Turn ON the Lights and Do Something Constructive for the Planet
This week I remarked upon the World Wildlife Fund’s Earth Hour on Saturday at 8:30 p.m. I just learned there is an alternative sponsored by the Competitive Enterprise Institute: “On March 29, some people will be sitting in the dark to express their ‘vote’ for action on global climate change. Instead, you can join CEI and the thousands of people around the world who will be celebrating Human Achievement Hour (HAH). Leave your lights on to express your appreciation for the inventions and innovations that make today the best time to be alive and the recognition that future solutions require individual freedom not government coercion.” It is actually an annual event “meant to recognize and celebrate the fact that this is the greatest time to be alive, and that the reason we have come is that people have been free to use their minds and the resources in their environment to experiment, create, and innovate.”
This light-hearted “event” has a serious point or two. The left, which decries the “war on science,” should take a look in the mirror. From hysteria over the Keystone XL pipeline to exaggerated claims about our ability to depart from carbon fuels in the near-term, it has lowered its credibility over time by engaging in junk science and scare tactics. Moreover, for people so concerned about “the planet,” they routinely disregard what’s going on outside the United States. If energy is developed beyond the protective eye of U.S. regulation, it’s going to be a lot worse for the environment. If there is any doubt, look at China’s environmental catastrophe.
And finally, as Bill Gates has pointed out, we’ve never had it so good as a planet. He observed:
"[The] World Bank classified countries with over 1,200 per person per year as moving up into a middle-income bracket, so moving from low income to middle income. And we have today 45 countries that are still in that low-income category.
And what I’m saying is that, by 2035, there should be less than 10, and they’ll mostly be either places like North Korea, where you have a political system that basically creates poverty, or landlocked African countries, where the geography, the disease burden, the disparate ethnicities mean that they haven’t been able to bring together a government that, in terms of education, infrastructure, health, does even the most minimum things for them.
And so we’re on this rising tide that’s not recognized. It’s overwhelming how prosperity is spread around the world — say, from 1960 — where there were very few rich countries and a gigantic number of poor countries. Now most countries are middle-income countries, and poor countries are much smaller. Now, just saying that they’ll all move up past that threshold doesn’t mean they won’t have poor people within the countries; it doesn’t say their governments will be fantastic, but it will be a lot better on average than it is today. . . .
I think that a deep problem in perception is that if you want something to improve, you have a tendency to be bothered by the status quo and to think that it’s much worse than it is. And that can be beneficial because you don’t like, say, the level of violence in the world, the level of poverty, the level of – number of kids dying. But if you divorce yourself from the true facts of improvement and look at the exemplars, look at what’s worked – if you get sort of a general despair about is the world improving, then you won’t latch on to those examples.
The Steven Pinker example, one of my favorite books of all time, is that if you ask people, “Is this one of the most violent eras in history?,” they will say yes. Overwhelmingly, Americans say yes. Well, it’s overwhelmingly the least violent era in history. And so what it means is your disgust with violence actually increases, and that’s partly why we take steps and why within our own society and the world at large it’s come down so dramatically."
This doesn’t match the armageddon-like conditions that extreme environmentalists envision. But, in fact, all of that capitalism and industrialism is responsible for immense reductions in poverty, starvation and disease while helping to bring clean water and sustainable agriculture to poor countries.
In short, let’s not make a virtue of deindustrialization or mistake hysteria for sophistication. With that in mind Saturday night – instead of donning sackcloth and wallowing in self-congratulatory navel-gazing while sitting in the dark – if you want to do something great for the planet take Gates’s advice and start “picking that cause of inequity, whatever it is – you know, pick a local charter school, pick a disease that somebody you know was touched by, go out to a poor country and see what’s going on with the health or education there – you know, all these problems require volunteer hours, expertise, somebody who’s articulate. . . . If you could connect up with the poor countries, the marginal impact of your time or even pretty small resources is higher in many cases than anywhere else you’re going to look, but it’s harder to access that and figure out how you’re going to, you know, stay involved in a sustained way.”