Alex Epstein’s argument in The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels is unconventional. Millions of people will die, he says, if we attempt drastically to restrict the use of fossil fuels in the United States. The usual rationale for doing so is that it will save lives. Environmentalists such as Bill McKibben and Tom Steyer argue that we will have a catastrophe on our hands if we do not reduce the amount of carbon dioxide we are putting into the air. The sea will rise, flooding our cities; droughts and hurricanes will ravage our plains and coasts; the world’s food supply will be cut substantially, causing millions in developing countries to be decimated by famine. More greenhouse gases, the byproduct of burning fossil fuels, will mean a much more dangerous world—at least so we are told.
The last 100 or so years of academic literary criticism have been spectacularly heterogeneous. A century that began with dons arguing about Chaucer’s verbs as if their lives were at stake and showering one another with Festschriften ended with Jonathan Goldberg’s famous essay ‘The Anus in Coriolanus.’ The same poem by, say, Marvell might, depending upon whom one reads, be a dry, delicious repository of philological knowledge or a helpful data point for those interested in the history of bourgeois exploitation. It might be “about” almost anything: the bliss of prelapsarian man, trees, nothing.