The Divestment Movement is Morally Bankrupt

This week’s National Journal Energy Insider’s question is “What’s the Value of Divestment?” AEA President Thomas Pyle’s response is below:

In response to the recent climate change rally in New York, the satirical newspaper the Onion quipped, “7.1 Billion Demonstrate In Favor of Global Warming.” Their point? Nearly everyone benefits from the use of natural gas, petroleum, and coal because they provide the reliable and affordable energy that makes modern life possible.

FossilFree, a pro-divestment group, refers to the “singularly destructive influence” of natural gas, petroleum, and coal. They suggest that divesting from those energy sources is a moral imperative, but they have it backwards. Closing the door on reliable, affordable energy from natural gas, petroleum, and coal would have disastrous consequences, such as reversing the decades-long trend of improving the human condition.

In India, for example, electricity generation—largely from coal and petroleum—has increased by 270 percent between 1990 and 2012. During that same time period, GDP per capita has risen by 300 percent, life expectancy has risen by 13 percent, access to improved sanitation facilities has gone up by 103 percent, child mortality has fallen by 55 percent, and PM10 air pollution has dropped by 18 percent (World Bank statistics). It is a morally bankrupt position to want to reverse these trends and condemn people in the developing world to abject energy poverty.

The positive trends mentioned above actually point to something deeper. Making energy more affordable and reliable is the moral choice because energy radically amplifies our ability to live productive, healthy, and long lives. It lightens our load and improves our living conditions in meaningful and tangible ways. With more energy, we can make more water drinkable, build more hospitals, and grow more crops. Even if the worst predictions about the impacts of increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere turn out to be true, practical solutions point towards using more energy, not less.

But is the divestment movement truly “anti-energy”? Let’s look at the statistics. Last year, natural gas, petroleum, and coal provided 82 percent of our total energy needs in the United States (and a similar share abroad). Divestment advocates are silent on the question of what source of energy can take their place, and that is because nearly all other sources remain impractical. Industrial wind and solar power are unreliable. Hydroelectric power is limited in scale. New cost-effective nuclear power remains elusive. These sources cannot replace the energy we currently get from natural gas, petroleum, and coal, and they certainly can’t provide a rapidly expanding source of affordable, reliable energy for the more than one billion people who have little to no access to modern energy.

Those in favor of divestment preach about the moral imperative to rid themselves of investments in natural gas, petroleum, and coal and yet billions of people around the world are improving their lives right now by using these very fuels. Driving the kids to school, heating and cooling our homes and businesses, and lighting the night – all without breaking the bank. That’s the worldwide pro-energy rally taking place each and every day that divestment activists are trying to drown out.

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