Alex Epstein is a self-styled “philosopher and energy expert” closely affiliated with the fossil fuel industry. The author of “The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels” and the upcoming “Fossil Future” (to be released May 24th), Epstein uses his platform to attack climate science and those concerned with impacts of climate change. He advocates using “energy poverty” as a talking point in favor of fossil fuels, and accuses environmentalists of racism. Coal and oil corporations have increasingly taken up Epstein's messaging in recent years.

However, a series of articles Epstein authored in college as publisher of the Duke Review reveal that Epstein considered non-Western cultures, specifically African cultures, “inferior,” and homeless people "worse than useless." Epstein also wrote multiple articles advocating for the cancellation of Martin Luther King Jr holiday. Last week, after being asked for comment on his writings by the Washington Post, Epstein defended his past work, saying "I do think western culture is overall superior."

The writings, obtained by Documented and featured in a recent Washington Post article, raise new questions about the authenticity of Epstein's concern for “energy poverty,” which he often bolsters with references to African nations. These new revelations also raise questions about the degree to which Epstein's views on western culture's supremacy undergird the fossil fuel industry's instrumentalization of poverty as a talking point.

Locke, Aristotle, and Newton have had no equivalents in Africa or Asia, and the advancements in those areas have been almost exclusively due to Western influence. To see the results, just compare New York to Chad. No benefit can be gained by focusing an education on anti-reason cultures, their only academic merit lies in contrasting them to Western civilization as models of inferiority. Alex Epstein, "Curriculum 2000," Duke Review, March 1999

The African and African American studies department has 23 classes. In many of these classes, African culture is presented, not as inferior to Western culture, but on equal footing with it. The same is done with Latin American, Indian, and American Indian culture. Alex Epstein, "The Real Cause of Binge Drinking," Duke Review, April 2000

In another piece, Epstein said, "It is often said that America was 'built on the backs of slaves.' This is simply false."

While blacks in the pre-Civil War period were shackled by slavery, blacks today are not. Nor are they forcibly held back by legal segregation or Jim Crow laws. They are free to work hard, earn money, and succeed, as many do. Alex Epstein, "The Racism of Reparations," Duke Review, March 2001

During that same period, Epstein published a 2000 article titled, “Martin Luther King: Is he Worthy of a Day Off Over Jefferson, Columbus, and Lincoln?” where he stated:

Black crime has increased steadily since King's time, and seven out of ten black children born today have parents that are not married. Could it be that there is a reason behind all these problems, a reason having to do with ideas? Since a culture is just the dominant ideas accepted by a certain group of people, a culture yielding bad results is based on bad ideas. I submit that because of the bad ideas he promoted, Dr. King is responsible for a great part of the destruction that has occurred in America today, especially among black Americans, the group he supposedly saved.  Alex Epstein, "Martin Luther King: is he worthy of a day off over Jefferson, Columbus, and Lincoln?" Duke Review, February 2000

He also criticized the idea of corporations giving back to the community, writing that "the homeless, those on welfare, medicare recipients...are worse than useless to businesses."

Not all "others" benefit a business. Certain others - the homeless, those on welfare, Medicare recipients - are worse than useless to businesses. A business benefits only by dealing with an individual or company that creates value.  Alex Epstein, "Giving Back to the Community," Duke Review, November 2000

Documented is publishing a selection of articles authored by Alex Epstein in the Duke Review, which you can find below. The full collection of Duke Review issues from 1999-2001 are available upon request.

Spreading Pro Fossil Fuel Disinformation

Epstein, founder of the for-profit company Center for Industrial Progress, is an aggressive supporter of the fossil fuel industry. He sometimes sports an “I love fossil fuels” t-shirt, denies climate science, and attacks critics of the fossil fuel industry as racist. This has made him popular with Republican politicians, and he has appeared in three Congressional hearings as an expert witness. He also influences oil policy directly as a member of the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission (IOGCC), a powerful quasi-regulatory body that lobbies for oil and gas interests. Through his Energy Talking Points project, he provides message guidance to oil industry leaders and elected officials, often at high levels. Email correspondence obtained by Documented revealed that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s office circulated talking points authored by Epstein during the deadly 2021 winter storm Uri. The messaging document sought to falsely lay the blame for the mass power outages on wind and solar energy projects. Similar messaging documents advocate blaming “energy poverty” on renewable energy use.


While Epstein’s for-profit hides its funding sources, he’s admitted receiving funding from coal companies and utilities like SoCalGas. The Prometheus Foundation (headed by for-profit school magnate Carl Barney) has also contributed.

A sizable portion of Epstein’s income seems to be derived from paid speeches to corporations, trade associations, and political groups. For instance, Epstein has been known to solicit large fees to debate prominent climate advocates, and he has used his past debates with Bill McKibben, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., and others to attempt to reach other audiences. Epstein recently debated climate scientist Andrew Dessler at a March 11-12 event hosted by the Steamboat Institute and sponsored by Liberty Oilfield Services.

Many of his clients are the predictable oil corporations and oil lobbying groups, but he has also spoken at Google and the Harvard Business School.