You would think that demonizing electricity would be a tough sell to a populace devoted to smartphones, gaming consoles, DVRs, flat screen TVs, iPhones, tablets, and the next “must have” gadget. But you’d be wrong. Earth Hour, an annual “turn off your lights” media event sponsored by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), continues to grow, despite the inherent contradiction between its purported goal of conservation-by-denial and how we and the developing world aspire to live today.
But it’s not just us here in America. How can the human race possibly achieve greater prosperity without bringing electricity to the billions of people on Earth who do not yet enjoy its blessings? The WWF’s campaign doesn’t say. Instead, it simply relies on the worn-out idea that humans once lived “in harmony” with nature and that “the planet” would be better off (for whom?) if we all returned to a simpler, less technologically dependent lifestyle.
Such musings have been a recurring theme in Western civilization for generations, particularly among wealthy elites. Fortunately, for centuries the consequences of back-to-nature evangelizing were restricted to a few intellectual poseurs reading some impenetrable books by some other intellectual poseurs who somehow convinced a slightly larger circle of poseurs that they had special insights on how the world should be.
Today, however, the world’s increasing connectedness, combined with the modern regulatory state’s power to crush innovation, make ideas like this more dangerous than ever. Want to eat locally grown food, ride your bike to work, avoid unnecessary travel, eschew fossil fuels, unplug labor-saving devices, and generally consume less? Be my guest, I’ve always found the Amish cute. But when predilections for quaint lifestyle choices morph into political efforts to foist this way of life on the rest of humanity, we have a problem.
In honor of this celebration, on this week’s RealClear Radio Hour, I interview Matt Ridley, author of The Rational Optimist, who recounts the long, flawed history of pessimistic predictions that have been debunked time and again by humanity’s forward march of progress. Also joining me on the show is Marian Tupy, editor of HumanProgress.org, who reminds us that even as Western nations have been doing the utmost to stamp out economic growth, developing countries have been on a tear catching up. Income inequality, this season’s rallying cry for redistributionist demagogues, is decreasing globally as billions climb their way out of extreme poverty.
Unfortunately, however, good news doesn’t earn headlines. If you want to write a bestseller and get invited to all the best symposia, you’re better off finding a new scare that allows you to shout, “The end is near!” And when one doomsday prediction goes up in smoke, simply find another one. Think I’m kidding? WWF has been doing it for years.
Originally conceived in 2004 by WWF Australia with the help of an ad agency, Earth Hour launched in 2007 to raise awareness of the dire consequences of global warming. But a lot has happened since then. As the Earth failed to get any warmer, global warming morphed into climate change, and the Kyoto Protocol went the way of the Dodo, Earth Hour’s messaging subtly started to shift. Try as I might poking around the leopards, turtles, and even Spider-Man celebrities trying to save the planet, I couldn’t find the words “climate change” anywhere on the WWF’s Earth Hour website. Poof … gone.
So rest assured. When we someday look back at today’s global warming hysteria the way we now look back at the long-debunked Malthusian terrors of yore, there will be no shortage of fresh doomsayers advising the powers-that-be of humanity’s impending doom, which can only be staved off by stamping out the fire of innovation and problem-solving spirit that brought us the device on which you’re reading this. Let’s hope there are still enough rational optimists out there to resist.