Two recent books are timely and relevant – Alex Epstein’s Fossil Futures and Douglas Murray’s The War on the West. They crystallise why many Coalition supporters felt abandoned by the party in recent years, were disappointed with the ‘Net Zero by 2050’ commitment, are frustrated that the Culture Wars were not engaged with, and why they must remain defiant if the Coalition is to regroup in opposition and go on to lead Australia into the future.
Alex Epstein is an American philosopher who came to understand why the policies to shift from fossil fuels to renewables to achieve Net Zero are morally wrong, how fossil fuel use is vital to the world’s future, and how to make the case for that better future. It is based on an approach he calls ‘arguing to 100’:
‘Every argument to 100 includes three elements: A “100”: a moral goal one wants to move toward; A “-100”: a moral evil one wants to move away from; and a policy or policies to move toward 100 and away from -100.’
Our climate narrative has the moral goal of minimising human impact on nature by limiting Climate Change to 1.5 °C or 2 °C, which translates into cutting carbon dioxide emissions and Net Zero by 2050. That’s the 100, with -100 being a climate catastrophe. The policies are the energy transition from fossil fuels to renewables.
Most make the mistake of contesting this by what Epstein calls ‘arguing to 0’. They concede the moral goal and argue that the policies to achieve it are impractical. Morrison did that by adopting ‘Net Zero by 2050’ and talking about ‘technology not taxes’.
Epstein’s alternative is to reframe the moral goal from minimising impact to human flourishing. That’s his 100, with -100 being human suffering. His book implements his arguing-to-100 strategy.
‘To change the trajectory of the culture … we need to break the moral monopoly of the moral case for eliminating fossil fuels.’
Along the way, he shows how our ‘knowledge system’ is significantly distorting reality because it has adopted the minimise-impact goal and the false assumption that the Earth is a ‘delicate nurturer’. Epstein foregrounds the massive benefits we derive from fossil fuels and how their use enables us to live longer, healthier, more satisfying lives.
‘Fossil fuel energy’s side-effects haven’t made Earth unnaturally unliveable – fossil fuel energy’s benefits have made Earth unnaturally liveable.
Let’s be clear: eliminating human impact is an anti-human moral goal.’
Fossil fuels are our dominant energy source because they are abundant, concentrated, and stored. Of alternatives, only nuclear energy has these properties. Renewables like solar and wind harvest diffuse energy flows, not concentrated energy stores. They necessarily need large collection areas, sprawling infrastructures, and we must build the storage. Implemented at scale, their total system cost is necessarily high.
‘Solar and wind replacing fossil fuels isn’t a fantastic breakthrough; it’s a thoroughly dishonest fantasy – one that is used to advance anti-impact, anti-energy policies’
Epstein thinks nuclear can be part of our energy future, but its ‘decriminalisation’ will take time. Hence:
‘There are no near-term replacements for fossil fuels’ uniquely cost-effective energy production – only supplements.’
Doing a ‘full context’ assessment of fossil fuels benefits and side effects, including carbon dioxide emissions and their climate impacts, Epstein declares that ‘the climate case for catastrophe is over’.
‘Anyone … who makes a claim about catastrophe that involves eliminating fossil fuel use as a solution is not truly concerned with protecting human beings from catastrophe but rather with protecting unimpacted nature from the “catastrophe” of … human flourishing.’
With billions of people living without access to fossil-fuelled machine labour, and more billions still energy poor, Epstein concludes:
‘There is therefore a definitive moral case for a fossil future – for increasing fossil fuel use around the world without any restrictions on CO2 whatsoever.’
Energy and climate are not the Coalition’s only challenges. Many of us have sensed that something has been going wrong in our culture, but Murray says we haven’t realised the full scale of what is being attempted. Now ‘it has become clear that there is a war going on: a war on the West’.
‘It is a cultural war, and it is being waged remorselessly against the roots of the Western tradition and against everything good that the Western tradition has produced.’
Murray delivers a moral, learned, and courageous rebuttal of ‘anti-racism’, ‘decolonisation’, and the denigration of our history, religion, and culture. Following Nietzsche, he assesses the cultural war on the West as springing from resentment and the attendant desire for revenge, disguised as demands for social justice. He mounts a spirited defence of Western Civilisation and Enlightenment values.
We can bring Epstein and Murray together in Epstein’s ‘arguing to 100’ approach.
The post-1960s green-left has framed the West’s impact on nature and other cultures as ‘bads’. Its goal, the 100, is to minimise the West’s impacts on nature and other cultures. The policies are an energy transition, denigration of Western culture and ‘whiteness’, celebration of other cultures, open borders, diversity, inclusion, and equity.
Epstein makes it clear that minimising human impact is anti-human. What about minimising Western impacts on other cultures? Murray cites historian Eric Hobsbawm’s warning that:
‘Despite its downsides, the Enlightenment provides “the only foundation for all the aspirations to build societies fit for all human beings to live in anywhere on this earth”.’
To be anti-Western is to be anti-human in quite a profound way.
The Coalition should not make the mistake of ‘arguing to 0’ by not contesting Labor’s goals and branding itself as a more responsible manager of the journey, making it ‘Labor-lite’.
Dutton can build on the former government’s defence of our values to China, the Aukus partnership, and the Quad. Gutsy Ukraine is shaking the West out of its decline funk.
The energy crisis has put fossil fuel supply at the centre of security and economic strategy. By 2025, it will be even clearer that neither the European Union nor the United States of America will reach their 2030 emission reduction targets. The Net Zero by 2050 commitments will lose credibility and become transparently symbolic.
The contest of ideas the Coalition needs to engage with is the traditional Western enlightenment virtues versus the anti-human agendas being pushed by the green-left, which will deliver chaos, tribal warfare, and misery. Liberals need to promote the primacy of the individual, the family, and the goal of improving people’s lives, through Western virtues including reason and evidence, personal responsibility and prudence, respect for others (aka, the Golden Rule), the rule of law, free enterprise, and free speech. It’s time to stand up for ourselves.
Dr Michael Green has a PhD in Systems Engineering.
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