United Nations representatives and scientists repeatedly refer to climate change as “a threat to human security.” In fact, the U.N. Secretary General recently called climate change “the single greatest threat to sustainable development.” On a domestic level, Secretary of State John Kerry describes it “a weapon of mass destruction.” Such characterizations are rich topics of debate, and there is much yet unknown about the specifics of might lie in our collective future. What is known, and what is incontrovertibly supported by fact, is that energy poverty is a threat to human security and development.
Energy poverty is not a theory. It is a devastating problem affecting the world today. New data shows that half the people in the world lack adequate access to energy, including 1.2 billion children. This problem greatly affects health, standard of living, and the environment. Without affordable energy, it is impossible for people to lead a decent life and is difficult even to survive. Unlike the highly speculative figures calculated by federal officials to justify regulations like Utility MACT, the human lives affected by energy poverty today can be counted in a tangible way.
The vast majority of people without energy access live in third-world countries, mainly in Africa and Asia, including populous countries such as India. While the U.N. and environmental groups remain fixated on costly renewable energy projects that cut carbon emissions, people suffering energy poverty in these countries simply want power that works. They aren’t interested in carbon taxes and energy efficiency mandates. They are interested in survival on a scale that most of us in the first world cannot fathom, but less appreciate.
To meet these basic needs, nations like China and India are building more generation capacity from coal, natural gas, and nuclear power at an incredible rate. And they are not about to stop. Countries desperate for more energy, hoping to build competitive economies, can only do so with more affordable energy, not less.
There are certainly threats in the world today. The U.N. report on climate change believes strongly that climate change is one of them. But while we speculate about future risks, we shouldn’t forget the real risks we can see today with our own eyes: the poorest people in the world who suffer enormously when energy is unavailable, too expensive, or unreliable.