One thing was clear from President Trump’s State of the Union address last week — there’s no stopping America’s energy dominance.
The case for “unbridled optimism,” in the president’s words, was clear from last week’s hopeful and forward-looking remarks. “Thanks to our bold regulatory reduction campaign, the United States has become the number one producer of oil and natural gas anywhere in the world, by far,” President Trump declared. Our nation has risen quickly from energy dependence to global dominance, and there’s no end to this unprecedented growth in sight.
And though the average American may not realize it, the state of America’s energy industry has a powerful — and positive — impact on our day-to-day lives.
First, and perhaps most obviously, energy has enabled the United States to become the largest economy in the world. Energy is no longer just a sector of our economy; it influences every product ever made and service ever contracted. The vast majority of products we use are made from petrochemicals; they are made with electricity and shipped to their final destinations thanks to fossil fuels.
We could not even get to work, do our jobs, educate our children, pay our bills, or even cook dinner without the affordable, reliable energy we take for granted (but that nearly a billion people around the world don’t have the opportunity to enjoy). It should be no surprise that states consistently ranking as the best in business climates also have strong energy production, and laws that support a healthy energy industry.
And our economic leadership isn’t just a function of our large population; Americans produce 3.5 times the economic output per capita of China and more than eight times that of India. Though there are many factors that contribute to the systems of poverty and oppression that plague those more populous countries, their heavy dependence on other countries for oil and natural gas is a significant influence. The more a people are subject to the fluctuating prices and the whims of their trading partners, the less personal and national security they know.
The world needs a strong America — if for nothing else, then for its energy resources. Vibrant domestic energy production and growing exports mean both the United States and our freedom-loving allies are less dependent on the Middle East and Russia for our critical energy needs.
As one senior administration official said recently, “We’re literally exporting freedom to the rest of the world.” Shipping American natural gas to Europe produces 41% fewer lifecycle emissions than Russian natural gas.
And oil prices have been remarkably stable since the United States announced it has become a net energy exporter. Though the coronavirus has caused prices to dip, even the Iran missile controversy barely registered.
As America becomes more dominant in global energy production, our power — and the power of free-market nations — will grow too. “Resource wars” over oil may be a thing of the past.
Ultimately, nothing influences the human condition more than the availability of affordable, reliable energy. Even the most basic necessities we take for granted like clean water, sanitation, plentiful fresh food, and pharmacies on every corner are impossible without our modern energy infrastructure.
There’s a simple reason Medieval diseases like typhoid, cholera, and dysentery have all but died out — except in impoverished countries without access to electricity (plus a few cities with particularly severe homelessness crises). Measurements of public health, life expectancy, education, hunger, child labor, and nearly every other indicator of human flourishing improve along with access to energy.
Even our environment stands to benefit from prosperity and flourishing. America’s air quality has improved dramatically even as our economy and population have skyrocketed. Though it might be counterintuitive to some, the environmental Kuznets Curve theory posits that as a country’s per capita income rises, so does environmental quality. Similarly, rising income on an individual level correlates directly with rising interest in preserving the environment. It’s Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in action — as people’s basic needs are taken care of, they become free to spend their time, money, and energy on higher pursuits, whether that’s civic involvement or environmental protection.
President Trump was right to tout America’s energy progress in his State of the Union. As the president noted, “Our spirit is still young; the sun is still rising; God’s grace is still shining; and my fellow Americans, the best is yet to come.”
This commentary originally appeared in RealClearEnergy on February 12, 2020.