“Those of us who benefit from [fossil fuels] in the United States should really have some sympathy for those in Puerto Rico – not to mention the rest of the world which is really, really poor – and we should do nothing to prevent them from using the most cost-effective energy possible,” Epstein said. the House Natural Resources Committee last year. In a debate last month with a prominent climate scientist, he claimed that “this modern green movement, I believe, is fundamentally immoral and in practice harms the poorest people in the world.”
The question of how much fossil fuels developing countries can use has emerged as a flashpoint in global climate negotiations, as countries strive to cut greenhouse gas emissions as quickly as possible. possible. Scientists warn that at the current rate, the world will have to stop burning fossil fuels by 2030 if it is to limit global warming to more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels. But the question remains whether developing countries, from India to Barbados, should continue to extract the same fossil fuels that fueled the industrialization of rich countries.
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The defense of fossil fuels that Epstein helped inject into this debate has already been dismissed by critics as ethnocentric and paternalistic. Now they are pointing to recently resurfaced articles he wrote in 1999 while in college that viewed non-Western cultures as inferior, saying they raise further questions about whether his argument was rooted in a “moral” concern for developing countries or whether it was a cynical attempt to promote the use of oil, coal and natural gas.
Epstein was editor and publisher of the Duke Review, a conservative student newspaper, from 1999 to 2001. In a March 1999 article, Epstein wrote that students should be required to take courses on Western civilization, according to a copy of the article provided to The Washington Post from Documented, an investigative group that claims “the urgent dangers of climate change are being downplayed or ignored.”
Without mentioning race or ethnicity, he asserted that the achievements of Western culture far surpass those of other cultures.
“Just compare New York to Chad,” he wrote. “No advantage can be gained by focusing an education on anti-reason cultures, their only academic merit lies in their contrast to Western civilization as models of inferiority.”
Critics of Epstein said his academic writing undermined his case for fossil fuels.
Epstein and other advocates are “suddenly concerned about poverty in Africa when it has to do with the politics they want to foster,” said Robert Brulle, a visiting professor at Brown University who studies climate misinformation. “Epstein clings to this argument to try to morally defend fossil fuels, when there are many alternatives to lift these people out of poverty. … For me, it is also a colonialist attitude.
Epstein defended his academic writings after being contacted by The Post last week. He caught on Twitter to criticize the paper and a journalist by name and claimed that The Post was engaged in a “smear campaign” to discredit his work and called for the journalist to be fired.
In an email, Epstein said a story centered on his academic writings was “so unconscionable in terms of fake content, terrible methodology and bad motives.” When asked to clarify which parts of the information provided he believed were false, he declined to comment further.
In his Twitter feed last week, Epstein said his criticism of non-Western cultures was unrelated to race or ethnicity. “I made it clear that I believe culture, which is basically *ideas*, is totally different from skin color!” he wrote.
He maintained the argument he made in college.
“I think western culture is superior overall and certainly in terms of government historically, because that’s really the birth of modern freedom,” he added in a YouTube video criticizing The Post for inquiring about his articles.
A self-proclaimed philosopher and energy theorist, Epstein occupies several perches that have put him in a position to influence the national debate on climate and energy policy. GOP lawmakers have invited Epstein to testify before Congress three times, while other Republicans have cited his work in public policy debates. He is due to speak at a conference in June sponsored by oil giant Chevron and is a member of the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission, a powerful body that advocates for the “responsible development” of oil and gas resources in 38 states. . .
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Wayne Christian, a Republican member of the Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates the state’s oil and gas industry, praised Epstein and his ideas.
Epstein “is one of the most eloquent voices fighting for cheap, plentiful and reliable energy,” Christian said in an email. “At a time when government, education and financial institutions are attacking fossil fuels, Alex provides the ammunition to combat myths and presents common-sense solutions that ensure human flourishing is a priority in our politics. energy.”
Epstein runs the Center for Industrial Progress, which he describes as a “for-profit think tank.” Although he does not disclose his sources of funding, he acknowledged that fossil fuel companies have paid him for consultancy services, saying: “If there is an oil company that wants to fight for its freedom , then she could come and see us.”
Epstein’s argument that burning fossil fuels won’t cause serious harm – he said last month that “there are huge benefits” from rising temperatures – runs counter to the conclusions. leading scientists, who say the world must quickly phase out fossil fuels and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. to avoid worsening floods, heat waves and other climatic disasters.
Over the past decade, Epstein has offered prominent climate scientists and journalists significant honorariums to debate him publicly, according to those interviewed. Andrew Dessler, a professor of atmospheric sciences at Texas A&M University, confronted Epstein last month at the Steamboat Institute, a conservative nonprofit in Steamboat Springs, Colorado.
In comments to a member of the Steamboat Institute after the debate, Epstein said that “with [carbon dioxide] you understand, yes, it has a warming effect. But even some of that is good, and there’s nothing like disaster.
The moral case defended by Epstein is one that has been adopted by several conservative policymakers.
“Look those people in the eye who are starving and say, ‘You can’t have electricity because as a society we’ve decided fossil fuels are bad,'” Rick Perry said during of a major energy conference, CERAWeek, in Houston in March 2018, when he was US Secretary of Energy. “I think it’s immoral.”
Epstein took credit for inspiring Perry in a later speech at the Ayn Rand Institute, a nonprofit think tank that promotes the libertarian writer’s philosophy.
“We were meeting that morning and [Perry] said, ‘Hey, did you hear my speech? I was basically – I was giving your ideas,” Epstein said.
Senator John Barrasso (Wyo.), the top Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, also cited Epstein’s views. “He says you can’t be a humanitarian and condemn the energy that humanity needs,” Barrasso told a 2017 hearing.
Epstein also sought to influence state lawmakers. As millions of Texans were left without power during a winter storm in February 2021, Epstein emailed Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s (R) chief of staff: ‘The root cause of the power outages TX is a national and state policy that has prioritized the adoption of unreliable wind/solar power over reliable power.
Abbott, along with other conservatives, blamed renewables for grid failures. The governor said on Fox News on Feb. 16, 2021 that “our wind and solar stopped” during the storm. Independent experts have refuted this claim, concluding that the outages were largely caused by frozen gas pipelines. Abbott’s office did not respond to a request for comment on whether the governor was influenced by Epstein’s email.
Although developing countries need better access to affordable energy, they shouldn’t turn to fossil fuels, said Jacqui Patterson, founder and executive director of the Chisholm Legacy Project. The group – named after Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman elected to Congress – seeks to help black communities fight climate change.
“I share a commitment to addressing energy poverty, and I share the level of urgency around doing so,” said Patterson, who previously led the NAACP’s Environmental and Climate Justice Program. “But we don’t want to do it in a way that hurts the Global South more – not just with the climate impacts of burning fossil fuels, but also the environmental health impacts.”