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Energy Accessibility and Affordability Drives Human, Climate Progress

In a recent op-ed for The New York Times, Ezra Klein highlights the extraordinary ways that innovation has addressed climate change and other environmental issues. Klein also documents many ways that energy accessibility and abundance have contributed to societal progress. As Klein writes: 

“The remarkable burst of prosperity and possibility that has defined the past few hundred years has been a story of energy. ‘Take any variable of human well-being — longevity, nutrition, income, mortality, overall population — and draw a graph of its value over time,’ Charles Mann writes in ‘The Wizard and the Prophet.’ ‘In almost every case it skitters along at a low level for thousands of years, then rises abruptly in the 18th and 19th centuries, as humans learn to wield the trapped solar power in coal, oil and natural gas.’”

Klein continues: 

“The first reason to want energy abundance is to make energy and the gifts it brings available to all. [Sweedish physician Hans] Rosling put this well, describing how his mother loaded the laundry and then took him to the library, how she used the time she’d once spent cleaning clothes to teach herself English. ‘This is the magic,’ he said. ‘You load the laundry, and what do you get out of the machine? You get books.’ There is no global aid strategy we could pursue that would do nearly as much as making energy radically cheaper, more reliable and more available.”

Klein’s last point is often absent in climate and energy discussions. Energy abundance and pro-growth policies are necessary to reduce emissions in the long term and improve prosperity across the globe. All too often politicians focus exclusively on how to lower emissions, negating how their policies can hamstring human progress and burden families with higher energy bills. As C3 has written before, climate policies should not be worse than climate change. 

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Reaching environmental objectives starts with increasing global energy access and abundance to drive economic and climate progress. In a Stanford University study, researchers found that communities in Uganda that had access to power were able to increase their wealth at about twice the rate of those that did not have access to electricity. Unleashing economic freedom is one of the most impactful things that can be done to address environmental issues. With the basic needs of its citizens met, governments can begin to allocate resources to infrastructure, energy innovation, or climate resilience efforts to reduce natural disaster-related deaths. 

>>>READ: Affordable, Reliable Energy is Needed to Curb Global Poverty, Climate Change

Economic freedom also delivers noticeable societal benefits. Strong institutions and property rights protections lead to substantial decreases in government corruption which nurtures economic growth and human prosperity. Decreased corruption is also linked to higher literacy and education rates, which improves societal health and life expectancy

As Klein points out,“[C]lean, abundant energy is the foundation on which a more equal, just and humane world can be built.” 

Recognizing the importance of energy abundance, lawmakers should pursue technology-neutral policies to catalyze innovation and global energy access. This starts with modernizing ineffective regulations that impede progress and exporting advanced technologies to cleanly power developing economies. Solutions must be pro-human and pro-growth. 

The views and opinions expressed are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of C3.

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