Offshore drilling? Do it for the poor

February 26, 2013 

A few days ago, I was asked whether I support drilling for gas and oil off North Carolina’s coast. The question was spawned by Pat McCrory’s decision to join the Outer Continental Shelf Governors Coalition. My questioner thinks if our governor gets the chance to drill, he will.

“Of course,” I answered. “We’ve got to help the poor people.”

Fossil fuels, I argued, are the most effective anti-poverty tool the world has at its disposal. Education is the road to self-reliance, but affordable energy is what propels people to school and keeps the lights and the computers running at home and in the library. Without affordable energy, the poor have little chance to graduate into the middle class.

To make my point, I showed my skeptical friend a table of state unemployment rates at the end of 2012. North Dakota had the lowest at 3.2 percent. North Carolina had nearly the highest (47th) at 9.2 percent. Who would have thought 10 years ago that North Carolina, the business media darling with its high-tech and research sectors combined with a university system that’s second to none, would trail North Dakota in job creation?

The difference is fossil fuels. Because North Dakota is producing low-cost energy through exploration and extraction of the Bakken shelf, that state has enjoyed the largest job, income and economic growth rates in the nation during the past five years. Compare that with North Carolina during the past four years. Our state, which doesn’t produce a BTU of energy, has been forced to borrow $2.55 billion from the federal government to cover unemployment insurance costs.

It should come as no surprise that North Dakota’s poverty rate is also among the nation’s lowest, 9.6 percent in 2011, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. North Carolina’s poverty rate was 62 percent higher, at 15.6.

Admittedly, there’s more to poverty than a lack of jobs, but employment is a must if we expect people to lift themselves into prosperity. And if jobs are to return to North Carolina in meaningful numbers, employers and the people they hire must have access to low-cost energy – that means fossil fuels – to power businesses, homes and vehicles.

When energy policy is debated, environmentalism’s dirty little secret is often ignored. Nearly every climate mitigation policy –carbon taxes, renewable energy, consumption reduction –hits the poor the hardest.

Energy taxes, even with rebates, are inherently regressive. Renewable energy, in every form, is still prohibitively expensive. The promised green economy jobs are negligible. The small number that do exist often require a skill level most poor people don’t have. And while the low-energy consumption lifestyle favored by environmentalists appeals to the Starbucks crowd, to many of the poor, it’s a denial of middle-class living standards.

The poverty dilemma facing environmentalists is even more pronounced outside the United States. The booming economies of the developing world, most notably China, India and Brazil, have been powered by low-cost fossil fuels. This boom has lifted millions out of abject, back-breaking poverty far more effectively than any program developed by governments or nongovernmental entities.

The reality we face is that the price for lifting people out of poverty around the world is higher carbon emissions.

It’s a price a moral society needs to pay.

Human beings are also part of the environment, not intrusions. It is immoral to deny someone on the other side of the globe access to reliable electricity, clean water, a stable food supply and the ability to heat and cool their homes in order to prevent the planet from warming a couple degrees over the next 50 years or so.

While the exact effects of climate change are debatable, the benefits of investing in human capital today are not. There is no doubt that a richer, more educated populace will be better prepared for climate change. Who knows? They may even figure out how to mitigate its effects.

So go ahead, Governor. Drill, baby, drill.

Contributing columnist Rick Martinez ( is news director at WPTF, NC News Network and

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