Earth Hour — What They SHOULD Have Said

Allow me to engage in a bit of strawman-bashing. In the comments to Don Boudreaux’s excellent post at Cafe Hayek, a rather idiotic argument came up. It is the same argument that many of our own contributors received when we opposed Ron Paul, and commenters told us “If you don’t like Ron Paul, you must tell us who we SHOULD vote for.” It’s a strawman, of course, because criticizing one idea doesn’t obligate you to posit your own. But that’s not good enough for some people, as this comment to Don’s post shows:


Instead of bringing forward some better and more rational proposals that will help to avoid that hysteria that indeed clouds the environmental issues and could cause the remedies to be worse than the sickness, and help the world to be able to use scarce resources wisely and effective… you live up to your role as an educator, as a beacon of light… and just make fun of it all.

As if the folks at Cafe Hayek haven’t offered their own positive ideas on a whole host of topics, one bit of criticism gets the “well, what would YOU do about it?” response. Laughable…

…but I’m going to offer a suggestion anyway. I’m going to offer the free-market environmentalist answer.

Here’s what the World Wildlife Fund should have said:

Greetings. In our modern world, we are faced with many problems. While the work of caring environmentalists and improved technology has done a lot to improve the environmental situation in the Western world, we have much farther to go. Rising populations and increased worldwide standard of living are only adding to the strain that humanity is placing on our planet. Oil and coal have served us well to bring us to this point, but exact a heavy toll on the planet to extract and use. These sources of energy are the past; they are not the future.

Conservation is one part of the solution to this problem. Conservation helps the environment by reducing demand, and helps individuals by reducing the prices they pay for the resources they use. Taken in the aggregate across society, reduced individual energy use helps to ensure that we can move from today’s needs to the future, and do so in a smooth transition. We hope that our recent Earth Hour event reminds humanity that they should be ever-mindful of their impact on the planet, and do what they can to minimize that individual impact, for the good of their pocketbooks and the planet.

But conservation is not enough. The pressures of increased population and increased prosperity will only lead to higher energy consumption. In order to protect our Earth, we must find alternative energy sources, with a smaller impact on our environment. To ensure widespread acceptance, the solution must be both environmentally-friendly and cheap. Our current solutions show promise, but are too expensive to be deployed on a wide scale. Thankfully, rising prices of oil will make it more economically feasible to explore alternatives, and the work of firms such as Massachussetts’ Konarka Technologies are helping to bridge the gap between today and the future.

Environmentalism and energy consumption are not mutually-exclusive. The crucial factor, however, is technology. We can solve these problems, but it won’t be done by politicians or policymakers. It won’t come from Washington or Brussels. And it can’t be done by mandate. The solutions will come from hard-working, caring, dedicated scientists and engineers. It will come from those in the private sector who stand to make a profit from cheap, clean energy.

Those who care about our planet have many options open to them. For those who are still young, with their careers and lives ahead of them, we encourage you to study physics, materials science, and engineering. You can directly impact the problem by researching, developing, and implementing the technologies which will help us solve these problems. For those who may be too late to change their career path, there are countless investment opportunities in the companies working on these problems. The beauty of these options is that it offers you both the opportunity to profit and enact a social good.

Turning off your lights for an hour is a reminder of what you can do in the short term, and of the important problem that we must solve. But if you really want to help, it’s time to get your hands dirty and start making the long-term solution a reality.

Those of us on “the right” are often lambasted as uncaring when it comes to environmental problems. We are not. We are simply cognizant of the fact that the solutions “the left” offers are typically damaging, counterproductive, and anti-prosperity. The real solution will come from the same place all solutions come — the long-term work by people trying to improve their own lives, and by extension improve the world for the rest of us.