stop that. That's a bad... You don't want to be balancing that at all. Just focus on the energy.
Interesting. One of the forms of energy being talked about to help Africa's poor communities that are far from villages and towns across the continent is to use solar energy. And create an off-grid access form of energy here, do you think we'll be able to get this to the people at the speed that which we can use oil and gas to catalyze their access to energy at very low-cost level?
I mean the uses of solar... So solar has certain uses that are valid and it may have more going forward, but it has the basic unreliability problems. So a lot of the cases I see where people talk about solar, they're talking about very, very small-scale use. Like, “Oh, let's power some lights, let's power a radio.” And if that's just an intermediate thing to help people a little bit, if you view it that way, that's fine, but it's too often viewed as this is a solution.
And again, I think that has a racist component to it because if no one in the US would think it's okay for me to just have enough energy to power some lights and a flashlight or something like that and a radio, we need real energy. And so these tiny little solar things are not going to do it. What you need is more industrialization. More cities need real energy and we have... I'm not an expert in how to do every aspect of development, but we do need to learn from all the success stories. We've had country after country go from poverty to prosperity by using fossil fuels and by having better political institutions. And I think that's the thing to learn from.
Interesting. When you look at the amount of oil under the ground close to 130 billion barrels of oil still under the ground, there's so much, trillion cubits of gas that haven't been harvested by Africa. So the question is what are the implications if all of these are left untouched under the ground, I'll just move on?
It's so insane that this is on the table to leave it underground when the implications are you just deprive yourself of a huge amount of potential prosperity, right? These are oil and natural gas, two of the most valuable things in the world. Everyone is desperate for them, particularly right now. We had shortages of both. All things being equal, it's really good to produce them domestically if you can. One is, it's a major revenue source. Two, if you can add things like refining capacity domestically, it can be a major energy source domestically. So that's exciting as well. So I think it's just obviously a huge opportunity that you don't want to let go. But I would go broader than that because the real opportunity is the opportunity to use fossil fuels to prosper. As I said before, even if you don't have fossil fuels domestically, you still need it to power modern lives.
If you look at how so many countries have been successful they've had a business-friendly environment and they've welcomed affordable energy. And so then people build factories for example, and they make the labor much more productive and the place gets a lot more productive. We've seen this in country after country after country. So you need that business-friendly environment and you need the freedom to use fossil fuels. It doesn't really matter if Singapore doesn't have any domestic fossil fuels because they can just import them. As long as they have a business-friendly environment and the freedom to use fossil fuels, they can prosper. So whether it's... Yes, of course, the nations that have abundant resources should use them, but everyone should be using fossil fuels to industrialize.
So we're just heading to COP28 and what would be your key message for COP28? What do you think Africa's narrative should be at COP28?
My key message for COP28 is: withdraw from the Paris Agreement. That sounds out there, but why would you ever sign this agreement? I mean, I know some of the reasons why, but the reason why is usually not good. I mean, this is an agreement that in its current interpretation says you have to rapidly eliminate fossil fuel use in the next 27 years. This is just a death sentence. China's not following it. They have 300 coal plants in the pipeline designed to last 40+ years. India's not following it. But they're trying to get Africa to follow it. And if it even slows down your progress 50% that is ruining hundreds of millions of lives. So this is the thing, I think... And if anyone knows any leaders who are talking about this, if there were three African governments that said we withdraw from the Paris Agreement, you would save the world.
You would save the world from the destruction of this maniacal movement because you would break the monopoly that they have. So I don't know if it's possible to get anyone to do this. Again, I'm happy to talk to anyone. Email me email@example.com. I'll help you in any way I can. But I'm just telling you morally what's right. I mean, I'm just asking for three. I would love it if all the African leaders did, but this is just a death sentence for the globe. It makes no sense at all. And why do it? Because what? Because they're going to let you use a little fossil fuels. Well, that's not enough. Does anyone believe you're going to get a hundred billion dollars a year indefinitely? First of all that was promised, it didn't happen. And the world is going to make itself poorer and poorer.
We're having a global economic crisis based on a global energy crisis that's based on just a tiny implementation of net-zero. We haven't even reduced fossil fuel use under net-zero, we've just slowed the growth. We caused a global energy crisis with all sorts of inflation problems. Do you really think that when wealthy nations are having huge economic problems, they're going to just dump a hundred billion dollars a year? That's definitely not going to happen.
And by the way, to say another controversial thing, I don't think it's justified. I don't think that climate reparations are a thing. I think what the West should apologize for is anything it does to slow progress in the rest of the world. Like our anti-GMO stuff that's shameful. Our anti-fossil fuel stuff is shameful. Our anti-hydro stuff is shameful. But our fossil fuel use has been good for the world. Our fossil fuel use has raised the life expectancy of everyone. We've decreased the climate-related death for everyone. So I don't believe in climate reparations morally. And they're sure as hell not happening practically. So there's nothing to lose and everything to gain in standing up to this movement and withdrawing from this Paris Agreement. And if you get threatened behind the scenes, again, expose them.
I'm trying to wrap this up as a business journalist. And I sat in this room yesterday evening for a couple of hours with the African Petroleum Producers’ Organization, the executives, secretary general. And the APPO is moving towards a few initiatives to support and further push for Africa's energy sovereignty. For example, the setup of the African Energy Bank as well as getting Africa's head of state government to sit together and provide a political leadership and support that the private sector and Africa's energy organizations and public decisions will be. What more do you think the continent can do to ramp up on the road to energy sovereignty, while energy transition, which you call energy to expansion, should go hand in hand?
There's a lot more that can be done. So what can be done domestically and then what can be done internationally. I think domestically, and this is not something I know as much about, but I know enough in broad strokes, is that you want as much political reform as possible to make African nations business-friendly places to be. That is very important to do. So I'm a big fan, if you don't know her, Magatte Wade, a Senegalese entrepreneur, she has a new book coming out, The Heart of a Cheetah, which I just started reading. She's very much on the same team in terms of more free markets, more capitalism. I know NJ is in this camp as well. I think that is important. Very, very important. So if you want to know what more can you do, it's not just about developing the resources, it's about changing the government for the better so that more people want to invest here, more people want to work here, et cetera.
So there's that element of it. And internationally, which is the thing I know more about is having a different posture instead of just saying, “Hey, we want to just transition. Let us do this. Let us do this. We promise you revenues.” Proudly saying, “No, we are open for business. We want to be great producers. We're investing in this. We're doubling down in this.” If you do that, you'll find people who will be drawn to you. Nobody is inspired by the idea of, hey, we're going to do a little bit of fossil fuels. But if you say, “We're committed to our development, our prosperity, we embrace fossil fuels.” I know of lots of billionaires around the world who would love that. I know of lots of pro-freedom politicians in the US who would love that. They're not noticing you right now because the messaging is so weak. I know it's stronger than it used to be and congratulations for that. But it should be 10 times stronger. A proud, confident Africa will attract investment, will attract support from pro-freedom politicians, and it will attract respect.
A very strong memory that we have to take from that. Thank you.
In terms of free giveaways. We have, I love fossil fuels pins over there. Please wear them proudly. And then all the remarks I've made, all the information, please go to our website, alexepstein.substack.com. It has my basic remarks here and it has the talking points that you need to defend African energy freedom. And again, my email is firstname.lastname@example.org if anyone wants to get in touch with me.
Thank you very much. Thanks once again.
EnergyTalkingPoints.com: Hundreds of concise, powerful, well-referenced talking points on energy, environmental, and climate issues.
“Energy Talking Points by Alex Epstein” is my free Substack newsletter designed to give as many people as possible access to concise, powerful, well-referenced talking points on the latest energy, environmental, and climate issues from a pro-human, pro-energy perspective.