At a speech in the East Room on Monday, President Trump correctly reminded America that “a strong economy is vital to maintaining a healthy environment.”
The United States of America is now the world’s largest producer of energy, surpassing even Saudi Arabia and Russia, producing a staggering 12.16 million barrels of oil every 24 hours. Our dominance in the energy market is good news not just for our country, but for people in poverty around the world.
Even in 2019, more than a billion people worldwide still don’t have access to electricity. President Trump is right to support the energy industry not only for its role in our economy but its potential to liberate those billion people from poverty and oppression.
Life expectancies are fully 20 years shorter in countries without electricity — countries where medieval-sounding sicknesses like cholera, typhoid, and dysentery still reign. An average man in Burundi, where less than 10% of the population has electricity, wouldn’t expect to live to 60.
Though we take electricity for granted in the United States, knowing the lights will always come on when we hit the switch, we shouldn’t overlook its potential to improve the human condition around the world. As access to energy improves, so does life expectancy, child and maternal mortality, public health, economic growth, education, poverty, hunger, and nearly every other metric of human well-being.
The United States produces more oil and natural gas and holds more recoverable coal than any other country in the world — and advances in technology mean we are increasing our reserves much faster than we are depleting them. This means we have the power to lift billions worldwide from poverty.
That’s why, when my teenage boys asked me what I do for a living, I replied, “Working to end poverty around the world.”
The more energy the United States produces and exports, the less we and our allies have to rely on unstable totalitarian countries — which means lower prices, more confidence in supply, and better trade deals. It also means everyday Americans, who spent $300 billion less on energy in 2017 than ten years prior, get to keep more of their hard-earned money to invest in their families, their communities, and charity. And it means we can continue to boost our own economy and expand our trade relationships with the countries who need our abundant, reliable, affordable energy the most.
In the words of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, “The more we can spread the U.S. model of free enterprise, of the rule of law…the more successful the U.S. will be.”
Things are already looking up. In 1980, almost half of the global population lived in “extreme poverty,” unable to afford basic necessities like food and shelter. A few decades later, the percentage of people still living in extreme poverty has dramatically declined to less than 10 percent.
But still, over 3.8 million people die every year from toxic indoor pollution created by burning wood, kerosene, and animal dung to cook or heat homes. Half a million die from diseases caused by contaminated water. And more every year, even in privileged countries, die from preventable illnesses caused by lack of heating in the winter. Those deaths could be prevented with access to electricity.
America is in a position to help lift billions in developing nations out of poverty and sickness. By harnessing the power of American natural gas, low-sulfur coal, and oil, as well as our pollution control technology, we can have a real impact on communities that are suffering the most from energy poverty.
We’re not just exporting energy. We’re exporting freedom.
This commentary originally appeared in The Resurgent on July 11, 2019.