I LOVE this idea! The thing that bothers me most about Fossil Future is that it confirms all my biases. That's a real red flag for me. I can't possibly be that right about anything!

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I think you mean you can't possibly be right about everything. I'm sure you're right about some things.

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a better interpretation: "It is not possible that everything I believe on a given subject exactly correlates with reality." It's much less pithy, though.

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"I can't possibly be _that right_ about [a given subject area]!"

Vagaries of language.

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Epstein does not challenge the basic premise that rising CO2 levels have increased global temperature, though he does challenge the more apocalyptic predictions. Rather, he argues that no matter whether earth gets warmer, cooler, or stays the same, there is no substitute for the use of fossil fuels to advance human flourishing and achieve "climate mastery" -- i.e., the ability to cope with climate problems no matter what they might be.

At root his argument is not about the science but about the moral premises we use to interpret the science -- specifically, about (1) the importance of a pro-human moral perspective and (2) the fallacy of focusing solely on the negative side-effects of fossil fuel use while ignoring their enormous life-or-death benefits.

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Agree. A worthy philosophical debate, if honestly conducted, would be on the question: "Are fossil fuels bad? Are renewable fuels good?"

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I've thought a lot about Epstein's book, but there are still many things that I wish I had more time to look into. Here are a few nominations:

1. Epstein waves away research on 100% renewable energy systems without any serious engagement. Maybe start with https://ieeexplore.ieee.org/document/9837910 and related sources.

2. The greening/fertilization effect is brought up frequently in Fossil Future. The impact on food systems and ultimately human well being is way more complex than "green goes up" and it would be nice to read a more measured analysis. Not sure where to start reading with this one.

3. Epstein talks exhaustively about the historical benefits of fossil fuels, but never talks about the economic orders and coercion that brought about such dominance. Would be interesting to contrast Malm's "Fossil Capital" (sorry, not exactly short) with the libertarian ideals of "Fossil Future".

I would warn that limiting yourself to "narrow" empirical issues may be inadequate. The climate system as a whole is too complex and interconnected. Epstein clearly uses this fact to curate topics that support his biases. Instead of responding only auditing topics found in Fossil Future, it's important to also look at Epstein's omissions (as per his own advice).

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Epstein says that climate models are excessively pessimistic.

These links argue that they have been accurate.



There is a further argument that models are underpredicting or failing to foresee some of the bad things happening now, indicating that the consequences of climate change are worse than these models state. Supposedly the “heat domes” seen in the West in 2021, which caused prolonged temperatures of over 120 F in some places, were not foreseen by any climate model. Last year was very bad for both droughts and flooding, depending on where you were. https://nypost.com/2022/08/28/pakistan-flooding-deaths-pass-1000-in-climate-catastrophe/

Relatedly, Epstein arguably understates challenges for fossil fuels. Morton Downey, Oil 101 (Wooden Table Press 2009) at 26, “Even in the most extreme optimistic scenario, conventional oil production will effectively cease to exist well before the end of this century – a fact even the most optimistic oil company agrees with.” Id. at 26. If that’s right, we’re going to have to replace fossil fuels no matter what.

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He never says the models are pessimistic, he says they fail to consistently predict accurately the warming up to now. He references this to the chart by John Christy showing how inconsistent all the models are and way higher than observational data. https://clintel.org/new-presentation-by-john-christy-models-for-ar6-still-fail-to-reproduce-trends-in-tropical-troposphere/

As for such extreme events like het domes, floods and droughts, he explains how climate mastery made possible by fossil fuels reduces their impact (air conditioning, irrigation ). There are many more cold weather deaths than hot water deaths, and very few where air conditioning is common. If India and Pakistan had many more coal and gas power plants, there would be much higher availability of air conditioning and electricity to run irrigation pumps.

I think you mean Marlan Downey not Morton the talk show host, whose peak oil worries were long ago proven spectacularly wrong.

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Yes, I’ve read the book, otherwise I wouldn’t have written a comment. I thought it was good. Nevertheless--Epstein says the models are not accurate. Other sources say they are accurate. He does not explain so much as assert that all future consequences of climate change are masterable. He doesn’t discuss heat domes, or permafrost melting, or various other potentially catastrophic events. And I mean Morgan Downey -- Morton was a typo. Downey is a commodities trader, no blind enemy of fossil fuels. https://www.theinvestorspodcast.com/episodes/oil-101-with-morgan-downey/. I got his book on the recommendation of someone at VITOL. Downey thinks the oil industry is on its way out because oil is becoming uneconomical to extract, even apart from its climate impacts.

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Jan 7, 2023·edited Jan 7, 2023

I think if you accept Epstein's philosophical framework, then there is only really two ways he could be wrong: Either he could underestimate the cost of unmitigated climate change, or he could overestimate the cost of switching to a renewable energy source. There seems to be plenty of people arguing that he does both.

1. The cost of switching to an energy system based on wind/solar.

Epstein claims that switching to a pure wind/solar energy system would be prohibitively expensive. Essentially based on the fact that no such energy system currently exist.

But there are plenty of people arguing that such a system is not only possible, but quite affordable. I would start with this review of 100% renewable energy systems: https://ieeexplore.ieee.org/document/9837910

2. The economic costs of unmitigated climate change

Epstein seems to dismiss most of the evidence for high climate costs, because he doesn't trust our "knowledge system" that produces it. But that excuse seems dubious, given how diverse the group of people, who warn us about these costs, really is.

I remember the Stern Review, which argued that the annual GDP loss could eventually be as high as 20%. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stern_Review

But there are also reports from Deloitte or SwissRe, who similarly project massive losses in GDP. https://www.deloitte.com/global/en/about/press-room/deloitte-research-reveals-inaction-on-climate-change-could-cost-the-world-economy-us-dollar-178-trillion-by-2070.html


A look at the wikipedia page for the economic impacts of climate change generally show quite scary numbers as well, or numbers that at the very least might be higher than the cost of switching energy system.


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I'm not sure if Epstein commented on this or not, as I haven't finished the book yet, but I have seen claims that "arable land" will be reduced, causing famines. I think the opposite is true.

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I would like to see a lot about nuclear energy as well: safety, waste storage and scalability.

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My impression is that Epstein would say that if we go by experience so far, these are not a problem. The question is, can we assume things will stay the same (or get better)?

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He doesn’t say that arable land would be reduced, he does explain how much more land is needed for solar and wind compared to fossil fuel or nuclear electricity generation. He does explain that agricultural output is made possible by fossil fuels, because without them fertilizer and efficient harvesting and transportation would be much less efficient.

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I guess I am asking the wrong thing. What I meant is that I've heard claims that arable land will be reduced and we will all starve. I was curious if he addressed that claim and if so if his rebuttal is accurate.

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Nuclear is a dangerous/not-dangerous source compared to existing (and pie-in-the-sky) alternatives. I am convinced that it's the best option we have to address global warming. Is this wrong?

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I researched the issue a bit when completing my MBA a few years ago. The problem with nuclear fission IMO is at a few levels:

1) Cost - The nuclear plants are insanely expensive to build...although Korea built three plants right next to one another with some interesting findings. As would surprise no one in business, the cost of building the 3rd reactor was 40% of the cost of building the 1st one...because of learnings. And yeah, America's nuclear reactors seem to be custom build jobs at each location...and yes, I'm implying that we could save a fortune (and probably improve safety and lower the regulatory nightmare that certainly impacts the cost) if we built the same reactor everywhere.

2) Availability of nuclear fuel - While there is a lot of good research in alternatives and/or more efficient uses to/of uranium, uranium is currently the go-to fuel source. If we replaced ALL carbon based energy plants with nuclear reactors, it appears we only have enough uranium to power maybe 1% of those plants. And even if we assume the information I read is biased as heck by a factor of 50, that still means we can only power 50% of those nuclear reactors.

3) Consistency - Nuclear plants have the same 'category' of advantage/problem as large solar power operations. If there is a large, steady demand for energy, then (assuming nuclear fuel and 24 hours of sunlight), those energy producing operations can produce a lot of energy. But what happens when you need 60% of what you were expecting because of cool summers or warm winters? Well, now you have this massive fixed cost thing that wasn't designed to be run at 60% of its capacity. And if you need MORE capacity, it's expensive to add capacity to an existing nuclear plant.

I'm still a fan of nuclear - especially given the somewhat good news about the recent fusion tests that would allow us to completely skip the radioactive waste problem - but, as usual, things are more complicated than most people realize.

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1. As Alex explains in chapter 10 of the book, the high costs are mostly due to the needlessly strict safety standards NLT and ALARA which the NRC imposed after the unscientific environmentalists’ response to the Three Mile Island incident, making the over-engineering about 1000x that of an equivalent gas generation plant.

Reasonable safety standards and other regulations as well as modularization/ standardization would reduce costs but the NRC needs to change focus to supporting safe nuclear instead of the current focus which is to never approve a new design.

2. The IAEA says known reserves are over 8 million tons and enough to meet high range estimates of global demand through 2040. There is also thorium and recycling fuel through breeder reactors.

3. I don’t know of any 24 hour solar plants except in earth orbit, so they are inherently intermittent. Nuclear is best for base load operations, but reducing output seems possible, I don’t think aircraft carriers or submarines turn off their reactors when they aren’t moving and suffer no ill effects. Since most nuclear power plants are built near the sea, one great use of surplus power would be adjacent desalinization plants.

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Morton Downey's Oil 101, which I cite elsewhere in the comments, agrees with your #2. He says that it would be necessary to built 4,000 1.5 GW plants to completely offset current oil use. Those plants would deplete currently known uranium reserves in just over 10 years. See id. at 26-27.

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I am not an accountant or economist, but I think I read that reserves in this sense just means 'amount of stuff extractable at a known specific price', and the uranium resources could potentially be many times larger

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I think you mean Morgan, not Morton Downey. I don’t think anyone wants to replace all oil with nuclear, especial Alex Epstein.

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I assume Michael Shellenberger and many others would be delighted to replace all fossil fuels with nuclear, and I would be too, though I'd be even happier to see it all replaced with geothermal, which I assume is at least 3x more likely.

Shellenberger's book, Apocalypse Never, is fun, by the way.

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Anybody would welcome an audit, if the auditor is up to the job. He's bound to have made mistakes in a 300+ page book, and unlike those in the alarmist community, will have more gratitude than chagrin that you've tried to improve the book.

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1) Chapter 5, the section titled "Ultra-Cost-Effective Mobile Energy"

Quotation: "Take cargo ships, the enormous machines that transport most international goods, which are 12 percent of mobile energy."

Claim: Cargo ships are 12 percent of mobile energy

Epstein's source says that all marine vessels in 2012 accounted for 12% of transportation energy consumption. Note that cargo ships are a subset of marine transportation. Marine transportation also included passenger vessels like ferries and cruise ships.

The distinction is important because passenger vessels have much shorter routes than cargo vessels and need to store less energy. There are some attempts to use alternative fuels for passenger vessels.

2) Chapter 5, the section titled "The Second Ingredient. . ."

Quotation: "Natural gas. . .is easy to transport cost-effectively via pipeline overland, but not so much over water (though this is improving with 'liquified natural gas'"

Problem: LNG shipping costs can be very low.

One source (https://www.insidelogistics.ca/opinions/lng-shipping-costs/) put the January 2020 cost of shipping LNG from the US to Japan at $1 / mmBtu. That is $3.41 / MWh.

Compared to the cost of electricity it generates, that is low. The October 2021 estimates for the cost of energy (https://www.lazard.com/media/451881/lazards-levelized-cost-of-energy-version-150-vf.pdf) put the cost of natural gas (labeled "gas combined cycle") at $45-74 / MWh in the US.

3) Chapter 5, the section titled "The Second Ingredient. . ."


Any competitor to silicon would have to overcome two hurdles.

One, silicon has remarkable natural properties as a semiconductor. . . Two, the modern microchip industry has spent generations figuring out specifically how to harness the properties of silicon in every kind of microchip imaginable, from computer microprocessors to the chips in smartphones to the chips in your car.

Problem: The semiconductor industry regularly uses materials other than silicon.

One of the first commercial semiconductors was lead sulfide used in crystal radios invented in 1906. A common, and earliest diode is the germanium diode.

About a dozen other semiconducting materials are used as alternatives to silicon but use the same industrial and technology base as silicon semiconductors. Semiconductor processing is not very specific to silicon. Growing silicon ingots is an exception.

Relevant to the power industry, SiC and GaN are used for high-power devices. The transistors used for high voltage DC transmission and many electric cars are SiC. GaN is growing in this market.

This is an important point because, throughout the chapter, Epstein ignores that much of the electrical power system is shared regardless of the power source. This is very analogous to how SiC devices can use the same technology and manufacturers as Si semiconductors.

In the electrical system, the entire transportation and distribution system is used regardless of the fuel source. That system is a component of consumer electrical costs. An important exception is on-site solar.

4) Chapter 5, the section titled "The Second Ingredient. . ." in the list of "four key elements of modern electricity's cost-effectiveness."

Quotation: "The leading fuel for peaking power is natural gas, which as a gas, is far either to rapidly adjust than a solid fuel like coal."

Problem: The real reason has nothing to do with the type of fuel and all to do with the plant design and economics. Peaking power plants are designed to provide peak power (energy per unit time) at a minimum cost. Baseload power plants are designed to provide energy at the lowest cost. This is a capital cost vs. operating cost tradeoff.

Currently, gas turbines are the most common peaking power plant because of the low capital cost to make a high-powered turbine plant. Before shale gas, they were oil powered turbines. In fact, many current turbines (like https://www.ge.com/gas-power/products/gas-turbines/7e) are designed to switch between natural gas and oil while running.

There are examples (like https://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy14osti/60575.pdf) where baseload coal plants were modified to be peaking plants with small physical modifications. This example uses a typical coal-fired boiler to run a steam turbine. It can turn on and off four times a day and lower its output from 480 MW to 90 MW. But, it takes over an hour to start. That is not as good as a gas turbine that can turn on and off within a minute.

It is true that coal is not a great fit for gas turbines. But, the problem is with the impurities in coal that do not burn and build up ash in the turbine ("Coal-fired gas turbine and ash separation system" https://doi.org/10.1016/0016-2361(95)00301-0). This is a problem with coal and not with it being a solid.

5) Chapter 5, the section titled "The Second Ingredient. . ." in the list of "four key elements of modern electricity's cost-effectiveness."

Quotation: "The steadiness [of peaking power] contributes to cost-effectiveness by using energy extremely efficiently."

Problem: Load-following and peaking power plants can be as efficient as baseload plants.

See problem #4 where the same baseload plant was modified to operate as a peaking plant. The changes made were completely unrelated to the efficiency of the plant.

Combined cycle plants are the most efficient plants. They are a combination of a gas turbine like on a jet aircraft and a steam turbine like on a coal plant that is heated by the gas turbine exhaust. They convert heat into rotational energy at up to 60% efficiency. They are used for both base load and peaking power plants. However, they are more commonly used for baseload and they are not as good at following fast changes as gas turbines.

Using a combined cycle plant for peaking power is like having a standard, peaking gas turbine connected with a steam turbine that is operated like a peaking plant.

The best reference I could find for peaking combined cycle plants is an article talking about how to make them better (https://doi.org/10.1016/j.applthermaleng.2016.12.004). I suspect this is a case where industry developed the capability so there are few academic citations.

Problems #4 and #5 appear to be caused by attributing economics and commercial agreements to technologies.

I think there are larger problems with omitted factual statements and analytic flaws. But, you asked for concrete facts.

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On point 2) (LNG transportation cost), the price drop experienced in 2020 (per mmBtu) was related to the excess offer in a time where demand shrunk due to measures put in place to handle the pandemic (according to the source you linked).

I think we should also need to take into account what would happen (already happened?) to transportation cost as soon as demand start to go up again.

Other than that I wonder if in the the above cost is taken into account also the amount of natural gas that got wasted during the process to liquify the gas itself and to de-liquify it on arrival.

One last datapoint to consider, which I don't know if it was, is CO2 emission: e.g. for the UK shipping LNG from Qatar to generate electricity emits 3 times more CO2 than using North Sea instead.

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I finally found a citation for the cost of transmitting and distributing electricity in the US:

U.S Energy Information Administration's "Annual Energy Outlook 2022," Table 8 (accessable at https://www.eia.gov/outlooks/aeo/data/browser/).

Is says that in 2021, the average cost of generating, transmitting, and distributing electricity was 7.2 c/kWh, 1.4 c/kWh, and 2.5 c/kWh respectively. That means that transmission and distribution accounted for 35% of the cost of electricity to consumers.

Table 7 is also a better breakdown of transportation fuel uses that Epstein's source pointing to 2012 all marine vessel source but is limited to the US. It says 3.8% of transportation fuel used for shipping (.08 quads for domestic shipping and .93 quads for international shipping out of 26.32 quads for all transportation).

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AE reports (Figure 2.1) "Hansen's predictions" from a newspaper, and finds them grossly inaccurate. However other reports (https://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2018/06/30-years-after-hansens-testimony/) produce a very different assessment. AE is using Hansen 1986, not the far-more-famous-1988, and I kinda suspect that isn't an accident. So the question is: has AE fairly reported Hansen's work around that time? (I'm also doubtful that the newspaper he relies on reported accurately; I would fault AE for not going back to the original). See-also http://mustelid.blogspot.com/2023/01/lets-audit-alex-epstein.html

AE also asserts that the SPMs grossly distort the underlying IPCC reports. This is a large charge, and an important one for him, but he is desperately thin on detail.

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Your suspicion about the newspaper reporting is right. Alex has promised a correction: https://twitter.com/AlexEpstein/status/1530343415052873728?s=20&t=A6qdaXwPPmDUyHVW5KjicA

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Thanks. But "the blame needs to be on the NYT" is poor: the buck rests with AE not the NYT: he should know better than to trust newspapers for science reporting, especially when the original is readily available. Notice also that he hasn't addressed the 1986 vs 1988 problem.

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Totally agree, and I wonder how Alex will be adjusting his worldview to align with this supposed correction 🤔.

Also I second the suggestion to look into IPCC. Anyone familiar with the IPCC reports knows how immensely detailed they are and Alex never touches most of their confident and dire warnings.

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I confess that I haven't read the book, but a review in Foreign Policy led me to a Google Books quote from page 333: "The reality of today's climate knowledge is that climate scientists lack the causal understanding of climate needed to make meaningful predictions". As far as I can tell, he's saying that about climate science in general (!), in which case you should audit this in the context of the bet you made with me about global average temperature (about which BTW my 2023 update is coming soon!): https://standupeconomist.com/2022-update-on-my-global-warming-traffic-light-bet-with-bryan-caplan-and-alex-tabarrok/ (Additional relevant readings include my Cartoon Introduction to Climate Change, 2nd ed, which---despite apparently not having enough about public choice theory for your taste!---has some good evidence and links about meaningful predictions from climate science. https://standupeconomist.com/#writings You could also, of course try the latest IPCC report. But start with our bet... which should be "meaningful" in the same way that the Simon-Ehrlich debate was! Cheers, Yoram Bauman PhD

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I applaud your audit.

I know of one issue that I didn’t notice him covering. It may be so unrealistic that he skipped it, or covered it in a sentence of two and I didn’t make the connection. Unfortunately, I have now forgotten which doomsayer brought this to my attention. I only noticed it mentioned once even outside the context of Epstein's book, which seems to indicate it is not considered significant even by those advising climate panic.

The idea is that climate patterns and structures, wind patterns and trade winds are nonlinear, and the changes in CO2 or temperature might cause a sudden change rather than a gradual shift. The result could change rainfall patterns and local climates, making many of our staple crops and workhorse agricultural areas less viable or unviable. Some places might become flooded, while previously fertile agricultural land becomes desperate for water, not due to temperature directly, but because rainfall patterns shift in the extreme, out of proportion.

This doesn’t seem completely implausible, though I’m not sure if it is based on anything other than speculation and motivated reasoning. Sounds like the sort of thing Taleb would worry about. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to give any hint about where the danger is exactly, besides advising extreme and probably unwarranted caution. How fast is that steamroller going, and are those nickels or gold doubloons lying in front of it?

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I think that he underestimates what markets and people can achieve with a price on co2 but that is not so specific. I think that maybe enhanced weathering might be a cost effective way to reduce co2.

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The causal relationship of GDP to exclusively energy is a significant bias. Sanitation, governance, communication all have played a role.

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Land use and cost required to be fully reliant on renewables (solar & wind)

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I haven't read Epstein's book but I'd love to see an audit of the claims that wind and solar are the cheapest ways to generate electricity when all costs are accounted for - e.g. transmission, redundancy required for a grid with substantial intermittent sources, etc.

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