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With more than two thirds of the United States, including the Western states, facing frigid temperatures, it’s a good time to remember the importance of reliable and affordable energy, and how it can actually save lives.

For this reason, and many others, I have been concerned by the recent push from environmental groups who are targeting Catholics.  Many of these activists are calling on the church to divest from fossil fuels. They use the pope’s encyclical to claim that this is the “moral” choice for Catholics and best way to help the poor. But what they don’t consider is: what happens to low income families when temperatures drop as low as they are now? Renewable energy has promise but it can’t yet provide enough power to affordably and efficiently heat millions of American families’ homes. Those who are already struggling to pay their energy bills do not need to be faced with even higher costs, which is what would happen if environmental activists got their way.

My Catholic faith is of utmost importance to me. I have been a member of Knights of Columbus for 10 years and I’m very involved in my parish, serving as the finance chair for our church building expansion.  I was also a member of the Cursillo program for many years.

I am also proud to have served as the Executive Director of the Montana Petroleum Association for ten years. From my experience, I know first-hand that oil and gas development across Montana is conducted according to the highest environmental standards. The technology is extremely advanced, and because of it, the United States has seen a surge in oil and natural gas production. What a lot of people don’t realize is that natural gas produces far less emissions, so using it has actually helped bring down both air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions significantly.

While fossil fuels are improving our lives in the developed world, there are millions of people in the developing world who don’t have access to affordable energy. Former President and CEO of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, Tisha Schuller, recently wrote an article pointing out that 1 billion people in the world are without electricity. Out of those who live without power, 4 million people die every year from the pollution due to cooking with wood, charcoal or dung. Many don’t have refrigeration, which is required for food safety and for properly storing vaccines.  Schuller goes on to argue that natural gas can be the answer to turning this energy poverty around, as it can provide abundant, cheap energy to millions of people.

It’s not just people involved in the industry who say this. Even Bill Gates has pointed out, “But even as we push to get serious about confronting climate change, we should not try to solve the problem on the backs of the poor.”

Environmental activists targeting Catholics are missing the mark – doing away with fossil fuels is not the way to help the poor. In fact, fossil fuels could be the answer to achieving both environmental progress and fighting poverty.

Dave Galt is a Catholic and the former Executive Director of the Montana Petroleum Association.