Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Human Achievement Hour


Just got this email from the good folks at CEI. If you don't mind throwing your lot in with the Vast Koch Conspiracy for an hour, it promises to be a great time (CEI is known to throw some of the best parties in DC). Besides, you get to celebrate a great cause.
On Saturday March 26th 2011 from 8:30pm to 9:30pm individuals, business, and governments will shut off their lights for one hour as a symbolic vote against global climate change. Observers of Earth Hour want world leaders to “do something” about pollution and energy use. What this means is that they want politicians to use sanctions and taxation to prevent individuals from freely using resources, hindering our ability to create the solutions and technologies of the future.

During this same hour The Competitive Enterprise Institute encourages you to leave your lights on for the third annual Human Achievement Hour (HAH), a celebration of individual freedom and appreciation of the achievements and innovations of humans throughout history. To celebrate Human Achievement Hour participants need only to spend the 8:30pm to 9:30pm hour on March 26th enjoying the benefits of capitalism and human innovation: gather with friends in the warmth of a heated home, watch television, take a hot shower, drink a beer, call a loved one on the phone, or listen to music. If you are in the DC-metro area, join CEI’s in-house party for drinks, food, good music, and conversation about human innovation:

7pm-11pm
CEI HQ 1899 L. St. NW Floor 12 Washington, DC 20036
(RSVP to Daniel at dcompton@cei.org)

HAH is an annual event meant to recognize that this is the greatest time to be alive and that we have come so far only because people have been free to use their minds and the resources in their environment to experiment, create, and innovate. Participants in HAH recognize the necessity to protect the individuals from government coercion in order to continue innovating and improving our lives and the world around us. See how far we’ve come!

24 comments:

Roxanne said...

I'm confused and this makes me sad...why should we celebrate capitalism and waste, don't we celebrate it every single day by leaving the lights on, driving cars, and mindlessly throwing (or littering) our waste? We SHOULD pause for an hour and recognize our world and how much energy we use and how reliant we are on ever-depleteing natural resources and realize we need to cut down consumption in order to sustain any sort of life.

CEI --> :(
have fun HAH HAH HAH-ing when the world ceases to exist

Lachlan said...

We certainly enjoy the fruits of capitalism every day, but very rarely to do we stop to appreciate just how much better our lives are today thanks to human innovation. HAH isn't a celebration of waste, littering, or mindlessness of any kind. It's a reaffirmation of the importance of the creative, entrepreneurial spirit, which has improved innumerable lives the past century or so.

On a more substantive note, your suggestion that an opposition to economically-ruinous environmental policies means, literally, the end of the world is specious at best. It's that sort of myopic view of environmentalism that necessitates a re-affirmation of the importance of human innovation and achievement.

Lachlan said...

A point of clarification: I don't know specifically the environmental policies you would advocate (though I can venture a guess). But I do know that ones CEI opposes on a daily basis - chief among them being cap and trade, of course - and they would be economically ruinous if implemented wholesale.

Lachlan said...

I would also point out the extent to which innovation will be necessary to any successful effort to combat climate change, a fact the president routinely notes. The Kyoto-Copenhagen approach is an abject failure. The solution lies in innovation, not in draconian emissions mandates or pollution taxes.

TJE said...

Roxanne and Lachlan must meet one another.

TJE said...

Lachlan, am I safe in assuming that you won't be coming up to HC in May to hear AlGore?

PBM said...

It seems to me that free market advocates like yourself don't have faith in the market to thrive when obstacles are thrown in its way. Industry studies consistently overestimate job losses caused by regulation (see seatbelts, original Clean Air Act, and many, many more). Do you really think our economy would come to a stop if cap and trade was enacted? I know there would be short term pain (not really though in the bill that passed the house b/c of huge industry give-aways that wouldn't have forced industry to purchase permits for atleast 30 or 40 years), but I really don't think it would destroy our economy. Yes, oil and coal companies would have to wind down, but that would be in lieu (long term) of renewable energy industries that are far less harmful to the environment. Human achievement and innovation can go hand in hand with environmental protection.


I ask the question to you again, how do you feel about market externalities? Currently energy production produces a plethora of negative externalities (oil spills, mine explosions, mountain top removal, poisoned water sources, adverse health effects) that are not reflected in market energy prices. Should these problems not be addressed with some sort of increased price tag on these harmful technologies?

Also, let's take a minute to think about what a warming world would do to capitalism. We will have to pay a far costlier price tag further down the road in increased weather disasters, rising sea levels and the health problems, food price increases, and other issues that go along with them. If we wait longer, government intervention will have to be more extensive and reduce freedom even more than cap and trade. Is this really what we want?

Lachlan said...

Heh. Highly doubtful. Especially considering that his last commencement address was called "the most depressing graduation speech ever."

Julia G said...

To go back to the original point, how is this not a celebration of waste? Even if you are against turning your lights off in a symbolic vote against climate change, the appropriate response is not to keep your lights or heat on unnecessarily. Turning these things off when you're not using them is just simple common sense, not to mention cost-effective. Believe me, I'm very aware of the benefits of human innovation in my life. But that doesn't mean it's appropriate to celebrate the wonders of electricity by leaving lights on for no reason other than to denounce climate change. If you want to keep your lights on for that hour, fine. But it should be beacuse you actually need them, not because you want to stick it to environmentalists.

Lachlan said...

PBM (what's your name, btw? I feel strange addressing people by their initials),

The price tag of global warming by the end of the century is usually estimated at between $3 and $15 trillion. Which is a whole lot of economic damage. But the Copenhagen goal of a 2-degree (C) drop in global temperatures, if undertaken through strict statutory limits on carbon emissions, would, according to the Copenhagen Climate Consensus, require a tax on carbon emissions reaching roughly-$4,000 per metric ton by the end of the century. That adds up to about $40 trillion per year by 2100.

Point being, you are absolutely correct: any analysis of the problem should be based on its economics. And unfortunately most of the political solutions proposed thus far would impose regulatory regimes more costly than the projected economic damage inflicted by climate change itself.

No, cap and trade would not destroy our economy. It would only severely hinder its growth - by how much I have no idea, but I would guess that the 0.2 degree drop in temperatures the U.S. cap and trade plan was expected to bring would not yield benefits outweighing the plan's economic costs.

As for externalities, I think they should be incorporated into pricing systems via legal liabilities. In other words, there should be (and there are) legal channels for people to seek damages where it can be demonstrated that a company is responsible for those damages. As long as those laws are transparent and consistently applied, private firms can factor potential liabilities into their decisions regarding the risks and potential benefits of investing in a given venture.

Lachlan said...

One more pt. on the economic aspect of it all: given that there is a quantifiable level of economic damage that climate change is expected to deal us by 2100, we can now make choices as to where each additional dollar of government spending does the most good. Is mandkind best served if that next dollar goes towards a carbon credit, or the education of a child in sub-Saharan Africa? The prevention of HIV and Malaria? Food and water for the hundreds of millions (billions?) who don't have enough of either?

These are the tradeoffs we have to make. It's not at all clear to me that a dollar more spent regulating carbon emissions is the wisest allocation of that money, just from the perspective of human welfare.

njDylan said...

In my opinion, a BETTER way to celebrate capitalism is to buy something. It could be anything, an Ipad or a Final Four t-Shirt, but this way, our excitement in buying something new is coupled with the growth of our economy! It is not that your approach is wrong, it just that the ends don' justify the means at ALL. This is like telling people who buy guns to celebrate it by killing things.

Lachlan said...

Not sure I understand your analogy, but for what it's worth, talking on the phone and turning on a light both constitute commercial purchases - of electricity (and the energy sources that create it), phone service, light bulbs, etc.

Ryan Karerat said...

"In my opinion, a BETTER way to celebrate capitalism is to buy something. It could be anything, an Ipad or a Final Four t-Shirt..."

There's no better way to celebrate capitalism than by buying products probably assembled in Communist China.

njDylan said...

Here is the analogy: this program celebrates the fact that we should turn lights on, call friends, take showers all because we CAN. Similarly, killing things would be a celebration of the fact we also CAN do this. I can also buy a candle and some matches.

TJE said...

http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=2210887946

Lachlan said...

Oh, I see. Well then presumably you consider "killing things" to be on par with electricity in terms of social usefulness. That's really the only way your analogy works. We're celebrating how much better our lives are thanks to these technologies and the people who devised them (and the economic system that incentivized them to do so). We wouldn't celebrate guns by killing things, since, unlike electricity, killing things doesn't really serve any miraculously beneficial function for society. (Unless, of course, you're celebrating your ability to put dinner on the table by killing animals with miraculous ease, in which case I say shoot away.)

PBM said...

It's Peter. A couple of questions. What levels of CO2 emissions does that $40 trillion number rely on? Because it seems like the market signals associated with cap and trade or a carbon tax would reduce carbon emissions enough that the cost would be lower than that by 5-10 years out. It also seems like growth in renewable industries could counteract some of that loss, and I'm sure I could find studies supporting this claim. Your numbers seem like a biased industry estimate to me, but I could be wrong.

I also don't think we should look at just the temperature numbers. Clean energy needs to be a part of our energy future and if we spur innovation in the industry now it could reduce temperatures even more in the future.

On externalities, I totally agree but we don't have that type of legal framework in place. Claimants from the Exxon Valdeez spill have yet to receive any payments, and it is shown in academia that large corporations have inherent advantages in amounts of money, general influence, and in the sheer aspect that they are repeat players. We have supposedly the best legal system in the world, and if it can't make Exxon pay 22 years after a major spill, what can it do. The spill and subsequent court case against Chevron in Ecuador show how this plays out in less advanced judicial systems. The political system doesn't make these corporations accountable either as can be seen in the Congress' failure to pass mine safety and additional drilling regulations in the past 2 years. What your saying sounds good in theory, but it doesn't exist in the real world. Industry holds far too much power to hold corporations accountable for their mistakes, and that leaves no method to account for negative externalities.

njDylan said...

Your food analogy isn't quite right. Putting food on the table would be a useful way to kill things. Turning on my lights to see because I want to work is a USEFUL way to use energy.

Lachlan said...

The Exxon Valdeez spill leaves people uncompensated for damages, yet a woman can get $3 million out of McDonalds after spilling coffee on herself.

No legal system is perfect. Ours is far from it. And of course companies will pull out all the stops to avoid being held liable for those damages. But they are - constantly. Obviously Exxon Valdeez is a high-profile example to the contrary, but there are certainly plenty of examples of the opposite trend - tort cases extracting millions from private firms for sensationalized or completely trumped up charges of wrongdoing (e.g. Hinkley, CA).

I would never argue that our legal system is perfect, and I am always open to ideas on how to improve it. But to simply say that it's always stacked in favor of companies defending themselves against liability is to ignore the litany of cases in which they have been held liable, and equally outrageous examples of wrongdoing on the part of trial attorneys.

On the climate change issue, I don't know that those numbers are indisputable. I'll see if I can find more links/sources, and post them here if I do.

Lachlan said...

Dylan,

Indeed it is. Turning on the lights so you can work is just one of innumerable ways that electricity improves your life.

So let's celebrate that fact with a symbolic salute to those who have made such technologies possible.

njDylan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
njDylan said...

Ill send Thomas Edison a postcard.

PBM said...

And my preferred climate policy wouldn't be an economy-wide cap and trade system, it would be a shared revenue carbon tax that would give a large portion of revenue back to consumers in the form of a rebate while spending the other portion on r&d of clean energy. This would send the right market signals, while minimally hurting consumers and the economy as a whole. A similar plan was drawn up by Sens. Susan Collins and Maria Cantwell and garnered support from AARP and a number of other interest groups, but it got nowhere in the senate, where fossil fuel interests come first.