With roughly 20 percent of the world’s population without electricity, one of the greatest challenges that humanity will face this century is improving access to affordable, reliable energy. Vast amounts of energy will need to be produced and consumed to grow economies at a rate that outpaces global population growth, which is forecast to increase by another 2 billion by 2050.
Currently, about half of the world’s population lives in energy poverty and this number will grow significantly if access doesn’t markedly improve. Most of those 3 billion today are located in Sub-Saharan Africa and developing countries in Asia. Eradication of this form of poverty is indispensable to America’s efforts to advance political governance in those regions, which in turn is needed for global stability. It’s no coincidence that the majority of failed states or states at substantial risk of failure exist in areas of energy poverty.
Failed or failing states, such as Somalia and Afghanistan, offer terrorist organizations relative freedom to build their operations and plan strikes against America. This national security threat is growing as we face a slowdown in the global economy and an apparent deteriorating situation in the Arab world and in Pakistan. More than ever, we need to promote economic development as a check against totalitarianism and terrorism; that requires a plan based on realities, including the need to increase significantly the poor’s access to fossil fuels – not the steps “fantasized” by the environmentalist community where every village in Sub-Saharan Africa has a wind or solar farm.
And rather than meet multiple times per year under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to discuss ways to limit fossil fuel exploitation, America should be doing the opposite – leading an international effort to promote the expanded production and consumption of fossil fuels, civil nuclear energy, and renewables that are competitive with traditional resources.
Unfortunately, back in Washington, we bury our heads in the sand and ignore the grave national security problem that energy poverty creates and its link to political instability and terrorism. Instead, we choose to waste countless hours discussing ways to starve Americans and the global community from affordable, reliable energy by taxing fossil fuels, regulating civil nuclear more heavily, or deploying systems that cannot be used for baseload, such as wind power.
It gets worse. In America, we have environmentalist groups that are actually trying to prevent U.S. energy exports to the developing world, all in the name of saving the planet from climate change. This type of advocacy is highly irresponsible – not to mention immoral due to the negative impacts a ban on U.S. energy exports would have on the global poor, including the precedent established for other energy-rich countries.
And few people here in Washington seem to realize that. It’s almost as if the environmentalists have played a Jedi mind trick on the multitudes of policy wonks in this city, waving their hands before us, pointing to coal, natural gas, and petroleum, and softly saying, “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.”
Obviously, Washingtonians need stronger minds to withstand such trickery.
Environmentalists, unquestionably, will counter with a passionate plea that they are trying to avoid a climate impact that could cause untold suffering for the world’s poor and in the worse-case scenario, spark the mass extinction of the human race. Of course, this ignores the fact that the poor could better withstand climate impacts if they had access to energy, which is indispensable to providing clean air, clean water, as well as resilient health systems. Environmentalists also appear to forget that the most likely mass-extinction scenario by a factor of X to the X power in our life time is nuclear war – and not the melting of the icecaps due to the Keystone Pipeline.
It’s unlikely that America will have much of a part in preventing nuclear proliferation this century simply because we aren’t building much civil nuclear. As a consequence, the country will soon lose our manufacturing capacity and know-how to produce nuclear goods and services, followed by a corresponding diminished voice in international negotiations. That role will be left to the Chinese and others.
But because of our potential as a global energy powerhouse, we can play a major role in expanding the production and consumption of all forms of energy to help promote global economic growth and eradicate poverty, which in turn will create the stable political systems and governance that is needed to manage proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Certainly, America should be a model to other energy-rich countries, exploiting our resources as much as possible, using free market principles as a guideline and exporting those fuels, technologies, and savoir-faire across the globe.
As part of a global strategy to eradicate energy poverty, Washington should support the deployment of affordable, reliable energy, which in most cases, would rule out renewable energy systems. We should not abandon renewable energy, but we should deploy those systems only when they are competitive and make sense, given a country’s circumstances, energy mix, and economic profile.
In reality, only fossil fuels and nuclear power can provide the amount of affordable, reliable energy needed to fuel the industrialization that we are likely to see between now and 2050. Creating an international regime that seeks to limit the production, consumption, and exports of fossil fuels in the name of climate change will only increase the odds of creating a world that’s more likely to produce a mass-extinction event caused by a nuclear exchange.
Environmentalists claim that they embrace science, but in reality, they ignore history and all of the knowledge that humanity has gained about itself over these past millennia. Certainly, if we survive as a species, humanity will need to meet the challenge of severe climate change impacts, but for this century, we would be better off to worry much more about the failure of political systems and the global risk that it carries. The shape and form of our national energy discussions should flow from that logic.