Environmentalists protest pro-fossil fuel industry lecturer

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Students gather and protest Alex Epstein’s lecture in the Engineering Education & Research Center on Oct. 28, 2019. Epstein came to UT to support the use of fossil fuels and advocate against alternative forms of energy.

Photo Credit: Jack Myer | Daily Texan Staff

Protesters stood outside the Mulva Auditorium Monday holding signs reading “People and Planet Before Profit” and “100% Renewable” in protest of a fossil fuel industry supporter’s guest lecture. 

The UT Center for Enterprise and Policy Analytics at the McCombs School of Business hosted the lecture in the Cockerell School of Engineering, where Alex Epstein spoke to a full Mulva Auditorium about the risks in using alternative means of energy and why he supports the fossil fuel industry. In the small hallway outside, about 30 students and environmental activists advocated against Epstein’s claims against the efficacy of renewable energy.  

Epstein, the president of the Center for Industrial Progress, said during the lecture that he supports alternative energy such as nuclear power but said they are not reliable enough to support billions of people. He said fossil fuels accounted for 80% of U.S. energy consumption in 2018, claimed fossil fuel is the world’s fastest growing source of energy and said radical change in energy usage with methods such as solar and wind would result in catastrophe.

 

Protest organizer Kerry Cook said the protest saw the attendance of community environmental groups such as the Austin Sierra Club, Environment Texas and the Citizens’ Climate Lobby, as well as student groups, such as the Extinction Rebellion ATX and Students Fighting Climate Change. Cook, a UT geological sciences professor, said she organized the protest to push back against lectures like Epstein’s, which she said often go without fact-checking or moderation.

“The overall goal is general education but also pushing back against this kind of self-interest,” Cook said. “(It comes) in the face of all the danger that people around the world are facing due to climate change.”

Cynthia Lesky, a member of Citizens’ Climate Lobby, said she attended the protest to support national and bipartisan legislation such as the Energy Innovation & Carbon Dividend Act, which was supported by Democrats such as presidential candidate and former U.S. representative John Delaney and Republicans such as Rep. Francis Rooney. Lesky said the legislation would boost the economy and decrease American carbon pollution by 33% within a decade by putting a fee on fossil fuels and allocating the money collected to citizens.

“The purpose of that is to help families who are vulnerable to the rising costs that (climate change) will cause,” Lesky said. “We appreciate the fossil fuel industry …  but the evolution of industry and the increase in population …  convinces us that we have to transition from fossil fuels.”

Sustainability studies junior Parker Chambers said he attended the protest to get more involved in activism related to climate justice and that people with less access to resources and privilege are threatened more by climate change. He said he was against Epstein’s presence at UT because the lecture risked spreading misinformation about the climate.

“Climate change is an existential threat to all of us,” Chambers said. “I don’t even know why the University of Texas is allowing (Epstein) to speak here. Climate change is not debatable.”