My grandmother passed away a decade ago. Yet I can still remember her warm smile. She and most of my dad’s side of the family lived in a small village in East China. I first visited her back in 1983. By then, China had started limited economic reform for three years. People’s living standards had improved, but life in a village was still very hard.
I remember young kids, like my cousins and me, were responsible on a daily basis for picking up anything that could fuel the kitchen stoves, such as dried grass and tree branches in the fields. There was not much green in the village because everything that could burn was picked. Most people in the village were too poor to afford coal. They didn’t even know about natural gas. The smoke from burning dry grass and tree branches made Grandma cough a lot. All I could do was to pat her back when she coughed and hope that she would feel better.
Many people in the village had similar respiratory issues like my grandma had. There was no electricity in the village, either. At night, people either burned candles or lit oil lamps. Since both candles and oil cost money, most people just went to bed right after dinner. Reading a book at night was simply a luxury. Now, looking back, I wish people in the village at least had access to coal. Lack of access to affordable energy was one of the main causes why my grandma and her neighbors had to endure poverty.
Unfortunately, what happened to my grandma is still happening today. According to 2012 data from the World Health Organization’s website: "Around 3 billion people still cook and heat their homes using solid fuels (i.e. wood, crop wastes, charcoal, coal and dung) in open fires and leaky stoves. Most are poor, and live in low- and middle-income countries. Such inefficient cooking fuels and technologies produce high levels of household air pollution with a range of health-damaging pollutants, including small soot particles that penetrate deep into the lungs … 4.3 million people per year die prematurely from illness attributable to the household air pollution caused by the inefficient use of solid fuels."
I am fortunate to live in Colorado, where we have an abundant supply of oil and gas and we have the technology to drill and distribute them in a safe and sound manner. The oil and gas industry not only provides Coloradoans good-paying jobs, but it also helps improve our own standard of living. I don’t have to worry about suffocating smoke when I am cooking; I can sit in front of my desk at night comfortably and type up this blog on my computer in a well-lit room, while my husband works on his latest woodworking project in the garage. I can hear our neighbors’ kids fighting for a remote control for the next Wii game.
Our lives don’t stop after dark only because we have affordable energy. I wish my grandmother could see this.
There are 3 billion people around the world who are not as fortunate as we are. I say keep drilling and let’s export our oil and gas to these countries and regions. The most powerful weapon to fight poverty and protect environment is the access to affordable energy.
Helen Raleigh is author and business owner. She lives in Littleton.