Natural Isn’t Necessarily Better: Celebrating Human Achievement


Human Achievement Hour—to be observed tomorrow, March 24, between 8:30 pm and 9:30 pm—is the Competitive Enterprise’s Institute’s annual celebration of innovation and progress. During this hour, people around the world pay tribute to the advancements that inventors and entrepreneurs have created in every field, from health and energy to communications and transportation. These advancements allow us to live richer, fuller lives and protect us and our families from unpredictable hazards, both in everyday life and during emergencies and disasters.

Originally launched as an alternative to environmental activist campaigns like “Earth Hour”—which calls for participants to signal their concern for climate change by turning off all of their lights—Human Achievement Hour challenges people to celebrate the ability of humanity to solve problems creatively.  

Some voices in the environment debate today view mankind as a plague upon an otherwise pristine and virtuous planet Earth. That perspective, afflicted with what philosophers call the “naturalistic fallacy,” calls for a smaller human population, limits on energy use, and government restrictions on deployment of valuable new technology. It elevates an anthropomorphic vision of Mother Earth above the health and safety of actual human beings.

Rather than confront environmental challenges with a vibrant, growing economy and human know-how, we hear repeated calls for lowering our expectations to brace for a resource-constrained future in which we’ll live materially poorer than our ancestors. Those conditions, we are assured, must come with strict government limits of what we can grow, use, mine, harvest, and create.

This overly pessimistic and profoundly depressing vision of our shared future ignores the vital human needs that depend on resource development and use of affordable energy sources, including fossil sources like oil, natural gas, and coal.

Even as a symbolic gesture, turning out our lights in response to global challenges sends the wrong message. The technological know-how, plentiful energy, and competitive economy that brought universal access to electricity to the developed world are precisely the forces that will allow all of us to prosper, flourish, and gain an increasing standard of living well into the future.

However you spend the hour tomorrow night, remember that human technology and affordable energy are making life better for billions of people around the world every day—from life expectancy and disease treatment to literacy rates and increased employment. Throwing up barriers and restrictions in the name of protecting the Earth will slow down those improvements. The costs, especially to the poorest and most vulnerable, are real.

Instead of sitting in the dark, Human Achievement Hour asks us all to celebrate the human spirit—and support a free society in which ever greater successes will be possible.