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Fossil fuel foes want you to divest from modern life

Imagine a group of activists that spends its time opposing companies that produce soap, surgical steel and sterile plastics used in hospitals — because it is the “moral” thing to do. It sounds crazy, but it’s already happening.

The same groups pushing to eliminate these life-saving technologies and many other everyday products will soon descend on Las Vegas. The leaders of this movement are holding an event Saturday — part of Global Divestment Day on Friday and Saturday — to convince Nevadans to “divest” any stocks or bonds from the companies that help make these essential items.

In reality, these activists want Nevadans to “divest” from modern life.

Of course, divestment activists don’t say they want to divest from modern life. Instead, they urge people to divest their holdings in fossil fuel companies. The problem is that fossil fuel companies make many of the life-saving products that will be divested, along with fuel.

Everyone knows that when they flip on a light switch or fuel up their cars, they are using energy. But you may not realize that many of the products we use every day also come from energy — particularly natural gas, oil and coal.

Take natural gas. Besides generating 27 percent of America’s electricity, natural gas is used to make fertilizer, pharmaceuticals, plastics and fabrics, just to name a few. If you’re wearing a shirt made from nylon or polyester, you’re wearing a product that came from natural gas.

The same applies to oil and coal. Besides supplying 95 percent of our nation’s transportation fuel, oil is used to make asphalt, aluminum, shampoo, cosmetics and much more. Every step of your morning — from putting on deodorant to driving to work — involves products derived from oil.

Coal, meanwhile, supplies the largest share of U.S. electricity, at almost 40 percent. But it doesn’t end there. Coal is also used to make steel, concrete, aspirin, soap, carbon fiber and more. Imagine life without roads, bridges and sidewalks. That is life without coal.

Divesting from natural gas, oil and coal is akin to divesting from modern civilization. But that’s exactly what the so-called fossil fuel divestment movement wants Nevadans to do.

On the group’s website (www.350.org), divestment activists call on the world to “go fossil free.” But as we’ve seen, life without natural gas, oil and coal isn’t much of a life at all.

You don’t have to look far to see what life is like for those who lack access to the energy and products produced using fossil fuels. For the 1.3 billion people around the world who don’t have electricity, natural gas- and coal-fired power plants could mean the difference between life and death.

Where people use more fossil fuels, poverty recedes. This occurred in the United States during the Industrial Revolution — and it is occurring in developing countries today.

In China, rising natural gas, oil and coal consumption has led to higher life expectancy, lower mortality rates for young children and improved sanitation facilities. The same is true in India and Brazil, where quality of life is improving dramatically as both countries use more abundant, reliable and affordable energy.

Those last words are key. Energy isn’t useful on a large scale unless there is a lot of it, it can be depended on when it’s needed, and it isn’t too expensive for people to use. And right now, fossil fuels are the only energy sources that fit the bill.

In other words, the world can’t divest from fossil fuels without resigning billions of people around the world to darkness and poverty.

The divestment activists coming to Las Vegas don’t just want to take away Nevadans’ energy, but also the soap, steel and plastics that make modern life possible. Nevadans should tell these activists to take a hike.

Thomas Pyle is president of the American Energy Alliance.

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