Ignore climate deniers, listen instead to science

I am extremely disappointed the University has legitimized the anti-science, anti-humanity and pro-fossil fuels message designed not to discover the truth but to advocate for the fossil fuel industry. UT invited Alex Epstein to lecture Monday afternoon at 4:30 p.m. 

Much of Epstein’s message bashes environmentalists, but let’s ignore that and focus on his key arguments about climate change.

Premise 1: Epstein argues that fossil fuels are key to the flourishing of humanity. They raised our standards of living. They’re good, so more is better. I agree that fossil fuels were good, and we still need energy. But now we can and must transition to clean energy as fast as possible by cutting, not increasing, fossil fuel use. If climate change deniers hadn’t delayed action for twenty years, the urgency would be less. His argument that fossil fuels are good and that there should be more use of them is like saying water is good, therefore more water is better, an argument Hurricane Harvey flooding soundly refutes. 

Premise 2: Epstein argues we can only switch to a small amount of wind and solar energy because they’re intermittent. We have many ways to manage this challenge: There are cleaner options, such as batteries and other storage and demand management alternatives. Epstein frequently builds a straw man to blow over. He takes a nonscientist’s extreme statement, and then rejects the science based on refuting that position. It is a common, false attack method. For example, if we can’t immediately move to 100% wind and solar (true), we must use more fossil fuels (false choice). 

Premise 3: Epstein argues climate change isn’t causing much harm. Anyone who follows news knows this isn’t true. Hurricanes, wildfires, droughts, heat waves, flooding, sea level rise and other consequences linked to climate change have left thousands hungry, homeless, dead, grieving or fleeing as climate refugees. Epstein also claims more fossil fuel use will allow us to manage any ill effects from climate change. He implies cutting fossil fuel use would keep emergency supplies from getting to disaster victims. Again, he creates a false choice — all or none.

Premise 4: Epstein argues that some environmentalists and scientists made incorrect predictions in the past, so we should reject all predictions of catastrophic effects from climate change. This begs the question: Can we trust climate science? The overall body of climate science has been very conservative in its “predictions” of climate change consequences. In general, more has happened faster than predicted. Greenland and the West Antarctic ice sheet are melting much faster, and sea levels are rising faster than even in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s worst scenario.

Climate science collects and examines facts, develops theory that supports the facts, follows a rigorous peer-review process, and notes what we don’t know. What we know will happen is alarming. A rise of only 0.8 degrees Celsius has caused our current increase in extreme climate change events. The longer we wait to cut burning fossil fuels, the worse it will be for more people. Free speech is precious, but Epstein should not have been invited by the University of Texas to spread and help legitimize his morally repugnant message. 

Epstein advocates policy, backed by supposed “clear thinking,” but his message actually muddles thinking and promotes more profit for the fossil fuel industry by encouraging people to reject solid climate science. Using more fossil fuels would eventually cause the suffering and death of hundreds of millions of people. He’s smart and writes well, but when you start off with the premise, “more fossil fuel use is good,” and then look for supporting arguments instead of, as UT’s Main Building suggests, “seeking the truth,” it’s easy to fall into spurious arguments, and you must reject solid science. I hope he isn’t a victim of the well-known dictum, “It’s very hard to understand something when your job (funding source) depends on not understanding it.”

Robert Hendricks is the co-chair of the Austin Climate Change Committee. George Wunch is the founder of Students Fighting Climate Change. He is an international relations and global studies junior.