Earth Hour or Human Achievement Hour: Which is the enlightened choice?

Two very different events will take place from 8:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Saturday, local time, around the world.

Participants in Earth Hour will turn off the lights during the hour in a demonstration of “solidarity” with the “planet we love.” Organizers hope to create a giant stadium wave of darkness sweeping across the globe from one time zone to the next.

We at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a free-market think tank, modestly propose a better idea: the Human Achievement Hour, an event taking place at the same time as Earth Hour that pays tribute to human ingenuity and advancements in every field from health care and energy to communications and transportation.

We think our celebration, in which we hope you all will participate, is easily described as more enlightened.

Making an entire planet fall into darkness, after all, is an odd way of expressing love – a return of the Dark Ages, anyone?  Earth Hour protestors nonetheless believe the world will be a better place if governments drive fossil fuels out of the marketplace – or simply force energy companies to keep coal, natural gas and oil “in the ground.”

Such thinking is wrongheaded for many reasons.

Abundant, affordable, and reliable energy is a blessing, not a curse. Commercial energy, the vast majority of which still comes from fossil fuels, literally gives superhuman power to ordinary people.

Wealth and technologies supported by fossil fuels are what enable billions of people to live longer and healthier lives, in cleaner environments, and with greater access to information than even the most powerful elites of previous generations.

These blessings are still by no means universal. More than 1 billion people in developing countries still have no access to electricity and billions more have too little to eradicate poverty. We know very well by now that cheap, abundant energy is a key to bringing those people into our healthier and more comfortable world.

Recent decades have seen substantial gains in global indicators of well-being: life expectancy, per capita income, child mortality rates, hunger rates, poverty rates, malaria incidence, literacy, and access to safe drinking water. All owe a great deal to fossil energy.  

Nor is it true that fossil-fueled civilization is making the climate less “livable.” Since the 1920s, the vast majority of industrial-era carbon dioxide emissions entered the atmosphere and the world warmed by 0.08 degrees centigrade. At the same time, global deaths and death rates related to extreme weather declined by 93 percent and 98 percent, respectively.

Scary-sounding climate change forecasts come from models that predict two-to-three times as much global warming as has actually occurred since the late 1970s. Climate scientist Patrick Michaels reports, on the other hand, that there is only one model that accurately tracks the real warming trends.

When this model is run with a realistic emission scenario (where natural gas continues to replace coal), the predicted 21st century warming is about 1.5 degrees centigrade. That means the world is already on track to meet the Paris climate treaty’s maximum goal, but without new taxes and regulations, and without turning off anyone’s lights.

The climate policies popular with the Earth Hour crowd are either a costly exercise in futility or a cure worse than the disease.

Pick any climate policy on the books today, and you will find an abysmal benefit-cost ratio. For example, the Obama administration’s so-called Clean Power Plan, if implemented, could cost the U.S. economy hundreds of billions of dollars. Yet it would avert less than 0.02 degrees centigrade of global warming 80 years from now, according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s own climate model.

More importantly, developing countries already account for more than 60 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Achieving the United Nations-sponsored Paris climate treaty’s mid-century goal of cutting global emissions by 50 percent or more would require developing countries to make substantial reductions in their consumption of fossil fuels, leading to slower growth and fewer opportunities for struggling people.

Besides, since when has collective darkness been the image of a virtuous society?

Look at a nighttime satellite photo of the Korean Peninsula. South Korea, now one of the world’s strongest economies, is lit up like a Christmas tree. Communist North Korea is plunged in darkness.

In North Korea, every hour is Earth Hour. Not because the people strive for “sustainability,” but because the regime is a benighted tyranny.

Earth Hour originated in 2007. The Competitive Enterprise Institute held its first Human Achievement Hour in 2009. Rather than ascribe mankind’s progress to energy folly, we prefer to pay tribute to the wonders of human inventiveness, enterprise, and collaboration that provide our well-being and enable us to overcome our challenges.

So, come one and come all! Celebrants can also have a laugh at the backwards ideology that equates a dark world with a good one. Hence the acronym for our cheery occasion: HAH!

Just use the hashtag #HAH2018 to tweet your best examples and photos of human achievement to @ceidotorg.

Marlo Lewis, Ph.D. is a Senior Fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.