Human Achievement of the Day: An Olive Branch from Treehugger?

CEI appreciates the virtual knuckle-bump we received from the folks over at for our Human Achievement Hour efforts. Lloyd Alter’s post declares that “The Competitive Enterprise Institute Finally Gets It Right!” and, without any irony, that we have “seen the light”.

“After all these years of fighting for incandescent light bulbs, gas guzzling cars and bottled water, The Competitive Enterprise Institute has finally had an idea we can get behind…”

Unfortunately, while the article praises our positioning of the advancement of technology as the way to solve environmental problems, it mischaracterizes what CEI does and the ideas behind Human Achievement Hour. I’d even go so far as to say that the post turns a blind eye to the real meaning of environmentalism as a philosophy that places value of nature apart from and above human life.

“I don’t know what brought about this transformation; There never was an organization so devoted to fighting new technology and innovation as was the CEI…”

Alter’s confusion about CEI’s approach to technological progress comes from three apparent flaws in his logic. First, he assumes that CEI has ever been for or against certain products. The second, is that new technology is “discovered” by an individual without the need or benefits of prior experimentation and discoveries.  The last assumption is that environmentalists generally have human life as the basis of their philosophy.

“…this is an organization that has fought technology and innovation every step of the way. They even make a symbol out of an inefficient, hundred year old incandescent bulb, as if they were proud of their old, wasteful ways”

lightbulbanHell yes! You’re damn right we’re proud of the incandescent light bulb and any environmentalist claiming to be a fan of the “green” compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFL) should be proud of the incandescent bulb too. Without Edison’s production and popularization of incandescent lights there would be no CFL.

One of the earliest fluorescent lamps was actually created by Thomas Alva Edison. Though his design was never put into production as is not the one modern CFLs are based on, without the success of Edison’s electricity delivery system we wouldn’t have fluorescent bulbs. Based on his success with the incandescent lamp, Edison was able to found and sustain the company, General Electric, that created and now produces the lauded compact fluorescent lights greens love so much. Without Edison, without the popularity of his invention and the wide-spread success of his “wasteful” technology, we wouldn’t have the “environmentally friendly” technology that environmentalists want government to force us all to use. That is the point of HAH–it is about the fundamental freedom for humans to freely use their minds. People need to be free to use and create things that others may consider dirty or wasteful before we can get to the technologies that are “cleaner”.

It isn’t this bulb over that bulb or this industry versus that one. Though it might seem like it at times, we don’t oppose products, we object to government policies, mandates, tariffs, taxes, and bans–any intervention in the market place that seeks to deter or encourage consumer choice. What we want is freedom for consumers to choose the best products based on their own judgment (no matter how flawed) and we want the Edisons of today to be free to create the inventions of the future.

“They are having a party in Arlington, VA during Earth Hour to celebrate their alternative (in a smoking room, yet) to “celebrate the inventions of human ingenuity that make all of our lives better.” There is not a TreeHugger around who wouldn’t want to do that. But we have a conflict that night; 34 people have signed up for their party, while 5,638,090 have signed up for Earth Hour. We will stick with the crowd.”

Mr. Alter, you are free to stay on the green bandwagon; it is your right to turn off the lights if you’d like, but know that belonging to the mob with the greatest numbers does not make you correct (and how much energy do you think it took to create the internet and takes to keep it running?)

Also, during your hour of darkness, remember that there are places in the world where electricity is not  switch away, where they don’t have the right to freely offer or consume goods, where they don’t have a right to express themselves, where every hour of every day is Earth Hour. Whether it is explicit or not, that is the world environmentalism wants all humanity to live in. Those who celebrate Human Achievement Hour aren’t doing so because we like our hybrids, or our iPhones, we are celebrating the freedom that is necessary for humans to survive and create the products and services that make our world better and, in some cases, cleaner.

Though I recognize the scheduling conflict, I sincerely encourage you Mr. Alter and anyone interested in honest intellectual discussion about this issue to come out to RiRa in Arlington, VA on Saturday. A free market for ideas is just as important as a free market for goods.