Review of “Fossil Future” by Alex Epstein

Verdict: Must Read

In his book “Fossil Future: Why Global Human Flourishing Requires More Oil, Coal, and Natural Gas—Not Less,” Alex Epstein has written a thought-provoking argument that will leave readers with much to consider. I encourage everyone to read this book, especially those passionate about “green” causes. He offers novel insights into energy’s role in promoting human flourishing and how fossil fuels are essential for maintaining a robust and prosperous society. Moreover, he presents a virtually irrefutable case that eliminating fossil fuel use would be catastrophic on a global scale. It is an enlightening read that will challenge preconceived notions about the energy industry and its role in our lives. Epstein has presented a compelling case that will spark meaningful conversations on this timely topic. I am encouraging everyone I know to read this book immediately. Arguably, no more critical topic or urgent issue exists than the one presented within this book’s pages.

Book Summary

The thesis of Fossil Future is that fossil fuels are essential for human progress and vital to human flourishing. Even more compelling, Epstein makes the case that the elimination of fossil fuels would be devastating, resulting in apocalypse-level death and poverty on a global scale. This argument is worthy of serious consideration as it presents a critical counterpoint to the prevailing view that we must phase out fossil fuels to promote environmental sustainability. Epstein builds a case methodically, point by point, that our current knowledge systems (media, educational institutions, “experts,” etc.) have a biased framework that causes them to exaggerate the negative impacts of fossil fuels while ignoring all the benefits.

The author makes a persuasive case that fossil fuels have been hugely beneficial for humanity and that without them, we would be unable to achieve global human flourishing. Fossil fuels have enabled us to make enormous technological advances, providing unprecedented quality of life for millions worldwide. They have also been instrumental in providing affordable energy to developing countries, helping to lift them out of poverty and save and extend millions of lives.

The book is not an uncritical celebration of fossil fuels and openly acknowledges the environmental impacts they have caused. However, it argues that our ability to manage the negative side-effects of fossil fuel use is significant and that the upside of fossil fuels dwarfs the downside when viewed through a rational framework that considers all the pros and cons within the context of human flourishing.

The "Anti-Impact" Framework

On the subject of frameworks, Epstein spends a great deal of time thoroughly documenting the paradigm that our existing knowledge systems use when considering and discussing fossil fuels (or any source of energy, for that matter).

Epstein uses the term “Framework” because it seems more friendly than “Paradigm” to the average reader. But his use of “Framework” is synonymous with the definition of “paradigm,” so let’s define it. Merriam-Webster’s collegiate dictionary defines “paradigm” as “a philosophical and theoretical framework of a scientific school or discipline within which theories, laws, and generalizations and the experiments performed in support of them are formulated.” In other words, a paradigm or framework is the filter through which you evaluate everything about a topic.

In Fossil Future, Epstein explains that our current Knowledge System filters everything through a paradigm called the “Anti-Impact Framework.” The “Anti-Impact Framework” holds that any human impact on the earth is inherently immoral. Read that sentence again. Where it says “any,” it means “any.” To be abundantly clear, it doesn’t view “negative” impacts on the environment as immoral. It considers any impact on the environment as immoral. The people operating in our Knowledge Systems often try to obscure this fact because it is unbecoming when held up to scrutiny. For example, building a hydroelectric dam that provides electricity and water to an entire region is very beneficial. It has almost zero negative impacts on the environment. Yet, through the lens of the “anti-impact framework,” this project must be opposed because it does have an impact. And per the anti-impact framework, ALL effects are immoral regardless of their benefits. To re-state: our existing knowledge systems evaluate everything related to energy production, distribution, and use by the “Anti-Impact Framework.”

As a result, this framework opposes anything that has any impact– regardless of how small and its benefit to human flourishing. This framework has resulted in deep-seated cultural norms that deem any human impact wrong and believe that reducing or eliminating such effects is the only responsible course of action. It downplays the importance of carefully analyzing the potential risks and benefits of any activity that impacts the environment. As Epstein argues, this framework needs to be revised because it fails to consider the positive roles that human activities can play in creating global flourishing. Instead, it privileges the idea that human actions should not impact the earth in any way. This framework has been detrimental to our ability to analyze and evaluate potential solutions for a better future properly.

Epstein’s critique of this anti-impact framework is essential because it provides an alternate view of how we should look at human activities that impact the environment. He advocates for a more nuanced approach that considers activities’ potential risks and benefits rather than automatically assuming they are wrong or immoral. This more comprehensive view will ultimately result in better decisions leading to global human flourishing. Finally, Epstein’s argument challenges us to rethink our existing knowledge systems and how we use them to evaluate activities that impact the environment. His alternative framework, which carefully assesses an activity’s potential risks and benefits, is essential for global human flourishing.

The "Human Flourishing" Framework

What is his alternative paradigm? It’s called the “Human Flourishing” framework. Instead of evaluating everything through the lens of whether it has any impact on the earth, the “Human Flourishing” framework evaluates policies, energy production, distribution, and energy use based on what will create the maximum amount of human flourishing. One benefit of this approach is that human flourishing includes having the cleanest, healthiest planet for humans to thrive. Within the “human flourishing” framework, access to energy improves people’s lives and provides them with more opportunities to flourish. Epstein demonstrates that abundant and affordable energy is the only path to human flourishing. Increased energy use also enables the development of new technologies that can improve our health, safety, comfort, convenience, knowledge, and leisure activities.

Furthermore, access to energy has been shown to reduce poverty and inequality and provide more significant economic opportunities, leading to more flourishing lives. Finally, increased energy use can raise environmental standards, such as reducing pollution and improving air quality. Therefore, a better environment and higher quality of life are possible when humanity can access abundant and affordable energy sources like oil, coal, natural gas, etc. In short, according to the Human Flourishing framework proposed by Alex Epstein, access to energy is essential for achieving global human flourishing.

Epstein argues that the only way for humanity to achieve global human flourishing is through increased use of energy from oil, coal, and natural gas. He believes this energy type is essential for economic growth and progress. Additionally, he argues that renewable sources such as solar and wind cannot meet the growing energy demand, which would require considerable investments in infrastructure and are decades away from being possible. In sum, Epstein believes that increasing our use of oil, coal, and natural gas is necessary for humanity to reach its full potential.

In conclusion, the Human Flourishing framework proposed by Alex Epstein is a much more analytical lens through which we should evaluate policies, regulations, and approaches to energy production, distribution, and use. When you begin to assess the use of fossil fuels through the Human Flourishing paradigm instead of the Anti-Impact paradigm, it dramatically changes how you view the energy controversies dominating today’s debate.

The "Delicate Nurturer" Assumption

Another pre-supposition that Epstein tackles in the book is the “Delicate Nurturer” assumption. This assumption is at the heart of almost all current approaches to reducing fossil fuel use and is part and parcel with the Anti-Impact Framework. The “Delicate Nurturer” assumption, as outlined by Alex Epstein, is a popular myth that sees the natural world as extremely fragile and, if left alone, believes that the world provides a safe and nurturing environment where humans will thrive. This assumption is utterly false, yet it is at the heart of all environmental policy and discussion. As Epstein demonstrates in the book, thinking about this assumption critically for a few minutes will reveal many flaws. Far from being naturally nurturing, the world left unchecked by man is dangerous. As is demonstrated by looking at the death toll through the centuries, it becomes evident that intervention by humankind with technology makes the world dramatically safer. It also incorrectly claims that using oil, coal, or natural gas necessarily causes environmental destruction, which is not the case.

The "Wild Potential" Assumption

Epstein proposes an alternative to the “Delicate Nurturer” assumption as well. His alternative is the “Wild Potential” assumption, which views the environment as something with massive raw potential that humans can manipulate and improve rather than something that must be preserved in a static state. This framework embraces the idea that humans can make the world safe, healthy, and prosperous. By utilizing new technologies and energy sources such as oil, coal, and natural gas, humans can increase the quality of life for everyone around the world while at the same time taking steps to protect the environment.

The “Wild Potential” framework allows us to recognize our human power and understand that we can make meaningful environmental changes. We must acknowledge this potential to move forward with technological innovations that can improve global human flourishing. By rejecting the outdated “Delicate Nurturer” assumption, we can begin to develop solutions that will enhance the world and benefit all of us.

The Importance of this Message

“Fossil Future” provides compelling and persuasive arguments for why fossil fuels are essential to human flourishing. Epstein’s ideas are incredibly relevant today, where sustainability is often equated with reducing our reliance on fossil fuels. He argues that our current energy policy, which primarily seeks to restrict the use of fossil fuels, needs to consider their significant benefits. Fossil fuels can be used safely with modern technology to provide abundant cheap, and reliable energy, improving our quality of life and strengthening the global economy. Furthermore, they are a vital part of our global infrastructure, providing essential electricity and transportation services with unparalleled reliability. The importance of fossil fuels must not be underestimated – they have a critical role to play in the future of humanity.

Epstein’s arguments emphasize how essential fossil fuels are to our flourishing and explain why restricting fossil fuels is devastating. In fact, the use of fossil fuels should be aggressively expanded, especially in the underdeveloped world. The avalanche of data he shares in the book powerfully demonstrates that current trends in energy policy must be re-evaluated to ensure human flourishing. We need to recognize the importance of fossil fuels and develop policies that promote their safe and efficient use. Only then can we ensure a bright, energy-rich future for all.


Fossil Future is a must-read if you care about global human progress and well-being. Reading this book provides an unprecedented understanding of how essential fossil fuels are for improving the quality of life for millions of people worldwide. Alex Epstein’s argument is crystal clear: despite familiar rhetoric to the contrary, our lives remain dependent on more oil, coal, and natural gas–not less. He makes the case that fossil fuels are the key to generating abundance and improving global human flourishing. They provide life-enhancing energy, spur economic growth, create jobs, diffuse power from elites to non-elites, improve health and safety standards, and much more. By reading Fossil Future, you can gain an understanding of the incredible power of fossil fuels that will help inform your decisions on how to move forward towards global human progress. Take advantage of this opportunity to learn why fossil fuels are essential for creating a better future for all of us!

Additional Resources

Energy Talking Points is an outstanding repository of information on virtually every aspect of the energy and climate debate.

The best page to start is this one: The Irrefutable Case for Fossil Fuels

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