A Humanist Approach to Environmental Issues

by ChaseDownActivist on September 9, 2015 - 10:14pm

A Humanist Approach to Environmental Issues


As I was searching the web to find humanism-related news, I came across a site in which a humanist by the name of Alex Epstein gives his perspective on the use of fossil fuels. This energy philosopher, debater and communications consultant is also the head of the "I Love Fossil Fuels" campaign, a movement that magnifies and defends the beneficial aspects of the use of this energy. Epstein has even debated on several occasions with environmental organizations such as Greenpeace, 350.org and the Sierra club. His work for this cause, including his recently released book The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels, are available and well summarized at the Forbes Magazine website. 

Today’s common belief about the use of fossil fuels is fairly negative. Most of society thinks it is the primary cause of almost all of our current environmental issues. Indeed, for the past 40 years or more, great scientists and thinkers have accused it to be the reason behind occurring catastrophes such as global warming, air pollution and resource depletion. Also, more and more organizations are forming in order to alert the world that human activity has detrimental and perhaps irreversible impacts on our environment and our own future health and life conditions.

However, Alex Epstein shares a slightly different view on energy and environmental issues. Although he is well aware of the downsides of using fossil fuels, he believes experts exaggerate the problems related to fossil fuel use. Epstein argues that the benefits drawn from them are far more advantageous to human beings. In fact, he states “that the rapid increase of fossil fueled machines in the world has enabled us to improve every aspect of human well-being—life expectancy, infant mortality, nourishment, income, as well as key environmental metrics such as water quality, sanitation, and, perhaps most startling of all, climate danger (climate-related deaths are at record lows, down 98% over the last 80 years)” (Epstein). This goes to show that his standard of value is human life.

The article also raises an important question regarding the importance we attribute to human lives in contrast to other life forms: What is it exactly that puts humans’ needs and satisfactions above that of other beings on our planet? One possible answer to this is found within the doctrine humanist’s follow.

In the mind of a humanist such as Epstein, science is a tool that makes our lives better, not worse. Because they do not believe in God or any other form of supernatural force, humanists have agreed that humans alone have the duty of solving any conflict that lies in their paths. That is why they tend value human life more, while still respecting the life of other beings as well. Our ability to use rationality and morality at a higher level than any other being is thus what gives use the greater responsibilities in this world.

To conclude, I think humanists have a very introspective way of thinking and planning their actions. If we look back at the example of fossil fuels, Alex Epstein does not solely focus about the impacts it has on the environment, rather he discusses the pluses it gives to human life now and for future generations as well.  Personally, I think that fossil fuels have indeed helped us immensely to progress in all aspects of life, and it should never be entirely cut off as many suggest.

Works Cited

Epstein, Alex. "A Humanist Approach to Environmental Issues." Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 29 Jan. 2015. Web. 10 Sept. 2015




Your article was definitely enlightening and defended a point of view that many often ignore, however, it is important to remember even if fossil fuels are providing us with a better immediate future their use will not be beneficial in the distant future. As you mentioned in your article "Epstein is well aware of the downsides of using fossil fuels", this clearly alludes to Epstein understanding the negative repercussions of the usage of fossil fuels, but choosing to ignore them in favour of being able to defend their use in great quantities as they are presently being used. It is this situation that leads us to question ourselves whether it would be more humane to continue the use fossil fuels freely regardless of their repercussions in the distant future because they are helping the present civilization lead a better life or would it be more humane to cut down on fossil fuels now in exchange for renewable energy so that the future generations of humanity may live in a world that is not tarnished with threats of ecological disasters. To me, the true choice is between selfishness and selflessness. Should someone choose to continue the usage of fossil fuels as such a high rate then they think only of themselves and how their life can be more profitable, but should someone chose to bring down fossil fuel usage then they think of the greater good of humanity. You can disagree, but to me, giving up something that provides immediate aide in economic advancement and growth so that Earth can actually be habitable in the distant future is more humane. Sure, Epstein may claim that usage of fossil fuel-run machineries may bring up life expectancy and bring down infant mortality rates in the present but I really doubt it would do a better job at it then a hydro-electricity-run machines. It just cannot be denied that fossil fuels are enhancing the greenhouse gas effect and this is causing global warming. So really, what's the point of bettering the world so much right now when they're won't even be a possibility for your kid's kids to live because you destroyed all the vegetation and the earth's atmosphere while building a better life for only yourself?

Your article talks about a very catch 22 topic. Fossil fuels does harm the earth to a great extent, but have help us also to a great extent. People want to stop the us of fossil fuels because of the harm it is doing to the earth, but is there more benefits to humans to keep using them? If there are more benefits then we could continue to use them but maybe at a lower rate, and then focus more on eliminating another environment harming aspect to balance it out.