March 29, 2014 8:51 PM
"Better to light one incandescant bulb than curse the darkness"
Tonight is Human Achievement Hour, a time to celebrate human progress and the market institutions that facilitate and protect it. It's also a time to laugh at the regressive ideology that implores us to turn out the lights to honor the Earth. Hence the wonderful acronym for our cheerful occasion: HAH!
Our friends at CFACT nail the contrast between our event and the other team's when they proclaim: "It's always Earth Hour in North Korea."
HAH is an alternative and antidote to Earth Hour, the premise of which is that carbon-based energy is bad for people and the planet. That's about as wrong-headed about the big picture as one can get.
Carbon energy supports all the technological advances that sustain and improve a world of seven billion people who on average live longer, healthier, and with greater access to information than the privileged elites of former ages.
Fossil fuels have been and remain the chief energy source of what Cato Institute scholar Indur Goklany calls a “cycle of progress” in which economic growth, technological change, human capital formation, and freer trade co-evolve and mutually reinforce each other. Progressive civilization is the very context of modern life. It is the most valuable of all public goods. Without carbon energy, humankind would be dramatically smaller, poorer, and sicker.
The fundamental contribution of carbon energy to social progress is reflected in the strong correlation between carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, per capita GDP, and population.
A survey by the National Academy of Engineers identifies 20 engineering achievements that made the greatest improvements in the quality of human life during the 20th century. Number One is electrification. All the others presuppose electrification either for their manufacture, operation, or mass production. Here's the list as presented on About.Com:
Electrification - the vast networks of electricity that power the developed world.
Automobile - revolutionary manufacturing practices made the automobile the world's major mode of transportation by making cars more reliable and affordable to the masses.
Airplane - flying made the world accessible, spurring globalization on a grand scale.
Safe and Abundant Water - preventing the spread of disease, increasing life expectancy.
Electronics - vacuum tubes and, later, transistors that underlie nearly all modern life.
Radio and Television - dramatically changed the way the world received information and entertainment.
Agricultural Mechanization - leading to a vastly larger, safer, less costly food supply.
Computers - the heart of the numerous operations and systems that impact our lives.
Telephone - changing the way the world communicates personally and in business.
Air Conditioning and Refrigeration - beyond convenience, it extends the shelf life of food and medicines, protects electronics, and plays an important role in health care delivery.
Interstate Highways - 44,000 miles of U.S. highway allowing goods distribution and personal access.
Space Exploration - going to outer space vastly expanded humanity's horizons and introduced 60,000 new products on Earth.
Internet - a global communications and information system of unparalleled access.
Imaging Technologies - revolutionized medical diagnostics.
Household Appliances - eliminated strenuous, laborious tasks, especially for women.
Health Technologies - mass production of antibiotics and artificial implants led to vast health improvements.
Petroleum and Gas Technologies - the fuels that energized the 20th century.
Laser and Fiber Optics - applications are wide and varied, including almost simultaneous worldwide communications, non-invasive surgery, and point-of-sale scanners.
Nuclear Technologies - from splitting the atom, we gained a new source of electric power.
High Performance Materials - higher quality, lighter, stronger, and more adaptable.
Note too that those technologies are highly developed and deployed at scale only in societies with access to plentiful, reliable, affordable energy, most of which comes from fossil fuels.
Ah, but our greener friends will say, HAH, as the very name suggests, is "anthropocentric." What about the biosphere? Shouldn't we turn off the lights to show respect for non-human nature?
Nope. As Goklany also explains, by improving the productivity and efficiency of food production, distribution, and storage, fossil fuels not only rescued mankind from a penurious Nature but also rescued Nature from an ever-growing humanity.
March 29, 2014 9:52 AM
Early in the week I wrote about a major breakthrough toward the peaceful use of nuclear fusion. While that type of energy could drastically change human life on earth by providing bountiful clean and safe energy, it is, unfortunately, likely decades away from being commercially viable. Fear not because there are armies of researchers working around the world to find other affordable alternatives to fossil fuels that will help humanity cruise into the future. In this past year, one group of scientists have discovered a way to extract large amounts of hydrogen from plants—a process that would provide plentiful, cheap, and “green” energy, that could hit the market as a way to power vehicles in as little as three years.
March 28, 2014 7:38 AM
You won’t see the glory of human achievement if you abide by the World Wide Fund for Nature's recommendation that you spend an hour in the dark this Saturday night to allegedly "show your commitment to a better future." Rather than take that anti-technology approach, why not leave the lights on and celebrate human achievement, including a new invention that will help even blind people see?
Once only imagined in the 1970s TV series The Six Million Dollar Man or the 1990s Star Trek: The Next Generation, 2013 saw the introduction of real bionic eyes! Created by Second Sight Medical Products Inc., of Sylmar, Calif., the Argus II Retinal Implant involves placing an implant in a person’s eye that connects wirelessly to eye glasses equipped with a tiny camera, which transmits images through the optic nerve to the brain.
The device helps those individuals affected with an eye disorder called retinitis pigmentosa, which strikes first as night blindness and then can degenerate photoreceptor cells eventually causing total blindness. It is not yet designed to help those with glaucoma and some other forms of blindness.
The Food and Drug Administration approved the device in February 2013 for use in the United States, and the first FDA-approved implants began this year. Those in the experimental program testified at FDA pre-approval hearings, expressing great joy about what the device had done for them. One exclaimed: "I don't mind telling you how much -- I mean, how happy that made me, not only to see the silhouette of my son, but to hear that voice coming and saying, 'Yeah, it's me, Dad. I'm here and I love you.'"
March 27, 2014 3:26 PM
We are only three days away from Human Achievement Hour (March 29, 8:30pm to 9:30pm)! What better way to celebrate than with a post from our friends at HumanProgress.org. Stephanie Rugolo, HumanProgress’s managing editor, is spreading the good news about how far humankind has come by discussing some of the recent developments in organ replacement technology. Since this is a perfect example of how technological advancement benefits human life on earth, I wanted to share her insights:
Medical breakthroughs are giving hope to hundreds of thousands of people waiting for organ transplants. There are 120,000 people waiting for organ transplants in the United States alone. By this time tomorrow, twenty to thirty Americans will die because they cannot get a new kidney—not to mention other organs. Compare this man-made shortage to Iran where organ donors may be compensated with cash. In contrast to the United States, there is a donor waiting list in Iran. As long as the industrialized world rejects the Iranian model, we must turn to innovation to resolve the organ shortage crisis. Luckily, scientists are developing technologies that might accomplish just that.
March 27, 2014 8:54 AM
3D printing is a relatively recent technological development that has already begun to revolutionize model-building, structural and other medical procedures, and construction of items from toys to houses.
Also called additive manufacturing (as contrasted with subtractive processes, that is, machining), 3D printing uses digital instructions produced through computer-aided design (CAD) software to create an item by “printing” it in layers using a variety of materials – powders, plastic, ceramics, etc. With ink-jet-type print heads, the materials are extruded layer by layer according to the design.
In its early applications, 3D printing was principally used for creating prototypes or models of larger objects. With 3D printing, those prototypes could be built with greater precision and speed and allow for quick modifications in the design. Rapid prototyping developed during the 1980s and early 1990s.
In the past decade, 3D printing applications have found fertile ground in the medical field. Almost daily, a medical breakthrough made possible through 3D printing is announced. Today, researchers announced that they had created heart muscle that beats when it is implanted in animals. Yesterday, news stories reported that 3D printing had saved a baby’s life by printing a splint that fit over his windpipe and kept it open so he could breathe. Researchers are using 3D printing to produce scaffolding that they then grow tissue on to rebuild human skeletal parts that have been heavily damaged by injuries or diseases.
For example, structural 3D printing has been used to rebuild a young man’s facial structure after an accident shattered his face. A cancer sufferer had a new pelvis “printed” using that technology. Doctors are more often simulating difficult and lengthy operations by using 3D printed models of the organs or parts of the skeleton on which they will be operating. Using those models can drastically reduce the operating time involved and lead to safer and more efficient surgery – thus reducing the risk to the patients.
March 26, 2014 8:24 AM
[caption id="attachment_55209" align="alignright" width="300"] CEI General Counsel Sam Kazman about to take a spin in a Google self-driving car in May 2012. (Photo by Marc Scribner)[/caption]
As we prepare for another Human Achievement Hour (this Saturday, March 29, 8:30 pm - 9:30 pm), we at CEI are examining some of the latest, greatest innovations that will make the future even freer and more prosperous. One massively transformative technology currently in development is the autonomous vehicle, known more widely as "driverless" or "self-driving" cars. Google's prototype has been covered extensively by the media, traditional automotive companies such as Bosch and Volkswagen are working hard on their prototypes, and new estimates put the potential societal benefits of autonomous vehicles at $3 trillion per year.
As I've noted in the past, we should be "thrilled that a technology that can greatly improve traffic safety, offer disabled people an unprecedented level of personal mobility and fundamentally change the way we travel is so close." Soon, if you imbibe too much on a night on the town, your car or a rideshare provider's car will be able to take you home. And thanks to reduced congestion due to optimized driving behavior, we will also enjoy improved local air quality. Whatever your political leanings, you should be excited about our driverless future -- unless you're reflexively and ideologically anti-technology.
In the last 10 years, the technology has progressed a great deal -- to the point where it is quite possible that first generation highly automated vehicles will be available to consumers before the decade closes. To understand how we got to the stage of the Google self-driving car, it is instructive to see how far we've come. What follows is a brief history of autonomous vehicles that covers the technologies' developments up until about 10 years ago.
Personal mobility has traditionally required active human monitoring and direction, from walking to riding horseback to bicycling. The physical and cognitive demands of travel have long been recognized, as has the capacity for and costs of human error in transportation. In the late fifteenth century, Leonardo da Vinci sketched out a design for a self-propelled cart with programmable steering, which was later compiled in the Atlantic Codex.
Engineering interest in vehicle automation stretches back to the 1920s, when auto ownership first became within reach of middle-class households. Inventor Francis P. Houdina demonstrated a radio-controlled car on the streets of Manhattan in 1925. Houdina’s invention was never treated as anything more than a novelty -- although his company’s prominence led to a physical altercation with famed escape artist Harry Houdini, who thought Houdina was capitalizing on their similar names, which resulted in a disorderly conduct charge against Houdini -- but the challenge of developing automated vehicles became recognized in research communities.
At the 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair, General Motors’ interactive Futurama exhibit predicted high-speed automated roadways in 20 years. While GM’s prediction of a driverless world proved premature, its prediction of individual automobile ownership becoming widespread rather than a luxury for the wealthy and upper-middle class -- which sounded incredibly bizarre during the Great Depression -- proved accurate.
March 25, 2014 10:56 AM
Shocking as it might seem, some of us at CEI agree with environmentalists that reducing personal waste is a good idea. Voluntarily reducing our individual energy consumption and waste material can have a number of benefits, including saving your household money!
However, we also believe that the solutions to global environmental issues will not come from taxes or limitations on consumption, but rather from scientific advancement—whether it’s finding new ways to feed the world, methods of providing unlimited clean water, or by creating an energy source that is cheap, safe, unlimited, and “green.”
Researchers in California made a great leap toward creating a source of virtually unlimited energy this past year as they strive to harness the power of nuclear fusion—the same process that powers stars like our sun.
Scientists at the National Ignition Facility (NIF) at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) announced that in the last year “for the first time the energy released through the fusion reaction exceeded the amount of energy being absorbed by the fuel.” This is a significant step toward an energy source that would be plentiful and environmentally friendly.
Currently, nuclear energy is produced through fission, where the nucleus of an atom is split apart, releasing enormous amounts of energy. In nuclear fusion, the nuclei of atoms fuse together and create massive amounts of energy. While scientists can create fusion; for example, a hydrogen bomb which is also known as a fusion bomb uses the power of nuclear fission—so, a nuclear bomb—in order to achieve fusion. The holy grail in nuclear fusion research is to find a method of causing fusion that takes less energy than the fusion reaction creates, which they call “ignition.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, attempting to replicate the condition inside of a star has been no easy task for scientists.
March 24, 2014 9:41 AM
Annually since 2009, my colleague Michelle Minton has organized a celebration of economic liberty for one hour at the end of March, known as Human Achievement Hour. (See here, here, here, and here.) This year, the holiday falls on Saturday, March 29, from between 8:30 – 9:30 p.m. in your respective time zone.
Observing Human Achievement Hour is about paying tribute to the human innovations that have allowed people around the globe to live better, fuller lives, while also defending the basic human right to use energy to improve the quality of life of all people.
To be precise, Human Achievement Hour is a cheerful response to the depressing alarmism of modern environmentalism. The gloomy greens propagate a message that virtually all economic development is evil, because it necessarily despoils pristine ecology. We give ascendancy to mankind, and readily recognize that the surest path to both human and environmental well-being is wealth creation. The latter, in turn, is most efficiently engendered by markets unfettered by political meddling.
Is this materialistic? Y-E-S!
The editors at Ad Busters and Mother Jones may experience self-loathing whenever they buy a pair of sneakers, but not me. And I sleep well at night and have no problem looking in the mirror, because I know that material preoccupations are inherent to a vibrant market economy, which, again, is the essential mechanism of human development. Put simply, I am an unabashed materialist, insofar as schools and hospitals are filled with materials.
December 2, 2013 1:53 PM
In the middle of this holiday season my colleague Stephanie Rugolo over at the Cato's new project, HumanProgress.org, is spreading cheer by getting out the word about the improving human condition. She offered these thoughts which I'd like to share:
Good News to Share Over the Holidays: The World Is Getting Better
You’ve heard it all before, “The world is becoming increasingly violent,” “Work-related injuries are on the rise,” “Soon, we’ll have no more forests.” As it turns out, pessimism is often at odds with the real world.
Long term trends for nearly every indicator of human progress are positive. For instance, forest coverage in rich countries is increasing in line with the Environmental Kuznets Curve. This trend will hopefully continue in the developing world as it becomes richer.
According to the International Labor Organization, work fatalities are way down, while economic freedom is on the rise. This should give pause to those who think that free market is synonymous with bad working conditions. Quite the opposite. Economically free countries tend to be richer than economically unfree countries, and richer countries have safer working environments.
March 12, 2013 3:53 PM
Curing vision problems has long been the domain of science fiction, but a recent breakthrough turns fiction into reality. The aptly named Second Sight Medical Products has created the Argus II Retinal Prosthesis System, a bionic implant designed to restore vision to those suffering from a rare genetic condition known as retinitis pigmentosa. Now individuals suffering from the most advanced stages of this condition have a chance to regain their sight.
What is retinitis pigmentosa? Inside our eyes are millions of photo-receptors, where each individual photo-receptor works in unison to translate the light received by our eyes into information, which the brain then processes to produce an image of the world around us. Without photo-receptors we would be unable to see anything.
In the case of individuals with retinitis pigmentosa, damaged retinal photo-receptors cause the individual to experience reduced visual function in low-light conditions as well as poor peripheral vision. In some extraordinary cases, individuals with retinitis pigmentosa suffer from a complete failure of their central vision.
For this category of retinitis pigmentosa sufferers who have lost full functioning vision, the Argus II provides hope as the first bionic implant on the market.