The Anti-Human-Flourishing Complex (AHFC)
In early April, human flourishing champion Alex Epstein got word from his publisher that the Washington Post was planning a hit piece to discredit him and his since published book Fossil Future. The plan was to paint Alex as racist referencing articles out of context that he had written while in college (he’s nothing of the kind). This was somehow going to cast doubt on his views that fossil fuels (oil, natural gas and coal) have an incredible net positive impact on humanity, and that we need more, not less, of them in the decades to come to allow the billions around the world who are energy deprived to attain a standard of living that comes closer to what we have in the West.
Alex went on the offensive, criticizing WaPo for its despicable act of journalistic malpractice. A lot of influencers came to his defense, among them Michael Shellenberger, Scott Adams, Ben Shapiro Brit Hume, Matt Ridley, and David Rubin. As a result, WaPo “delayed its hit-piece by a week—and removed 90% of the unjust attacks, including all references to racism, rendering the hit piece incredibly weak.” (Alex’s words) And as a positive unintended consequence, Fossil Future got a lot of free, well-earned publicity: it is currently #1 in several Amazon categories, and while it’s been boycotted by the New York Times, it outsold all but one book on the NYT bestseller list in the first week after launch.
WaPo and NYT are part of the media arm of what I call the “Anti-Human-Flourishing Complex” (AHFC). The AHFC is emphasizing and even catastrophizing the potential negative effects of fossil based energy and products, while blatantly disregarding their enormous actual positive benefits.
Potential negative effects according to the AHFC are primarily tied to increased CO2 levels in the atmosphere which will increase temperatures (how much is debated), resulting in rising sea-levels, more droughts, and more frequent and violent natural disasters such as hurricanes, floods, wildfires, etc.
The enormous actual positive effects that the AHFC chooses to ignore are the fact that billions have been lifted out of poverty in the past 50 years thanks to affordable fossil fuel generated electricity and transportation and fossil based fertilizers. And it disregards the fact that increased CO2 levels may be a net benefit in the form of increasing crop yields and therefore improved food security.
When promoting its natural disaster scenarios, the AHFC neglects to mention the fact that deaths from such events have gone down by 98% over the past 100 years. This is largely thanks to the better preparation that come with higher standards of living powered by fossil based energy sources, for example better and cheaper heating in winter and air conditioning in summer.
Furthermore, the AHFC overhypes the “solutions” it proposes to remedy the alleged negative effects of fossil based energy such as the unreliable and expensive “renewable” energy sources solar and wind. We—and even more so Europeans—currently pay for it dearly in the form of higher electricity prices and occasional blackouts.
In the global regulatory arena, the AHFC’s focus on stamping out fossil based energy is threatening to not only deny cheap energy to the billions who are currently deprived of it, but also return the billions who have attained a certain level of human flourishing in recent decades to a subsistence way of life. Outright bans on and an uncertain regulatory climate around investments in fracking, drilling, pipelines and the electric grid means that energy companies remain largely on the sidelines even though the world is screaming for more and cheaper fossil based energy.
Given their concern with using fossil fuels, you’d think the AHFC would be champions of the ultimate clean energy source, hydroelectric power, and the most energy dense technology known to man, nuclear power. But no, rather than promoting new hydroelectric dams, the AHFC wants to dismantle existing ones and return rivers to their “natural state.” And it continues to irrationally vilify nuclear power despite it being the safest energy source known to man.
So, who is part of the Anti-Human-Flourishing Complex? Here in the U.S. its presence is most acutely felt in non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the financial industry, the energy industry, government, higher education, mainstream media, and K-12 education.
For example, environmentalist NGOs such as the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, Earthjustice and the Nature Conservancy engage in lobbying to promote anti-human-flourishing legislation and regulation, and in litigation to delay or stop fossil based, hydro, and nuclear energy development.
In the financial industry, ESG (environmental, social and corporate governance) is all the rage, and major institutions such as Black Rock and State Street with trillions of dollars under management are actively using their leverage to influence corporations to move away from fossil based energy.
Utilities, for example Xcel Energy, are investing in and promoting unreliable energy sources such as wind and solar at the expense of coal and natural gas, increasing the price of electricity and putting the power grid in jeopardy as evidenced by blackouts around the country. And large energy companies such as British Petroleum pursue self-defeating net zero strategies.
Looming as a dark cloud over it all are government departments and regulatory agencies. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to mention a few, are populated with anti-human-flourishing scientists and bureaucrats. In addition to writing, implementing, and enforcing AHFC regulations, the government entities are strongly influencing higher education research institutions through research grants which are strongly AHFC biased.
And as illustrated by the WaPo and NYT treatment of Alex Epstein, most of mainstream media (TV networks, public radio and TV, newspaper organizations) are active members of the AHFC, engaging in non-objective reporting and smearing as “climate deniers” those who advocate for a return to pro-human-flourishing policies.
Finally, perhaps the most ominous and tragic AHFC influence is in our K-12 schools (public and private), which are saturated with AHFC propaganda preaching environmental doomsday scenarios resulting in a generation of children growing up with unearned guilt and anxiety. Environmental poster child Greta Thunberg is but the tip of the AHFC child abuse iceberg.
Fundamentally, the AHFC is driven by a philosophy that puts the planet over people. When push comes to shove, AHFC thought leaders such as Paul Ehrlich, Michael Mann, Bill McKibben, James Hansen, Al Gore and many others want to sacrifice human well-being to some vision of a planet free of human impact. They mostly won’t tell you in so many words but that’s the gist of it, and all those in the AHFC who (sometimes misguidedly) follow their lead, do their bidding.
But don’t take my word for it. Pick up a copy of Alex Epstein’s Fossil Future, check out his EnergyTalkingPoints website, and follow him on LinkedIn and Twitter. The AHFC acronym is mine, but Alex provides a damning, thoroughly researched account of the goals and methods of what he calls its “knowledge system,” and offers concrete advice how to combat it. Other human flourishing champions worth tracking are the president of the Copenhagen Consensus Center Bjorn Lomborg, the aforementioned Michael Shellenberger, and reformed former Greenpeace co-founder Patrick Moore. And the pro-human-flourishing Non-Governmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC) has long been a rational counterweight to the more well-known AHFC stalwart, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
If you’re a champion of human flourishing, you should be alarmed by the destructive influence of the AHFC and join the growing opposition. Thinking morally Right and Wrong about energy and climate means taking an unequivocal pro-human-flourishing stance. The biggest threat to humanity is not our use of fossil based energy and products, but the AHFC’s anti-human-flourishing agenda.