In honor of World Environment Day on June 5th, a day focused on action across the globe, New Deal 2.0 asked leading thinkers in climate change to describe what they see as the single most important step that can be taken right now.
Nothing. That's the single most important step that can be taken right now to combat climate change. Yes, that's a heretical position, but stay with me for a moment and consider these numbers:
-- About 1.6 billion people on the planet do not have electricity in their homes.
-- India alone has 400 million people who live without electricity.
-- The entire continent of Africa, a region with a population of about 1 billion people, about 14% of the world's population, uses just 3% of the world's electric power.
In their 2005 book, The Bottomless Well, authors Peter Huber and Mark Mills made clear the case for more electricity production, writing "Economic growth marches hand in hand with increased consumption of electricity -- always, everywhere, without significant exception in the annals of modern industrial history."
That's it exactly. More electricity equals more wealth. Period.
The countries of the world must -- repeat, must -- pursue cheap and abundant electricity as a primary goal. For without electrical power, the world's poorest residents will never be able to obtain the education and employable skills that they need to become productive. Unfortunately, rather than focusing on cheap abundant energy, policymakers here in the US and in Europe are fixated on the belief that they can achieve drastic worldwide reductions in carbon dioxide emissions through taxes, mandates, and subsidies for expensive "green" energy projects. The results of those overly intrusive policies could be disastrous, particularly for the energy poor.
Sure, countries like China, India, and South Africa are burning lots of coal in order to produce more electricity. The result: lots of new carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. But that electricity is freeing millions of people from lives of dire energy poverty. In 2007, Freeman Dyson, a renowned professor of physics at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University wrote that "The greatest evils are poverty, underdevelopment, unemployment, disease and hunger...The humanist ethic accepts an increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere as a small price to pay, if world-wide industrial development can alleviate the miseries of the poorer half of humanity."
To that, I say amen.
Robert Bryce is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and the author of four books, the latest of which is Power Hungry: The Myths of "Green" Energy and the Real Fuels of the Future.