By H. STERLING BURNETT
WASHINGTON -- Those who regard SUVs rather than the gnawing poverty of developing nations as the chief threat to the world's environment often hide their hatred of our lifestyle behind the mantra "the planet is running out of fossil fuels."
Like many shared delusions of conventional wisdom, their mantra is completely false. The world's 2 billion poor cause more air pollution than citizens in advanced democracies, and soon will produce more greenhouse gasses as well.
Just by decimating the forests of Amazon basin, Africa and southern Asia for wood-fuel, they spew immeasurable tons of pollutants into the atmosphere each day. Their eco-systems would be much better off if they burned cleaner oil and natural gas using state-of-the-art emission controls.
Meanwhile, far from running out of fossil fuels, the world is awash in them and more are coming online each day. And viable alternative energies hold great potential as well. Consider a few hopeful rays:
UNew, eco-friendly drilling techniques and reasonable environmental rules will allow the United States to extract crude oil and natural gas in places like the Arctic Natural Wildlife Refuge, in many of the lower 48 states and off America's shorelines.
URenewed interest in clean nuclear power, which safely supplies 85 percent of the electricity generated in environmentally conscious France, will allow the U.S., China and India to shift from coal-fired utilities that belch pollution.
UMassive private/public sector projects like Stanford University's Global Climate and Energy are hard at work seeking new ways filter pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from many of today's energy sources.
UThe Alberta oil tar sands in western Canada are projected to contain more petroleum than in the entire Middle East, and with oil in $40 to $50 a barrel range, extracting it becomes economically feasible.
UAnd, as its "ace in the hole," the U.S. currently has an estimated 750-million years of coal reserves and is rapidly developing the technology to scrub pollution from every lump.
None of these new sources, however, is immediately available, but if we start now we can have many of them online by the end of this decade.
One of the most hopeful signs in recent days, has been the opening of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan, a 42-inch, 1,000 mile-long pipeline that will shore up energy supplies in North America and Europe well past mid-century.
Output from the fields in the tiny former Soviet Republic of Azerbaijan is expected to reach 1-million barrels a day -- about 1 percent of present global production. But even at full production that will be like draining a drop of water each day from Lake Erie since the vast underground reserve is believed hold upward of 220 billion barrels.
The pipeline will wend its way from the shores of Azerbaijan across the Caspian Sea through the Republic of Georgia to the Mediterranean coast of Turkey. U.S. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman, who attended the grand opening ceremony for the pipeline, called it "a significant step forward in the energy security of the region."
But it is more than that. By spreading prosperity through many impoverished areas in Central Asia, it will bolster the world's fight against Islamic terrorism and decrease U.S. dependence on the potentially unstable oil supplies of the Middle East.
With a bright energy future on tap, it's time for American environmentalists to realize that the very best way to cleanup the environment and win the global war on poverty is to embrace the kind of full-throttle economic growth that supplies the surplus capital needed to achieve these goals.
X H. Sterling Burnett is a senior fellow at the National Center for Policy Analysis (www.ncpa.org), a conservative, free-market oriented think-tank with offices in Dallas and Washington. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.