Abolishing Affordable Energy Will Not Help the Poor

Washington, D.C. – The U.S. coal industry is mindful of its responsibilities as stewards of the Earth as well as its role in providing people and industries with essential energy. The impressive reductions in power plant emissions, the dramatic improvements in mine safety and the extensive reclamation of land following mining operations all testify to this enduring commitment.

The Pope’s message this week invites attention to the plight of the World’s poor and the moral obligation of affluent nations to raise the living standards of those less fortunate. Fossil fuels, especially coal, have been responsible for lifting hundreds of millions of people out of poverty in the past 30 years, more people that have been freed from poverty in the past 300 years.

Energy essential for rapid industrial growth will continue to be indispensable for sustaining improvements in living standards and for alleviating the suffering of those millions still living in destitution as well as providing new infrastructure and technologies demanded by a growing global middle class living in comparative affluence. Within two decades, two-thirds of the world’s middle class will be living in emerging countries, driving demand for energy and other resources on a scale far higher than today’s.

The United Nation’s 2015 Millennial Development Goal to “eradicate extreme poverty and hunger” by 2030 cannot be achieved without providing reliable and affordable electricity to the world’s energy poor still living in darkness. As the International Energy Agency has acknowledged, “To the degree that affordable coal has allowed hundreds of millions of people in emerging economies to enjoy the conveniences that the industrialized world began taking for granted long ago, its proliferation is blessing.” Senior officials in the developing world have said the use of coal and other fossil fuels is “a moral imperative” for eliminating poverty and to improve health care, education and life expectancy.

As policymakers grapple with solutions to long-term environmental challenges, they must not neglect the immediate consequences their actions may have on the living standards of many today. In acknowledging this “moral imperative,” our solutions should recognize the transformative powers of technology and our God given ingenuity that have enabled us to achieve continuous environmental progress. The challenge therefore is not to eliminate fossil fuels but to use them wisely for the millions who need them both here and abroad.