Humans are the ultimate resource. Human ingenuity, human aspiration, and human compassion are the wellsprings of technological advances that will continue to make our world cleaner, healthier and more livable. Energy is the engine of these advances – not their enemy. Energy helps us to maintain our the quality of life, . Aand it’s the key to helping those in developing countries improve theirs.
Let’s look at how.
In the United States, we use about 100 quadrillion British Thermal Units of heat energy per year. About 40 percent of that goes to make electricity, 30 percent for transportation and 30 percent for raw heat applications, ranging from ovens and hair dryers to manufacturing processes.
That sounds like a lot of energy, but it’s concentrated, controlled and cleaner than what mankind used for millennia – and continues to use in many places to this day: the biomass found in wood, dung and crop waste.
Even today, as we take our microwave ovens, central heaters and air conditions and electric cooktops for granted, many in the world are still burning biomass – wood and dung – to heat their homes and cook their food. Poor ventilation leads to the same health problems that plagued most of us for centuries. According to the World Health Organization, each year “over 4 million people die prematurely from illness attributable to the household air pollution from cooking with solid fuels.”
The WHO report goes on to explain that “Without a substantial change in policy, the total number of people relying on solid fuels will remain largely unchanged by 2030.”
In developed nations, we don’t see these effects because the energy that powers our lives comes from cleaner sources, and further, by the time we’re using the energy, those cleaner sources have already has already been converted into electricity.
And it’s electricity that truly transformed our world. It fuels our work and our freedom. It illuminates our nights and powers our days. It banished the darkness and drudgery that limited mankind for so long.
And as we have seen in more recent years, electricity has fueled the information revolution. There would be no Google, no Facebook and no internet at all; no computers, no electronically stored medical records and no advanced diagnostic machines without abundant and reliable electricity.
To produce that electricity, we rely heavily on fossil fuels.
According to the government’s Energy Information Agency (EIA), coal still generates about a third of our electricity in the United States (30.4 percent), while cleaner burning natural gas is gaining ground, at 33.8 percent. Nuclear power, also a clean, reliable form of power, generates about 19.7 percent of our electricity. Hydroelectric dams produce about 6.5 percent of our electricity, followed by wind (5.5 percent) and solar (0.6 percent). In other words, renewables power a staggeringly low percentage of our life.
Imagine life, unpowered. Modern life, beyond modern conveniences, is powered by the fossil fuels, and also increasingly by nuclear and renewable energy sources, that human ingenuity has made so abundant and inexpensive.
There’s a term for life: unpowered. It’s “energy poverty,” and it shortens lifespanslife spans and drastically increases the burdens on families, and particularly women. We know that women are 50 percent of the world population, but they are 70 percent of those struggling in extreme poverty, and energy poverty is a key barrier to rising above that.
As Jude Clemente wrote in Forbes recently, “each day, South African women walk the equivalent to the moon and back 16 times simply to collect water, here. These unfortunate ones have no chance to better their lives through education or retaining a job because they are forced to spend their entire days accomplishing the mundane.”
The war on energy is not bloodless. It’s casualties are the men, women, and children denied the life giving power of energy.,That’s why the war on energy is so destructive. Demanding that developing nations use only renewable energy condemns these people topeoplethem to the poverty that fossil fuels helped the developed world emerge from long ago. And because so much more is derived from fossil fuels – from durable, inexpensive clothing to life-saving, sterile plastics to the fertilizers and pesticides that ensure everyone gets enough to eat – denying other nations this resource is inhumane.
Yet, this inhumanity is exactly what the United Nations demands in its “Sustainable Development Goals.”
This war on energy is also behind Europe’s rapid – and disastrous – deindustrialization. Because of high energy prices, the result of the European Union’s impossibly ambitious green energy goals, human suffering is rising alongside electricity rates. The result, in many places, is that people are back to using that low-tech, inefficient source of energy – firewood.
EU regulators cover for their blunder by simply calling this old source by a new name: biomass. It’s even renewable, they say, as homes again fill with the harmful smoke of cooking fires.