Alex Epstein has done a useful thing by writing The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels, published last year by Portfolio/Penguin. He links fossil fuel consumption to our high quality of life and exposes the fraudulence of Amory Lovins, Paul Erlich, Bill McKibben, John Holdren, and James Hansen–alarmists whose predictions of doom haven’t quite been realized.
While reading the book, I was reminded of Michael Crichton’s postulation: “I suspect the people of 2100 will be much richer than we are, consume more energy, have a smaller global population, and enjoy more wilderness than we have today.”
Epstein enhances the hopeful scenario. But some basic problems affect the quality of his writing, casting a shadow over the pages:
- A college professor once said a paper I’d written was “this-y and that-y,” and I remembered her lesson. Lack of variation in sentence structure as well as lack of ambition in finding new names and in rephrasing will lead to overdependence on pronouns. (See example below.) As the result, Epstein tends to drone.
- Words and phrases are repeated too often within individual sentences, paragraphs, and pages as well as throughout the book. If I’d read “cheap, plentiful, reliable energy from fossil fuels” one more time, I might have driven to Orange County, where Epstein’s Center for Industrial Progress is located, and pointed my exhaust pipe at the door.
- Far too often, he violates a basic stylistic rule, namely, it’s not necessary to italicize words for emphasis. The reader will provide his own. On p. 207: “That is, a revolution in fossil fuel technology occurred because our government didn’t know enough about it to demonize and ban it.” OK, I get it!
- I kept seeing “which is why” and “which is what,” which should have been slapped down.
Pages 110-111 exemplify the general problem.
In the afterword–which is what I wouldn’t have read except that I was on a plane and this meant I had nothing to do besides stare out the window at the ruined landscape–Epstein thanks his editor “who put in the time to make every page better.”
The question arises: what did she start with?
Without a doubt, Epstein has established himself as a factor. Despite the wooden and pedantic tone of The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels, I’m glad I read it.
But unless his writing improves in future works, I’ll stick to summaries written by intrepid reviewers.