Fossil Fuel Immorality

Plumes of water vapor emit from the Tennessee Valley Authority Paradise Fossil Plant in Paradise, Kentucky, U.S., on Tuesday,
Plumes of water vapor emit from the Tennessee Valley Authority Paradise Fossil Plant in Paradise, Kentucky, U.S., on Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2013. The plant generates and delivers 14 billion kilowatt-hours of coal-fired electricity per year to Western Kentucky and Nashville, Tennessee. Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, has high praise for a new book contending that fossil fuels are the moral energy choice for the foreseeable future. Cato goes even so far as to suggest that the book may replace Rachael Carson's Silent Spring as the literary work with the most environmental impact.

I think not.

The book is titled The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels. It is written by Alex Epstein, director of the business-oriented Center for Industrial Progress, and it is sophistic drivel that turns a blind eye to global warming.

Epstein creates a straw man and misplaced immorality by insinuating that environmentalists want to get rid of fossil fuels, even if no suitable alternative is available. The impression is conveyed that solely for ideological reasons, the "greens" would leave humanity in the lurch without hesitation.

Epstein glosses over those "villainous" environmentalists readily acknowledging that fossil fuels must serve as a transitional source of power, even as such fuels are being phased out as expeditiously as possible in favor of clean, renewable energy.

Environmentalists also maintain that contrary to Epstein's narrative, the technology exists for the American economy to achieve 80 percent reliance on carbon-free solar, wind, and other renewable energy sources by 2050. If that sounds farfetched, note that Germany and Denmark are well on their way.

Epstein makes some outlandish assertions to support his claims of fossil fuels' superiority. Among them is his denial that extraction and use of coal, oil, and gas in any way "are destroying the planet." What about Louisiana's decimated coastal wetlands and Appalachia's missing mountain tops to name but a few of fossil fuels' many environmental desecrations?

Epstein demonizes nature to create a scenario in which fossil fuels come to the rescue. He declares that "nature gives us an environment full of organisms eager to kill us." But nature also gives us immune systems and naturally occurring therapeutic substances to counter these dangers.

Epstein celebrates that "fossil fuels are instrumental in purifying the air we breathe and the water we drink."

What was the cause of the pollution in the first place?

"Fossil fuels clean up a naturally dirty environment," says Epstein, "and protect us from an inherently dangerous climate." Really? The waters of a largely uninhabited continent were not naturally dirty when the early American pioneers arrived. Moreover, nature has a very efficient sanitation system, abetted by microbes in the soil, and insects and assorted scavengers above ground.

As for the "inherently dangerous climate," it is not all bad. Among other things, it provides us with the rainfall, sunlight, and solar warmth to grow our food, as well as the wind that spreads the seeds and scatters the volcanic-spewed ash to regenerate the soil.

At the end of the day--and his book--Epstein needs to ask himself what is moral about bequeathing an overheated, environmentally degraded planet to future generations.