Using More Energy Helps the Planet

National Journal recently published an article with the somewhat exaggerated headline, “Why Natural Gas Won’t Help Save the Planet.”

The story cites a study in Nature which equates “saving the planet” to “slashing global greenhouse-gas emissions.” But what do they say about the role energy plays in improving the planet? The report goes on to state, “Lower natural gas prices accelerate economic activity, reduce the incentive to invest in energy-saving technologies, and lead to an aggregate expansion of the total energy system: a scale effect.”

National Journal’s headline implies that “accelerated economic activity” and “expansion of the total energy system” are threats to the planet. What those abstract terms really represent is the ability for human beings to live longer, healthier, more productive lives.

For example, using World Bank data, the Institute for Energy Research analyzed the role that higher energy consumption and electricity generation played in human development in China and India. The following charts indicate that as energy use and electricity generation have risen, so have economic growth, access to improved sanitation facilities, and life expectancy at birth, while child mortality has dropped:

China Energy Use

India Energy Use

We should focus more on improving the planet for humans than on making sure humans alter the planet as little as possible. The reality is that using more energy to pump water, provide light, and refrigerate food and medicine makes social and economic development possible. “Saving the planet” should mean improving the lives of people on the planet.


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