Sarah Hunt

The problem we face this Earth Day is not climate change. The problem is that the energy we all need, use, and depend on to preserve both life and quality of life also takes life and destroys quality of life in the process of its production. Choosing to love our neighbors this Earth Day means asking for more than a climate solution or clean energy. It means asking our innovators and great American energy companies to start solving for energy that does no harm. If we work to give this world good energy, we’ll solve for climate change along the way.

We steward the environment to create and protect quality of life for our neighbors and our families because we love them. We don’t want them to die of heatstroke or lung disease. We want them to avoid hunger and celebrate that refrigeration powered by electricity creates a stable food supply. Energy innovation for reliable, affordable clean energy is about what each of us needs for optimum human flourishing, not climate change. We need energy to run life-saving appliances and machines, keep traffic lights on, store perishable food, and more.

Stewardship is about protecting the natural beauty of creation, but also about ensuring that everyone has clean, breathable air and clean, potable water. The lead poisoning disaster in Flint, Michigan, for example, was not an environmental quality failure. It was a failure to provide a necessary element for life to an American community. Modern energy policy is a task that involves balancing the human needs of the world that can only be met by reliable energy with the equally great human needs for a healthy environment. And truthfully, can any of us condemn policies that correctly choose to save lives today first?

The recent Texas energy crisis showed us in real-time how lives are lost when energy is no longer reliable or affordable. But each year, there are also millions of past and future premature deaths directly attributable to air pollution. Energy policy is not about climate change, it’s about saving lives. And I believe that if we have the will, and our leaders enact the right policies to encourage it, that America will innovate its way into energy with increasingly fewer externalities and harm to human health.

Energy innovation is no rhetorical dodge. We can solve climate with the latest fossil clean tech. We can solve it with nuclear atoms for peace. We can solve it with wind turbines. But we need to find a way to do these things without extractive industry accident deaths, minimized risk from nuclear waste, and fewer avian deaths. We also need to find a way to do these things without depriving human beings around the globe of the energy they need to have reliable access to food, survive heatwaves and cold snaps, and power now-essential electrical equipment from medical devices to lightbulbs.

The good news is that America’s energy industry is already hard at work moving us in the right direction. This week’s announcement that a cutting-edge American energy technology company is building zero-emissions power plants that run on natural gas is one example of an important step along the way. Zero-emissions means fewer greenhouse gasses but also fewer asthma-causing pollutants. Natural gas is a 24/7 power source that provides reliable energy and is available around the world. America can potentially export this technology and save thousands, if not millions, of lives by providing life-saving electricity and clean air at the same time. We cannot stop here, however. There are still human consequences associated with natural gas extraction that our innovators need to keep working to minimize. And this should not be taken as a criticism of extractive energy companies. After all, the industry itself is best situated with the expertise to keep solving for this problem. In more good news, a new study from C3 Solutions and the Heritage Foundation’s Nick Loris brings hard-data to the conversation showing that free economies, where innovators thrive, are the cleanest economies. Our energy future is bright.

If reduced carbon emissions were our only priority, America could get there very quickly. If reduced carbon emissions were our only priority, the Paris Agreement would look much different and not contain multiple provisions designed to allow developing nations to increase emissions in order to create and protect the quality of life their citizens deserve. But not only is climate change not the priority, we’d be missing the mark if it were.  The priority is the health, well-being, and quality of life of our neighbors, family, and friends. Good energy is energy that gives us life without taking life or reducing quality of life. We’re already on the path. Energy innovation is the thing that will get us there. As a bonus, it will take care of climate change, too.