How Should We Audit Alex Epstein?
Brought to you by approval voting.
Early this month, I asked readers to help me audit Alex Epstein’s Fossil Future:
Here’s what I propose: In the comments, nominate narrow empirical issues that you suspect Epstein covers in a biased manner. Tell me exactly what I should read on the other side, but try to keep the reading recommendations short.
Here are the suggestions I received, supplemented with complaints from this hostile review.
“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.” (Epstein’s hostile reviewer offers this source).
“Epstein says that climate models are excessively pessimistic. These links argue that they have been accurate.”
“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
“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.” [multiple links]
“Epstein's source says that all marine vessels in 2012 accounted for 12% of transportation energy consumption.”
“It is simply wrong that nuclear energy is an abundant energy source. Because of very limited availability of uranium, nuclear expansion is very improbable in future. Just one article about these issues:” https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0301421521002330
“Epstein misrepresents history and science and activism, whether by stating that ‘net zero’ means total fossil fuel elimination (which is definitionally not the case)…”
“…or spewing the pseudoscientific claim that only certain parts of the world will become warmer, which is good because humans like warmth.”
“But I’ll wind down by looking at another stat Epstein hitches his train to: the idea that ‘climate deaths’ have dropped over time. It’s difficult to count deaths that can be directly blamed on climate change, to be sure, as attribution science has been careful not to overstate such assumptions, while surveys of such deaths have bafflingly excluded causes of death like pollution.”
My plan is to do approval voting on Twitter starting today. Just vote “Yes” for as many of these nine audit proposals as you deem worthwhile, and I will look into whichever two get the most votes.
Thanks for your participation!
This is an outstanding list! Well, mostly.
I am a harsh critic (IMO) of the crazy wing of the climate movement (https://www.mattball.org/2023/01/climate-activists-are-to-blame-for-some.html) but I think the critic is right in many ways. E.g., #4 -- Epstein just hand-waves away the costs. Terrible argument.
Re: #6 uranium - pretty much anyone who is read in this knows breeder reactors create more fuel than they consume.
#1. CO2 as a fertilizer is pretty clear. Definitely true.
#3 The land use is the bigger problem with renewables:
We already see that with NIMBY stopping renewable projects.
#7 is interesting but not important. Epstein is hostile to the climate movement (as am I to an extent), but it isn't an important factual claim.
#8 It isn't unscientific in this way: climate change warms cold parts of the world more than hot parts; warms nights more than days; warms winter more than summer. On average.
#9. You can't lump pollution deaths in with climate deaths. Epstein is right, and the critic is just trying to move the goalposts.
Thanks for doing this, Bryan. Are you familiar with:
Yes on (in priority order):
3. costs of switching to wind/solar (very interested in this one)
4. climate costs
1. impact on food systems
2. accuracy of climate models
The rest seem not particularly important, and/or I think Epstein is probably right (e.g., pretty sure he's right about uranium abundance).
Note: (9) seems like a confusion of terms / talking past each other. I'm pretty sure Epstein is not talking about deaths from *climate change* but from *climate* and more broadly from weather. Deaths attributable to weather events, such as storms, floods, droughts, frosts, and heat waves, have definitely gone down over time.