On November 5, we watched a fascinating debate (see video above) on "The Ethics of Fossil Fuel Use," between award-winning author Bill McKibben of 350.org; and Alex Epstein of the fossil-fuel front group, the Center for Industrial Progress. The debate, held at Duke University, was a glaring demonstration of how detached from reality flacks for the fossil fuel lobby can be.
Here's a short summary of how the debate unfolded.
For his part, McKibben provided a long list of scientifically substantiated, factual assertions regarding how fossil fuels, while at one point a boon to people on this planet, have now come to the point where they pose an enormous risk. Just a few of these include ocean acidification, melting Arctic ice caps, and more powerful storms (e.g., Hurricane Sandy) threatening major coastal cities.
In stark contrast, Alex Epstein spent his time just making stuff up. Take this whopper: that it would somehow be "suicide" for humanity to move away from fossil fuels (e.g., 18th and 19th century technologies) and towards clean energy (e.g., 20th and 21st century technologies). Then there's this howler: that "climate-related deaths have gone down 98%" as carbon dioxide emissions have gone up. Huh? Finally, there's this pants-on-fire-false assertion by Epstein: that standards of living within countries and regions are directly related to their usage of fossil fuels. Yeah, tell that one to WVU Professor Michael Hendryx, whose research shows that heavier reliance on coal actually impoverishes host communities.
Now, all of this would be simply laughable - if it weren't so serious. For the clean energy industry, what this debate highlights is the extent to which the fossil fuel folks play this game to win, even if it involves spreading demonstrable falsehoods.
And that is exactly what Epstein did, brazenly, for over an hour in his debate with Bill McKibben a couple weeks ago. It's shameful, but then again, guys like Epstein aren’t paid by by their fossil fuel patrons to have a sense of shame.