A Moment of Illumination

January 19, 2010 | by | Topic: The Path to FreedomPrint Print

We’ve all had those sudden epiphanies where the proverbial light bulb clicks on and understanding comes into clear focus. I had one of those moments over the Christmas holiday season. In this case, the light bulb experience was literal as well as figurative.

Here is what happened:

My wife came home all excited because she had found strands of battery-powered Christmas lights to add some pizzazz to a couple of wreathes in our living room. The excitement gave way to glumness as soon as the “on” switch was turned. Instead of bright, cheery, Christmassy points of light, the LED bulbs emitted a pale, weird, sickly light of indeterminate bluish hue. Yuck!

Welcome to the dreary world of politically correct Christmas lights. Such wan, ghastly Christmas lights may bring joy to the hearts of worshipers of Gaia and those who put up “unity trees” instead of Christmas trees, but for those of us who are still quaint and old-fashioned enough to want a festive and joyous atmosphere in which to celebrate the birth of our Savior, those ugly-though-energy-efficient LEDs were a big humbug.

The austerity of a green future was apparent again when I turned on our new energy-efficient outdoor light on the back porch. I thought the new bulb must have already broken, because the twilight seemed as dark as it had before I flipped the switch. When I went outside to check, I saw that the light “worked.” The bulb was emitting about half the light that a match would provide. As most of you readers probably know already, these “modern” energy-efficient bulbs take time to warm up. Do environmentalists really believe that using bulbs that no longer give us instant illumination is progress?

Some of these wretched new bulbs also represent a retrograde step in terms of human safety. They contain mercury. For decades, we have searched for ways to lessen human exposure to this highly toxic element. Now our environmentally enlightened leaders have legislated a phase-out of tried-and-true incandescent bulbs in favor of bulbs that give inferior performance while posing a greater health hazard.

For those naïve enough to believe that environmentalism is about making the world more livable for humans, these new-fangled, pathetic excuses for light bulbs should suffice to correct that misapprehension. The greens want to punish us for having dared to convert Mother Earth’s raw materials into products that improve our quality of life so magnificently.

President Obama is a believer in this grim green Puritanism. During his presidential campaign he chastised the American people for our affluence, asserting moralistically, “We can’t drive our SUVs and, you know, eat as much as we want and keep our homes on, you know, 72 degrees at all times … and then just expect that every other country is going to say OK. You guys go ahead and keep on using 25 percent of the world’s energy, even though you only account for three percent of the population.”

The implication is that Americans have been piggish, hogging an unfair percentage of the world’s depleted resources. This view is flawed.

In the first place, we have consumed so much energy simply because we have been free to do so. Whenever countries adopt market economies—that is, when they protect property rights and protect legitimate (i.e., non-coercive, non-fraudulent) profit-seeking behavior—human productivity, energy consumption, and prosperity all rise in lockstep. It is NOT the United States’ fault that foreign governments so long impeded the economic freedom and concomitant energy consumption of their citizens.

Secondly, it is fallacious to view energy supplies as nearing exhaustion. In their book “The Bottomless Well,” Peter W. Huber and Mark P. Mills tell us that human beings consume approximately 350 Quads (a hundred quadrillion BTUs) of energy per year. KNOWN (I’m emphasizing “known,” because more will surely be found) global coal deposits contain some 200,000 Quads of energy; oil shale deposits, 10 million Quads; uranium and its cousin elements contain even more; and the deuterium in the world’s oceans contains at least 10 trillion Quads of energy that will be unlocked when nuclear fusion technology is developed.

Since the Huber and Mills book was written, Brazil has found billions of additional barrels of recoverable oil off its shores. BP has found billions more in the Gulf of Mexico. Humans will never use all the energy that our energy-rich world contains.

Someday, our descendants will look back at the vigorous efforts of greens and liberals to keep us from developing the most economical forms of energy with bemusement and bewilderment. The energy is there. What would you rather do—tap in to nature’s bountiful supplies, or put up with light bulbs that don’t give instant light and the eerie, gloomy beams of politically correct light bulbs at Christmastime?

Mark W. Hendrickson

Mark W. Hendrickson

Dr. Mark W. Hendrickson is an adjunct faculty member, economist, and fellow for economic and social policy with The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College.

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