One hundred years ago, Congress passed the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote. Since then, voters have used this right to choose many women to represent us. This is a wonderful thing, but ironically, some progressive women are now advancing climate policies that would harm the world’s poorest women the most.
Consider two of the most well-known women in Democratic politics, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y. Between them, they routinely tout the Green New Deal, the Paris Climate Agreement, and other energy austerity policies. These plans seek to counter the global use and rollout of traditional fossil fuels — the same fuels that transitioned our economy from one that relied on brawn to one that largely relies on brains and machines, disproportionately benefiting women.
Worldwide energy consumption, which is 80% coal, oil, and natural gas, correlates almost perfectly with human advancement — specifically women’s empowerment. As energy consumption increases and becomes more efficient, we see improvements in life expectancy, hunger, infant mortality, education, GDP, child labor, economic freedom, and nearly every other measure of human flourishing.
In part because of energy, women’s destinies are no longer bound by “women’s work.”
In the early 20th century, American households spent over 11 hours a week on laundry, and approximately 44 hours weekly on food preparation, with the burden falling disproportionately on women. Yet widespread access to refrigeration, microwave ovens, dishwashers, and laundry machines — all manufactured with and running on affordable, abundant, and reliable energy — changed women’s lives. Americans now spend less than two hours a week on laundry and much less time making meals as well.
The industrial revolution — which should probably be called the “fossil fuels revolution” — emancipated women from the tyranny of time, empowering us to obtain an education and choose a career. Today, women’s unemployment is at historic lows, with nearly 57% of American women in the workforce and over 40% holding college degrees. One out of every three lawyers is a woman and nearly 10 million women own businesses.
This simply isn’t the case where the energy revolution has yet to take place or in countries that have become energy-deprived. When crisis hits, it is women who are the most vulnerable.
Consider socialist Venezuela. Terrible governance brought about a breakdown of the country’s oil production, leading to days-long nationwide power outages and crippling the economy. Some Venezuelan women have since resorted to prostitution or selling their hair to feed to their families. Without power or running water, Venezuelan women and their children are bathing, washing clothes, and obtaining water in places such as streams in public parks, or even sewers.
In today’s Venezuela, would you rather be a woman or a man?
For women everywhere, energy is imperative. As history proves, the most affordable, abundant, and reliable forms of energy are fossil fuels, making up approximately 80% of the world’s energy mix. The International Energy Agency projects that this percentage will remain above 70% through at least 2040. Limiting access to these energy sources will only keep the world’s poorest in dismal poverty, with women being the most desperately affected.
Politicians speak of a prophesied future “climate crisis,” but the crisis is happening right now, as energy poverty victimizes the developing world with mortal horrors that the rest of us left behind over a century ago. We were lucky to be born Americans, but every woman should have that chance.
This commentary originally appeared in the Washington Examiner on July 3, 2019.