top of page

Fossil Future/Climate Change as Class War

Brahm Neufeld

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Chris Keefer  0:00  

Welcome back to Decouple. Today I'm joined by Brahm Neufeld. Brahma is a senior engineer of process controls at Cameco. And I'm excited to really be bringing him on and introducing him as someone who is going to be co leading or maybe even heading up a new Decouple venture, and that Decouple ventures called Decouple reads. So Brom. Welcome to the podcast.


Brahm Neufeld  0:24  

Thanks a lot, Chris. I'm excited to be here.


Chris Keefer  0:28  

So Brian, first off, you know, the famous self introduction. I don't know what a senior engineer or process controls are. I mean, tell me a bit about that. And then we're going to get into the juicy stuff. Get into why you love to read and everything. But yeah, just help us get to know you a bit.


Sure, well, I'll start a little earlier than process control. So I studied electrical engineering at the University of Saskatchewan and got into process controls after that. Process Control is I think about it like the intersection of instrumentation, automation and metallurgy or process engineering, right. So how do we use all this industrial Lego that we have out there to control and optimize that process, set control room operators up for success? You know, execute processes safely and add value and, and all that fun stuff. So I've been doing process control about 12 or 13 years now.


Are you in and out of the mines? Are you like work from home kind of guy or?


Brahm Neufeld  1:33  

Yeah, so I spent 12 years working in the potash industry. And actually, I fell into the uranium industry, after falling down the energy and nuclear rabbit hole. So, you know, I've got a fun story about how help books led me there. I'll tell you that the potash industry is really fun. It's a huge Saskatchewan industry. We mined potassium chloride from over a kilometer underground. We ship it all over the world as a key fertilizer. It's the K in NPK. And potash industry was really fun. In 2018, I was I was looking for more books, my backlog was empty. And I picked up a book, energy and civilization by back loves meal. And that book just unlocked everything that had been sitting idle for my electrical engineering to create. You know, all of a sudden, I understood how to think about energy in terms of quantities and flows. And I just started falling down this energy rabbit hole. And, you know, Vaclav Smil leads me to the roots of progress blog by Jason Crawford, which is a terrific resource. routes of progress blog leads me to an unbelievable book review of why nuclear power has been a flop, but Jack Devanney I google Jack Devanney podcast appearance, and where's the only place he shows up? It's Decouple with Chris Keefer. Let's check this guy out. So, you know, aforementioned rabbit hole just kept getting deeper and deeper, I had the opportunity to make a career change from potash to Uranium. And now I get to wake up every day, thinking about energy and adding value to the uranium industry, which is really exciting for me.


Chris Keefer  3:29  

Wow, man. Wow, now you're involved in helping to offset 1/3 of Canada's national emissions by being a part of sending uranium domestically and internationally around the world. That's my new talking point. I was talking about how the industry does such an absolutely shitty job at comms and, you know, Canada and Germany are working on a transatlantic hydrogen supply chain strategy. Meanwhile, we're, you know, offsetting 1/3 of our emissions. Anyway, that's an aside. I mean, it's it's really interesting when you were here to talk a lot about reading and, you know, I think about the Decouple project itself. I mean, it was really born out of well was born out of my son, I guess, because when I was pushing strollers around endlessly for about the first year of what I call the larval stage of his life, LLS had a wealth mindset book in my hand, but it was actually a very small screen iPhone, and I was plowing through all kinds of books. And it really kind of gave me the itch I wanted to contribute. And I wanted to learn more, and I wanted to talk to authors, and talk to experts and thinkers. I mean, that's, that's where this whole project comes from. And yeah, it's lovely to hear that that you came across the podcast in that way. You know, I get a lot of emails from folks saying, Hey, what are you reading? What should I be reading? You know, we'd have done four or five book reviews on the podcast. We've we've entered do is we've interviewed authors themselves. So I'm thinking of Jon Symons, his book, great book on Ecomodernism.


Done a few interviews with Lee Phillips Talking about Bill Gates, his book and Apocalypse never. So it's been something we've been up to. But again, I just think that I think you're gonna really do a lot here to sell, you know why reading is important. So I'm gonna leave that to you. But I'm really excited about the idea of, you know, having a subset of programs maybe once a month or so once every six weeks where we can, we can work through some great books, because there's a lot out there. So I don't know, I mean, tell me, tell me why sell us on reading. You know, in a world of Twitter, Twitter, sound bites, I mean, I always talk about Twitter, I try to justify the amount of time I spend on Twitter, as you know, you need to be able to boil an argument down to you know, this 150, character Haiku, you know that that does Hone communication skills to a degree, particularly in the ways in which people communicate these days, but there's something missing there, man, there's some depths of nuance so so tell us on why you love to read, you know, why the audience should read?


Sure, well, I think everyone's going to have their own reasons. Anyone who's listening to a long form podcast, is already halfway there, you know, if not already just, you know, buried in books, when they're not listening to podcasts. So, you know, I think podcast fans will appreciate the long form and diving deep into an issue. You know, why do we read, like, you know, I read for pleasure to fantasy to get away to experience new things. But, you know, also to learn and understand and empathize. You know, to de radicalize sometimes to reduce my confidence in an issue where I think I'm overconfident. You know, reading socially, I think, is really important. So, I'm in a book club. And that's just been a fantastic experience for learning to talk about books in a more constructive way, you know, go one step removed from what's my, what's my opinion, right? Did I like it? Did I not like, and what's the author really trying to get at? And when it comes to nonfiction, which I think I mean, you You've talked a lot of boats, some great books on the podcast. One of these key ideas that I love is the idea of like building a new mental model. And I don't think you can build a new mental model from a tweet, you can get a great sound bite from a tweet, and you can shout it back at someone with a lot of enthusiasm. But to really see the world differently, see the world in a new lens? I think it requires going deep and and, you know, hearing an author's whole hypothesis, their old proposal, you know, like I already mentioned, fact of facts, Vaclav Smil, energy and civilization. And, you know, that book gave me the mental model of thinking about energy in a in a quantized way, right? I wrote down this quote from him, you know, this book is, is wild, by the way, it's so detailed and crazy. Like you, you start from ancient civilization, and get all the way up to modern power plants, right. And the first chunk of that book, I'm not gonna lie, it's a slog. There's there's a paragraph where he's comparing the wattage of a, of a of two head yoked oxen, versus a bidded horse with a breast band harness. Right, this is the level of detail he's going into to quantify incremental gains in energy and power, and the impacts on agriculture and farming and how that all adds up into energy surpluses. By the time you're done reading that book, you're like, oh, my gosh, what did I just read? But you come away with that mental model?


Yeah, no, I'm, I'm intrigued by this, you know, I got to see it. Throughout my schooling, I was flying a little too solo. And I kind of envied my colleagues that spent a bit more time, you know, chatting about the material, because that's really you know, how it sticks. I'm forgetting the saying, Now, it's a proverb. But you know, it basically goes along along the lines of, you know, I, I, I see it, I forget it, I you know, and then it progresses to, you know, I teach it and I fully understand it. So, you know, you talked about being in a book club, and I'm really excited about basically creating a Decouple book club and we're going to be, I think, we're talking about this before, you know, it's better just to sort of shoot from the hip and get something started and see how it falls into place. But, you know, we're really looking forward to having you on as a regular contributor, and in some way, helping. What's the word I'm looking for here? choreograph, you know what this kind of audience participation will look like? Because I know I've got a lot of nerdy audience members who are kind of itching they're probably reading a lot of the books already talking about but itching to kind of discuss them a bit further. On the voxel, love thing? I mean, how do you how do you read his stuff? How do you take a lot of notes because I feel like I need to be doing that more because he's this hyper numeric guy. I have no idea where he finds As the wattage of two yolks, you know, oxen versus a horse with a breast, whatever we're talking about here, you know, but I do feel like those comparators are so important. Like if someone I think Vince loves contribution is numeracy, right, like he's the most numerous person I've found, and he's able to shine such an important light on these issues of scalability and give you your sense of kind of critical faculties. For me, it's a lot on how to sort of decode a lot of the in a venture capital new clean tech hype that we see all the time and to give me the analytical skills to look at that but like, I mean, maybe we're hopping into a little too quickly, but just you mentioned vasavi drop the drop them whenever whenever he comes up all the time on on Decouple How do you like, how do you read Vox love to get the most out of it? Or how do you process it?


So I mean, everyone reads books differently. And so I guess my the caveat, I'll probably, I won't repeat it to my tray, like what works for me is not going to work for everyone. But you know, have some have some tips and some insights, like, one thing I do is I read hardcopy books, I take them out from my library for the most part, because I feel like there's something tangible about the words on the page. And I'd love e readers to have one and I use one for years, and I love it on the beach. But, you know, the I seem to remember better when I'm reading from hardcopy, sometimes some of the crafts too, and images and footnotes and stuff like that, it just seems to make a little more sense. In hardcopy, I don't take a ton of notes when I read, but I started buying these like page tabs of, you know, like 1200 page tabs at a time online. So I just keep a stack of page tabs in the inside front cover and just litter page tabs through the book. And when I'm done reading, typically I read a book report, which which I hated doing school, I did not like writing book reports. But as, as I've just been reading more and more I find that act of writing a book review or a book report just really helps me recall the key content and the key messages. So the key ideas to help me retain that mental model, you know, and apply it to different conversations. Can I take Smeal off the shelf and apply him in this conversation or that one? And, you know, having that deliberate reflection, I think is is a big part of being able to do that.


But specifically with smell like how do you how do you remember the numeracy stuff that you need to like do? I don't want to know, so it's more giving you like a better intuition? Is that is that he put it or?


Yeah, like, I could not tell you the output of the oxen versus the fitted horse or any anything like that, I don't think it's relative relevant unless you're a specialist, but then to be able to think, you know, think about concepts like energy storage, right batteries, and pumped hydro and, you know, whatever other technologies there are, to really intuitively model that in your own mind as a quantity of available energy. Vaclav enabled that in me personally, right, that was kind of the key book that unlocked the secret of how to think about quantities of energy. And I think others might have the same experience, or they might not be able to get through Chapter Two about the oxen and horses, because it is, like I said, challenging?


Yeah, it was kind of like guns, germs and steel feel about it in terms of just how vast and expansive it is, or kind of Sapiens element to it. And here it goes, sort of dropping book references, but you know, it's funny how you can just say the title of a book, and it can evoke evokes something so, so large, you know, if you're from a community of readers, and, you know, I'm thinking about, you know, when you hang out with an old friend that you grew up with, something that's really precious about that friendship is and the way I kind of visualize this is, you know, if there's a Illustrated Encyclopedia, and I say a word like, I don't know, chair, and we grew up in a similar household, and we have the same mental image, I mean, shares a ridiculous example, right? There's much more meaningful ones, but I kind of feel like like books do that for us, as well.


Yeah, it's the shared mental model, right? And anyone who works for a big company, corporation or organization should be able to relate to this. If that corporation or organization is constantly repeating their value statement, or aid or their you know, key values or the mission or the vision or that sort of thing. You You repeat those things enough and, and to the same group of people and now everyone has that shared mental model of you know, how we do things at this organization. And similarly, if two people read the same book, you can share that mental model and, and what's even better is, you know, nitpick with each other about it. I got this out of Smeal. But you got that out of Smeal. And, you know, you can reconcile that between yourselves and I think, get a much deeper understanding. This has been the funnest thing I did in in COVID was join a book club. Right. And I thought it would kind of be like homework. But it turned out even if the book was not my favorite book, it was terrifically fun to talk about with a group of people with different opinions.


You know, that's been a bit of a challenge on Decouple like, I've been really wanting to foster more community more communication, and each platform sort of has its pluses and minuses, we get a lot of comments on the YouTube channel, under the videos bit less so on Twitter, you know, someone LinkedIn, and we're going to be experimenting and trying to figure out the best platform for this because I really think that the book, The Decouple reads or Decouple book club, hopefully, will be a place where, you know, dedicated listeners can go a little bit deeper, and, and, again, have you to help facilitate that along and I know, it's gonna encourage me to, to be reading a little more intensively. So we're going to be sort of figuring that out. IF listeners have suggestions for a good platform, definitely feed that in, and we'll have some kind of a sign up, we're gonna figure that all out. We're sort of figuring this out as, as we invented. You know, like, where do you think we should start in terms of like, picking books like I what I like about Decouple is that, you know, it has a very strong energy focus, it's, you know, one of the premier nuclear podcasts, but you know, there is a bit of a breadth there. And I really do, like touching on some of the philosophical principles underneath, and I've been meaning to get this, this aesthetics episode going on, because I think so much of Decouple is it's, it's sort of a, I think of it as like a very low budget think tank, you know, in the way that Podcasts can can enable you to get essentially, you know, 5000 people in a room every episode, it's, it's an exciting thing to be able to do. But, you know, in terms of that aesthetics element, like I'm thinking back to a book review I did with Charles man, wizards and prophets, you know, that was such such an important book to me, for, I guess, depersonalizing the kind of debates that we have with each other. I think, you know, probably Jonathan heyde does a great job of that as well. I'm blanking on the name of the book, but it's he's a moral philosopher, righteous. Yeah, the righteous mind. You know, like, I have an interest in in that with the couple beyond just talking about nuclear and energy and you know, the ongoing shit show in Europe, etc. Like, staying a bit more meta, like staying philosophical, you know, I had my mom on to talk about romanticism, there's a lot of directions we can go. And I think maybe at the end of this episode, we'll just have to sort of pick a book to get the ball rolling, and we'll find ways for listeners to throw in their suggestions as well. But I thought maybe we could, we could talk about some stuff that you've been reading recently, and sort of, you know, give us a little bit of a trial, you know, what, what this is gonna look like? So do you have anything you wanted to chat about, or books or book or books that you wanted to bring forward to give us a kind of template of what this might look like?


Sure. Well, you know, a couple really interesting reads, recently at read fossil future, why global human flourishing requires more oil, coal and natural gas, not less by Alex Epstein. I mean, that, you know, that was a really interesting book. And we can dive into that and, and chat about, I think, that book did some things terrifically well, and is a really important book. And it also has some issues, I think, that might be one we can start with. And I'd like to tie it, you know, as I'd like to tie it to another book. You know, I'm, I'm just a guy that reads, I'm just a guy that loves books, right? So my frame of reference for a good book is not what, what's true or false, you know, it's what's an engaging and what ideas are exciting. So I think you have to compare and contrast other great books out there. And I'd love to compare that to another book. We I read recently, climate change as class war, building socialism on a warming planet by Matthew Huber, I believe was on the podcast a little while ago.


Speaker 1  19:37  

Yeah, we've definitely had him on and it's an interesting pairing there because you have sort of the arch like Ayn Randian libertarian paired with you know, what Leigh Phillips calls like a kind of old school vanilla socialists, if I you know, I hate applying like these labels to people, but but it is a very interesting pairing. Yeah, I mean, it's interesting, my own sort of evolution and journey through DECA. For, you know, definitely I'd still think of myself as a climate hawk. But I've had a pretty harsh dose of of pragmatism. And I, Alex work has been very influential for me. You know, I think initially when when you think about climate change when I was looking into it, it's just like, well, it's this, it's this wicked problem, but it's mostly a psychological problem, like, who's going to take the first step, it doesn't bring any benefit, you know, individually, even to one nation. But then, you know, understanding that, and through just being a witness to, you know, what's happening around the world with this global energy crisis, and particularly in Europe that, you know, a botched energy transition, at least on a proximate sense, is far more dangerous than climate change. On a proximate sense, I don't want to get into sort of, you know, how things will be in 100 or 200 years. But even a botched energy transition can completely impair adaptation. And I think it was, you know, the moral case for fossil fuels that fossil future builds off of, but, you know, my own son was born seven weeks premature and spent five weeks in an incubator. And Alex Epstein opens his first book, The moral case for fossil fuels telling the story of a baby that basically didn't survive, because they were born in rural Namibia, where there was an energy to run an incubator that I think they actually had at the hospital. And that just hit me like, you know, brick in the stomach, thinking about my own son, and the kind of like, not to go on for too long here with the kind of discount rate that applies, like I deeply care about, you know, his children and his grandchildren's grandchildren. But at the same time, those won't exist if he doesn't exist. And his existence very much dependent on ultra reliable energy that kept that incubator going. So anyway, that's my kind of lead into Alex. But you know, tell me a bit more about some of your thoughts about about his work and this book in particular.


Chris Keefer  21:51  

Yeah, so this, this was honestly the first exposure I had to Alex Epstein, and I didn't, you know, hear him on any podcasts or read any articles. I didn't read his earlier book started with fossil future. And so it's kind of right off the deep end into this thesis about, you know, why fossil fuel fuels are so important. I mean, a lot of stuff clicked in this book, maybe what I'll do is I'll sketch out kind of the framework of the book, I'll sketch out the structure of the book, and then I want to I want to tie it back all the way to Smeal. You know, because I think these ideas are, you know, he's building on so many other ideas that are out there. So if you haven't read fossil future, again, really good book really challenging, easy to read, but challenging to your preconceptions, and there are some hard to swallow pills in there that, you know, I can't fact check. And we can talk about those. But let me get back to that structure. Part one is a framework where Epstein is basically trying to deprogram the reader. You know, talking about how we, as a society are ignoring the benefits of fossil fuels, we're not giving them their due, we're not acknowledging that they provide like 80% of the world's energy. Chapter two is all about catastrophizing, side effects, and how, you know, maybe climate change isn't as bad as some of these experts make it out to be. Part three is he gets into the anti impact framework, he calls it, and I think this is the really core idea in the book that will, will also come back to, you know, anti impact in the sense of, you know, wanting to reduce impacts on the earth, and prioritizing those above human flourishing, which is the other half of his, his thesis, it's, you know, the anti impact or human flourishing, he paints these as a dichotomy, you don't really get both, you can pick one or the other. Part two of the book, he goes through all the benefits of fossil fuels. And, you know, to be honest, there's, I think anyone who can think and reason can see all the benefits of fossil fuels. If you have anything plastic in your house and you have a car in your garage. You know, these things add a ton of value to the globe. Part three is the maybe the eyebrow raiser chapter about climate side effects. And this is where I'll only drop this caveat one other time that I'm a reader, not a climate expert. But Epstein puts forward an argument that we can essentially solve climate issues just by engineering our way out of them and And then talks about how, you know, climate is over distorted. And, you know, talks about how rising co2 levels maybe aren't so bad, because number one, they've got what plants crave co2, and, and they reflect human progress, right? If we're burning carbon we're making progress is this thesis. And then finally, the wrap up chapter, a flourishing fossil future is, you know, really just his pro freedom, pro capitalism, you know, don't put any barriers in the way of building or regulating or selling or competing, like, let's, let's get all this energy out there. The thing that Alex does really, really well, that I think is the most important part of this book that I think anyone on any side of, you know, climate issues, or anyone with any preconceptions about climate issues, is he builds that moral case for fossil fuels, right? This is an extension of his first book. And he really links energy use through fossil fuels to human flourishing. And if you are against energy use or against fossil use, in particular, you have to come back and be able to say, you know, why it's acceptable to reduce human flourishing you know, over and prioritize anti impact, you know, not making changes that impact the globe prioritizing that over human flourishing. And I


mean, human flourishing, it comes across, it's an interesting term. And I think to some of us, it probably sounds like kind of superfluous, like, well, things could be sort of, we've got enough to get by like the voxel of Smeal thesis of like, we should kind of go back to living like Westerners that in the 1950s There's a sort of a place at which increasing energy use actually almost like decouples from from continued benefits. But, you know, the way I'm starting to think about it, and I think Alex does a good job of this in terms of really, you know, it's obvious once you start reading it, but you know, we I mean in vessel I'm talks about this as well, we're a fossil fueled civilization, those, I think this is more of a slob idea, but like the four or five fundamental building blocks of civilization, which are fossil fuel dependent, like cement and concrete, and plastics and fertilizers, but like watching in real time as Europe just implodes industrially but in terms of these really important inputs, like fertilizer, and we're seeing, you know, what happened in Sri Lanka with their agricultural system crashing just in one country and kind of holding our breath to see what's going to start to cascade globally, as fertilizer plants really all over the world are stepping back their production and fully, you know, for billions of people on the planet depend on that fertilizers, a vital source of nitrogen for protein synthesis for for their nutrition. So flourishing. You know, while sounding a bit like a flurry, mission is a flowery word. You know, it's really life and death. And, you know, again, I'm on the alarm side of climate, I consider myself a climate hawk. I have some strong disagreements with Alex, I think he was called out for misrepresenting James Hansen based on an error in a New York Times story. But there's this element of kind of the self fulfilling prophecy of the climate catastrophists because the same people like the Greta tunberg, and others tend to be anti innovation. They tend to be anti nuclear, anti biotech, for a very select suite of technologies that are kind of feel good, and I guess, maybe have innocent sound anti impact. But of course, you know, putting windmills and solar panels everywhere has a big impact. You know, but all that to say with this, with this ramble. You know, they're they're really high stakes. And, you know, prophecies of billions of people dying could come true if if we don't produce the fertilizer, which, for now, and for the foreseeable future, is fossil fuel dependent. Anyway, those are my rambling reflections, he had a very good sort of organization for how you laid this out. One thing that he talked about that I thought was really important was this, because he sort of abstracts things, right. And he talks about knowledge systems. And while I don't agree with much of his summaries on climate change, I did think that this idea of a knowledge system is really important, and we see it and you know, I try to pick on one culture word at a time, I really don't like to dive into COVID too much, but there's some really big issues with our knowledge systems in that front. But But talk a little bit about Alex's the way Alex paints this out deconstructs this abstract this maybe gives us an analytical lens through which to look at it Climate.


Yeah, so the, of the knowledge system in Alex's framework is really analogous to the mental model framework that I talked about earlier, which I borrowed from Charlie Munger, in his book. Poor Charlie's Almanac, just another interesting read if you're into Munger and Warren Buffett and all that stuff, but the most, like Epstein does this incredible job of the moral case for fossil fuel fuels, and almost all the evidence, quote, unquote, that he provides to that is irrelevant in my mind by the fact that he's making that moral case, right? It's it's human flourishing today or tomorrow, or, you know, zero impact on the earth today or tomorrow, and what are the what are the outcomes of zero impact on the earth? Today or tomorrow, the opposite of human flourishing, right, people not getting energy, you know, people going hungry, hungry issues with farming and fertilizer and, and you name it, I think the reason people should read fossil future is for the moral case for energy and technology and innovation in general, and maybe skip the climate part of the book, if that is especially triggering. But, you know, it goes back to a book we mentioned at the top that I want to double click on again, which is the righteous mind by Jonathan Haidt. And this This is like another super, super important book because it helps you it helps give you a mental model for understanding morality, right. Alex is writing a book on morality, and inviting you to subscribe to his moral framework. And it's it's very, very persuasive and compelling. Jonathan Haidt has this great book, The righteous mind, the subtitle is why good people are divided by religion and politics. When this book was recommended to me, I said no thanks. Because to borrow your phrase, I don't want to read a culture war book. My my good friend assured me it's not a culture workbook, you'll like it. This book is all about morality, and specifically moral foundations theory, which is a way of describing why our morals are different from one another. Right? Why why, you know, pick your hot button issue, you know, why did why did people think differently about abortion, or politics or regulation or vaccination, or, you know, pick your pick your controversial issue, the righteous mind has a way that helps you understand it in a way that is, you know, it helps you empathize with with the person with those strong beliefs and with empathy. I think you can build understanding without that empathy. It's really difficult to have a productive conversation. So taking that back to Alex Epstein, fossil future, he builds this really, really empathetic case for fossil futures. That's honestly really difficult to argue with. And I think that that needs to be out there in the dialogue. We need to we need to be talking about, you know, the moral impacts of our energy choices today. I also want to drop the name of a book I haven't read yet, because I think it might have the some of the answers. For me for, you know, this moral question, because there's, I think, an equally compelling argument about well, you know, we can't just wreck the climate for today, because that's just deferring the problem to our children's generation or grandchildren's generation. And the book is what we owe the future. But William McCaskill heard him on a couple of podcasts recently, he's a long term thinker and a philosopher, and I'd love to get, you know, a take on you know, what we owe, not just the millions but potentially billions and trillions of future humans. Right. That you know, if our if our civilization and our race continues for 10s of 1000s, hundreds of 1000s of years, right, we have to start making some better choices.


You Yeah, the Jonathan aid book was very interesting for me to read because I come out of a left tradition. And I've sort of broke out of it and not that I've abandoned some of the core values. But I've, when I say I've kind of broken out of it, there's a real


kind of policing, not just of language and ideas, but of what you can read what you should read, you know, and what you should quote, like, you know, you quoted an article from this newspaper, don't you know that they once published this other guy that makes them kind of Nazis or fascist? You know, and I've, unfortunately, I found the left to be very destitute when it comes to having engineering discipline to understanding energy. And so like with the podcast, I've interviewed a ton of people on the political right, I think of people like Mark Mills, for instance, who works at the Manhattan Institute, who was involved in sort of missile guidance, you know, the Star Wars program under Reagan, like, He's not someone politically, that I have aligned with or would align with, but I think he's got fascinating things to say about energy. And so hell yeah, like, I'm gonna break away from this kind of policing of reading outside of the canon. And again, while I still hold a lot of my core left beliefs, I'm very kind of grounded in labor politics, I take the question of just transition very seriously. I something that struck me in Jonathan Hades book was this idea of collective evolution, that as a social species, there is an evolutionary pressure that comes from functioning together as a community as a community. And maybe it's easier to think of in a sort of small tribal setting. But, you know, basically, in every society around the world, there are, you know, agitators, like the equivalent, I guess, of your little Bolshevik lefties, there's, you know, conservative thinkers, there's everything in between in that political spectrum. And it seems to be a constant around the world, like you have political ideologies that rise up and maybe physically exterminate certain groups of people. Those tend to be pretty horrific projects. And, you know, something that's drawn me to energy into nuclear energy in particular, is that I do see there being a cohesive argument, like, across the political spectrum for something like nuclear friend, for instance, and I do think that like, for society to move forward, for our collective evolution, like we need to talk across those barriers. And in a world of increasing hyper polarization, which probably is partially created by our discourse being reduced to fucking Twitter, sound bites, and not reading more deeply and longer books. You know, we're really just talking past each other. And, you know, I don't know, maybe it maybe I am gonna recognize there's an era here in terms of collaborating with people that are sort of on the other side of the political spectrum, and maybe they'll be used by them in the end. I mean, certainly I get those critiques. But it's been a hell of a lot of a more exciting and engaging like, intellectually engaging world by breaking out of out of that sort of, you know, you must stay within the cannon and only read books by Marxists or whatever, right. Like, I'm so glad that I did. And so for that, you know, thank you, Jonathan. Hate to help sort of reaffirm that,


oh, yes, it's so much fun. Like, you know, my, I don't have much of a political background. So I read Matt Huber's book, climate changes class war. And I was like, off the deep end right away, right, like I did an engineering degree where I took zero humanities classes. And, you know, on page three, you're deep into Marxism, and you never come up for air, and even just trying to parse the vocabulary of, you know, such in such the capitalist class and such in such the working class, like, it was, it was really, really challenging to come into that book, cold, and I probably was not the target audience for it. But I'm really glad I read it, because, you know, it gave me you know, kind of a new mental model or framework of thinking of things from a certain perspective, just coming back to an idea about about hate, and morality and nuclear. You know, I think like, this question of morality is going to be so important in every part of the energy space, and you can apply that moral framework to every question out there that there's debate on right so take the issue of nuclear waste or spend nuclear fuel, you know, whatever, whatever language we're using, you know, hate has that moral foundations theory, it has the six kind of taste buds of morality with the, you know, kind of opposing pairs like loyalty or betrayal, authority and subversion. So think about nuclear waste in terms of the moral foundation of sanctity versus degradation. Right, what you know, the adaptive challenge there is all about avoiding contamination. You know, the Evolutionary triggers are thought to be like waste products and diseased people. And you know, the current triggers of this sanctity, degradation, moral reflex are taboo ideas, right? So he talks about communism and racism, the characteristic emotion is disgust. And you think about where we see, you know, where do we see disgust in the energy space, we see it from one group, thinking about fossil fuels, and a smaller group of those people saying, well, how dare you read? Alex, we're talking about him. And we see that emotion from, you know, anti nuclear advocates who have that sanctity degradation, moral reflex triggered by, you know, spent nuclear fuel or nuclear waste, or the Simpsons, three eyed fish, and the neon green news. So I mean, that's tying it back to books. Like, I wouldn't have had any of the tools to intelligently question any of this stuff without deep diving, a couple of different perspectives. And I think that's, that's what's really important about diving deep, the podcast. Unbelievable. It's amazing. And there's, I mean, there's so much good content out there. But to really dive deep into, you know, one corner of one person's mind, that good book being that relationship between the reader and the author. I think that's just so, so fun and rewarding.


I think we owe it to the authors as well. I mean, writing a book is fucking hard. I mean, it's talking to Robert Bryce about this very early in the Decouple journey. I'm like, Robert, I'm going to write a book, I'm going to kind of synthesize these interviews and, you know, I'll lean heavily on like, the narratives of the guests I've had, right. And I mean, maybe I'll still do something like that. But I mean, he really cautioned me he's like, I mean, there's a man who's written six books, but you know, that process that that dedication, that singular focus to getting a book done to developing an argument to researching it that deeply like, I feel like we owe it to these people to read their goddamn books. And I don't know, like, I hear some people like we have a finite amount of time. And I hear some people saying, like, you know, if if part of a book has been like, pre printed in, in a magazine or something like, that's the bit to read, like, you shouldn't feel, necessarily you have to read the entire book. But for God's sakes, we do we do need to read books. You know, I'm just thinking a little bit more. You I know, you did this review of Alex Epstein's book. I think I remember you saying, like, you got some got some pretty harsh criticisms. And I mean, I was looking at your review amongst the other reviews and like, don't read this book, I can't believe it's out there. It should be censored. You know, this fear of, of intellectual contagion. And again, coming from the left, I think that fear from from my sort of lefty tribe is that like, you're going to sell out, right? Like, bye, bye. You're going to experience intellectual contagion, it's going to get to you right? And I don't think I've sold out.


I want I want to bring that hubris book into the picture. Because Because I think it'd be fun to set up this this contrast. So I mentioned it already, you know, the subtitle building socialism on a warming planet. And this is, you know, pretty much the, it's not accurate to call it the opposite hypothesis from Alex Epstein. But it's a very, very different take on on climate and solutions. What these books both have in common is the what's in it for me question for everyone. Right? Like, whatever our climate solutions are, people aren't going to buy them or subscribe to them. Unless, unless it answers that core question for my, my needs. What's in it for me? Right, so Huber, has this terrific book. A little bit tough to read if you have my background, but, you know, he builds a thesis that says, you know, climate change action has to come from the working class, right? If it comes from the capitalist class, it's just going to be abuse and the same old stuff, you know, the big, the big, bad industries are gonna continue, you know, figuring out ways to, you know, burn carbon and trade credits and really just do the same old stuff under a different name. He has a super, super interesting call out about the professional class, which which I feel like you and me and potentially many listeners are in right. There's the professional class the the capital class and then the working class. So the professional class is science communicators, policy technocrats, and in his language anti system radicals, which I, I understand is, you know, a person that basically lives climate goals. quietly but doesn't they don't make waves, right? They just reduce their consumption quietly getting to the working class, you know, he says, We're not going to do anything or make any kind of meaningful progress on climate or energy without a message that resonates with the working class. And this is where I see the the ask of the reader is almost the same in Huber's book as it is in Epstein's book. Right, which is to help flesh out that what's in it for me? How do we make energy policy understandable to everyone for one, and beneficial to everyone? For another?


Speaker 1  45:44  

You know, that's been a real focus of mine with with looking at the question of just transition. I think I really agree with Matt there. And I think that's what's so bereft from probably what he's critiquing what he sees on the climate left, is that a Degrowth agenda is not something that working class people are likely to sign up for. They've already been experiencing austerity for a long time. And, you know, again, when I've when I ventured into debating the just transition, mostly just on Twitter, but I mean, I remember some very poignant argument I had with a, an academic who was responding to one of my, my Twitter threads on the topic. And she was saying, you know, sure, like wind and solar jobs, don't pay as well as fossil fuel jobs. But, and I sort of said, like, that's where the argument stops, like, it's not a just transition if a fossil fuel worker takes a pay cut, you know, tell that to a fossil fuel worker, who's got a family to feed and a mortgage to pay and everything, and they're just gonna raise their third digital face. Right. Like, and that's, I think that's it's really important for Matt to be writing that. You know, I think I think he's his book. It's great that it's being read more widely than just be on sort of the radical left. But, but it's important. I mean, I don't know, I feel like I've kind of given up on even trying to communicate with the radical left, because I'm just seeing them as being like in a decreasingly relevant section of society in terms of crafting change. But I don't know, maybe that's not so true with kind of the Biden coalition and you know, NRDC in the seat of power. I'm not sure what to think of that.


Chris Keefer  47:15  

Yeah, I, I, again, I'm new to politics in the grand scheme of things, but I think Huber is, you know, he hits on what you said, we need this worker led movement, we need something that appeals to the masses, if, if we're promoting climate change policies that are based on austerity and and reductions. In North America, we live for the most part in a, you know, energy abundance, right? I'm pretty sure North America has the highest per capita energy usage of anywhere in the world. And many people with opinions all over the spectrum would be hard pressed to really like, you know, it's one thing installing the LED light bulbs, but it's another thing having your, your available energy, your natural gas or electricity, you know, cut to the level of even Eastern Europe, let alone anywhere else in the developing world. Right. So how are we going to sell policies based on energy austerity, we, you know, that's what I love about the Ecomodernist movement. And Shellenberger covers us really well in his book and even Smeal, in energy and civilization says, you know, energy leads to an improved quality of life. And you know, you have a Bill Gates quote on the cover of every Smeal book. I think Shellenberger says more or less the same thing with a lot more words, but I don't think you'd get a Bill Gates quote on Shellenberger is book. And then Epstein just focuses on the fossil future, the fossil fuel aspect, and I can almost guarantee you wouldn't get it Bill Gates quote on the cover of his book.


So like, what is Matt Huber's? Does he have a concrete set of policy proposals as to like how to achieve climate action without austerity?


It was it was a really interesting and I think, a really appealing conclusion. So he basically says that, you know, the title of his chapter six is electrifying the climate movement, the case for electricity as a strategic sector. So given that the electrical sector produces an enormous chunk of the emissions, carbon emissions, you know, why not use that highly unionized worker base to help create that change? Right, and those are workers whose jobs are going to be affected by changing energy and climate policies. So he's, he's suggesting, you know, let's unionize and And radicalized to use his words, unions in that industry, get them pulling for change and get them leading climate policy.


So who like Who Who are his agents of change? Who will go and agitate in those workplaces? I mean, are these like, you know, climate left hairshirt an activist like, I don't mean to make too bad of a stereotype there. But I mean, I think I think as a, you know, as a bit of an old school socialist, he's harkening back to that sort of, you know, leftist, intellectual, I don't wanna say Bolshevik, per se, but someone going into those workplaces, maybe even be going to trade school becoming an electrician, and kind of agitating in the workplace. And that that's kind of the old school communist model, right of organizing workplaces.


But I'm just, I don't see the A to B to C of it in terms of what kind of arguments those agitators make to say, Hey, guys, we should all care a lot more about climate and how that translates into the choices that we make, right? Because a big part of Decouple for me was was saying, you know, I can have a great left wing government come to power who, you know, fits my ideology in terms of, you know, basically kind of a Scandinavian social democratic model of, you know, expansive social services, you know, a more equal society, you know, with with a little bit of market mixed in there for fun, right. But I'm losing my train of thought here, this is awful. But um, but if if that if that, you know, political entity of that government that comes to power makes the wrong technological choices, like we're in for a fucking disaster. And so the politics became a bit less important to me, not completely unimportant to me, but like, I do. I mean, I need to have Matt on. And I guess maybe these book reviews that we're doing may lead into bringing the author on to sort of concert carry on. And that's a good thing for the listeners to kind of get a taste and then a deeper dive or like the questions that come up between us, again, we're gonna play around with this format and see what works. But do you have a sense that is that fleshed out well enough, because I don't feel I mean, I haven't read the book yet. But I don't feel completely satisfied in terms of what that theory of change looks like.


I think what you described with, you know, people, you know, you have to have someone organizing and radicalizing within the workforce. I think that was Matt Huber's hypothesis. And I mean, you might have to come him come have him on to deprogram the listeners from everything I've said. But I found his like his, his book was more challenging from a reader, because there was a kind of a less concrete, less tangible outcome, right? The the ask at the end of the book is to unionize and radicalized the electricity sector for for climate change. And if you're not in that sector, it doesn't feel like you have the tools to do much. So from kind of like a reader satisfaction. perspective, it was, it was really interesting. And I learned a lot about stuff I knew nothing about. But I was kind of left with an empty toolbox, and maybe half of a mental model to apply. Whereas with Epstein, you know, he developed this really well thought out mental model, you know, that you can condense down to be sweet anti impact versus human flourishing? Right?


No, I mean, Epstein is just absolutely brilliant propagandist and communicator. And that's almost like, I think I will interview him at some point. But I was glad to chat about him with you, because I feel like he's got such polished messaging that it's like, I really like to surprise people or ask questions that might bring out a fresh answer from someone you know. And that's, that's part of the danger with with Alex is he's just such a good such a good communicator. And he has these energy talking points, which are something that I've really looked toward as a model to develop pronuclear talking points, but you know, things that can be summed down to a tweet, and he's he, you know, he's a philosopher, he's a rhetorician. And there's something really important to study that you don't have to agree with him, in order to use his methods, you know, and that's something I've done in Canada, and in my political organizing is I've gone and looked at what the anti nukes are doing, and said, Hey, I don't need to reinvent the wheel, I just need to take the change the language and keep using the format. But you know, it is funny, like you're talking about what Matt Huber is arguing for, and I'm just kind of realizing that's exactly what I'm doing. Like, I'm not I haven't become an electrician and joined a union like that. But, you know, my sort of theory of change in Canada has been very much around. We have this large nuclear sector was 76,000. This is the political base around which we can organize the grassroots civil nuclear pronuclear movement to draw in more people. And that's, that's been most of my efforts is communicating with labor, labor leadership, you know, getting emails out on these huge listservs and trying to radicalize and saying, hey, you know, we're in a key moment, for instance, in Ontario, where we're heading down to kind of path dependency towards now for gas, like if we can form the right political alliances and flex muscle now, if unions can come together and make demands, there is a real potential to steer policy. So it's interesting hearing you describe my hubris book and saying and questioning sort of who or who's gonna go and do this work and kind of realizing that that's actually like my exact political approach.


That's not a critique of your political program, I want to I want to mention two really terrific ideas that that Huber dropped, that I made a note of, and then I want to come back to Epstein and persuasion. So to a few barriers, create ideas, he in the first chapter about the capitalist class, had this unbelievably awesome and thorough debunking of the idea of personal carbon footprints, right, we were all familiar with these and, you know, track your personal carbon footprint, and you get on an airplane and add to this much and you turn on your gas barbecue, and it adds this much. But, you know, he suggests, like that this is, you know, oil industry propaganda, essentially, apparently, it started with be the company BP and a report in the early 2000s. And he suggests that in a capitalist society, you cannot blame, quote, unquote, the consumer for their carbon footprint, right? If if commodities, and products and manufacturing are a race to the bottom for cost and quality, you know, the carbon footprint starts at the factory. So I thought that was a really compelling and interesting idea from Huber. And another super interesting idea was around the the people who are calling for Degrowth. Right? This is that professional class that I talked about with the science communicators and the policy technocrats and the anti system radicals. Right, this, this is a minority of the population, but they are the loudest voice calling for Degrowth. You don't hear the working class. You don't hear developing countries, you don't hear disempowered countries, calling for Degrowth. It's this professional class whose basic needs are already met. Now, jumping over to Epstein and persuasion, that was my other takeaway from this book is that Epstein is a master persuader. And he does the reader a favor in the last chapter is he gives you his playbook for persuasion. So if you read nothing else in fossil future, read chapter 11, which is called reframing the conversation and arguing to 100. So his insight is in the wider climate debate, according to him, the moral goal is reduce co2, right, reduce co2 emissions, reduce co2 levels, that's the ultimate moral goal. And that's the 100 on the goal framework, right? The the minus 100 is increased co2 emissions. So you can't win an argument if the moral goal at 100 is increasing, or sorry, decreasing co2 emissions, you can't win an argument arguing for minus 100 of increasing co2 emissions. And you also can't really win from zero, which is like compromising and brokering and like, oh, maybe we can like offset emissions by doing this over here, but then they increase over here. That's his whole point about human flourishing versus anti impact is reframing that moral goal. So you can't win the argument if the moral goal is decrease co2 emissions, but you can win the argument. If the 100 the moral goal is increased human flourishing, or maybe a minimum, you can at least have a more nuanced argument about how do we actually increase human flourishing. So this this last chapter in the book, he drops the name of another author, Robert C. eldini, who wrote a terrific book called influence which if anyone is interested in influence and persuasion, this is a really terrific book to read to both protect yourself the next time you you know, buy furniture or used car, or or to make your own communication more effective, right? It's not about deception. It's about effective persuasion,


and so on. So he's, he's basically saying I'm just I'm not sure I grasp this minus 102 100. Is he saying that one should I guess an unwinnable argument? So reframe it and basically make it about another goal is that is that the this this reframing or this Getting to 100


Yeah, that's exactly it. So if if the wider climate discussion is all around the moral goal of reducing co2 emissions anyone who wants to talk about increasing energy usage Shellenberger or Epstein, whoever can't win,


right? The argument isn't, hey, we want to increase emissions. It's like we want to


so if the moral goal if the end argument is make life better for people, you know that that becomes a much more compelling framework to talk about solutions like nuclear energy, you know, bringing people out of energy poverty and developing nations, that sort of thing.


Speaker 1  1:00:40  

Right, right. I feel like you know, we can and talking about Epstein's book without engaging a bit with with how we talks about climate and neither of us are sort of climate experts. I've had Zeke Hausfather on you know, I've had Mark Lynas on. I have not had folks like Steve Koonin on, you know, his book unsettled.


Chris Keefer  1:00:59  

You know, I think the whole Decouple journey actually really began when I was arguing with a guy up in the Yukon who'd been involved in oil and gas, he said, Nah, it's not co2, it's something else. And I said, Of course, it co2, but I hadn't actually done anything got done reading on climate, you know, sort of some of Alex's arguments here. He's one of his big things. And you hear this and Bjorn Lomborg, you hear this in Shellenberger and elsewhere is that, you know, one degree of warming hasn't really done that much more people die from cold exposure than heat exposure. What do you feel are some of the ways that maybe he's kind of being selective and how he's talking about this menu, something obvious, for me seems to be the, you know, one degree of warming has very different impacts than than two degrees of warming. You know, and I think we're starting to starting to see that and I, but do you have, like, in terms of reading this book was there was there things that you identify the thought were, like, disingenuous in terms of the climate arguments he was making? I feel like, in the same way that it's hard to really, and this is the real strength of this book is he lays out, you know, the ways in which fossil fuels underpin just about every single thing in our modern world, and really underpin not just flourishing, but human survival. And it's complex. And I've already forgotten a whole bunch, when I read it, I was just like, Oh, my God, I mean, these are just a miraculous set of, you know, hydrocarbons are miraculous, they really are. But in a parallel sense, climate change, it's so hard to wrap your head around the ways in which warming has has impacts across so many different systems from ocean acidification to sea level, rise to x, y, and Zed. And so if you're only thinking about one impact, it's easy to say, well, we can adapt to sea level rise, or we can adapt to, you know, heat extremes or, you know, heat waves for a couple of weeks. But putting in too much air conditioning, you know, I don't know, I guess that's sort of some of my thinking about how I think about this. And so we need to, we need to be doing both things in terms of, you know, human flourishing, I mean, Decouple well being from its from its emissions or his impact, right? I mean, that's the mission of the podcast, I just feel like, I need to end on that note, so that my listeners don't feel like I've just gone completely off the deep end and don't give a shit about climate. I don't think it's important anymore. This is a compelling book. But anyway, I've sort of done the stupid thing or ask a question and kind of half answer it. But yeah, your thoughts, I guess, on on sort of the climate parts of this book, and even if it's just your kind of reactions to it, or how it made you feel?


Yeah, well, thanks for giving me that opportunity. Because I definitely, you know, want to emphasize one last time that I'm a reader and not an expert. You know, like, like, I've been saying, this is a persuasive and morally driven book. And then Epstein selects or or he sees, he appears to select his evidence to to just, you know, further bring the reader along to his hypothesis, I guess, right. And some of these arguments are really persuasive. This is why we're doing Decouple reads, by the way, so that the audience and my friends and my colleagues can chip in and say, no, no problem. Here's, here's exactly where he's wrong or where he's kind of mishandled the evidence. But let me give you one example that I think is very persuasive from this book. And again, not a climate denier. It's just a persuasive book. So he says, the global climate system is near historic lows in co2 and temperature. And, and when you think about that, in the short term of, you know, 1020 years like it certainly feels like we're in a climate. Emergency Shellenberger in Apocalypse never talks a lot about how that catastrophism is unproductive. But Epstein shows you this. This chart of co2 and temperature over time. And sure enough, you know, millions and millions of years ago, you know, there's orders of magnitude more co2 in the atmosphere and life flourished. Now, I, like I found this, there's so many hard to swallow pills. I'm like, reading this. And I'm like, Well, what about the coral reefs? Alex, what about the coral reefs? You didn't tell me about the coral reefs? And then I answered my own question with his moral framework, right? Well, you know, screw the coral reefs, if it means more human flourishing. Like, I think that's kind of where the book is apt on climate, it's like humans will improvise, adapt, overcome, will engineer our way out of climate hazards. I think one of the major major gaps in the book is is like impact on wildlife and natural systems, he kind of picked some examples to, you know, help the reader get to his conclusion and be really persuasive. But, you know, it is a work of kind of persuasion and morality, with just enough science in it to feel really credible. So, you know, I, this is why I wanted to discuss this book with with more people, because I think it needs to be picked apart. I think someone needs to do a really thorough rebuttal, which is not, you know, replying to my book report and calling me irrational because I, I read it.


Speaker 1  1:06:38  

I love it. I love what you're saying there in terms of, you know, our commentaries here, no way meant to be sort of like, you know, this is what you should take away from the book. This is it. This is really a starting point for, you know, our audience to jump in. And I really am looking forward to and I hope we're successful at finding the platform with which, you know, people that are interested in kind of this, again, Decouple subsidiary can can dive in and get involved and call bullshit or whatever else. I mean, the bullshit, I guess I'd call on that. And it is, you know, maybe it's persuasive argumentation, to show a big long graph of, you know, co2 concentrations across world history. But I mean, you know, we've emerged as a civilization as human beings during this lovely little period of climate temperate stability called the Holocene. And the last time we saw these kinds of co2 variations over a much more extended period, preceded, you know, one of the great mass extinctions I might be wrong, the Precambrian, you know, which was related to a whole bunch of volcanoes going off in Siberia, I believe, and changing the atmospheric composition of co2 over a much longer period of life takes a long time to adapt. I mean, I do really think that climate change is, is going to be disastrous over over the period of centuries. I'm just, you know, I'm not convinced that the ways in which we're going to survive it the best are those that are, you know, being prescribed by the climate alarmists. I'm quite sure it's not you know, and that it is going to require adaptation. I think there's a middle road to walk here. And again, I don't know I'm just kind of exploring it myself in terms of trying to reframe this, you know, we in the don't look up movie which we reviewed with another Alex, Alex Trembath. You know, you have this framing of you know, the media are coming in destroying the world. And it's much more of a again, this act of sort of like defense or resistance. And this is an idea I'm just kind of toying with. And it really goes against like these ideas of harmonizing with nature and nature is our friend. I mean, I just got back from a beautiful trip to the mountains, I really, My soul sings in nature, and it's as a kind of post material, wealthy person in the West, I have that luxury. If this is kind of a fight for survival. I think it requires a bit of a different framing. And I think there's a way to sort of just to have this sort of struggle for survival while not not destroying nature, but anyway, I'm starting starting to kind of rant off here, I think this is a good place to, to wrap it up and really, again, invite the listenership to pipe in we are busily looking for a platform with which to make audience interaction. Most easy. So listeners if you have suggestions, please do get in touch. You can do that on Twitter, at our Decouple media site on Twitter, you can write us an email through the website and we're really looking forward I think to carrying on with with having a book club it's something I've been meaning to do for a while and personally didn't have the wavelength for so Brown. I'm really excited that you're so excited to to engage in this and make this happen make


Chris Keefer  1:09:34  

it a reality.


Yeah, thanks a lot Chris. And maybe just one thought on reading to wrap up if if people aren't, you know, reading or they haven't picked up a book in a while. There's a quote from Novell Raava Khan who says, Read what you love until you love to read. So don't start with fac loves meal because you because you're not going to have a good time if that's the first book you've read in a while, you know, read some beach mysteries or some fiction or you Do something fun until until you really hit your stride.


Cool, cool. And yeah as well. I mean listenership if you've got some titles you think we should look at and talk about, you know, again, the format may be reviewing one book or it may be kind of a smorgasbord like we've done today. But Brom. I love that we've, we've read some of the same stuff, I think you more intensively. But yeah, looking forward to more fruitful conversations.


Brahm Neufeld  1:10:25  

Thanks a lot, Chris. I'm looking forward to it as well.



bottom of page