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Is Earth Hour Wantonly Wasteful?

Posted By Don Boudreaux On March 27, 2011 @ 8:25 am In Cleaned by Capitalism,Complexity & Emergence,Environment,Standard of Living | Comments Disabled

Responding negatively to this post in which I encouraged people to leave their lights on last night as a means of celebrating Human Achievement Hour [1], Emerson White comments:

Wanton waste is not how humans achieved so much. How about you leave the lights that you are using on and leave the rest off so some brilliant capitalist can do something with the energy that you don’t waste.

I agree.  Wanton waste is not how humans achieved so much.  But as commentors vikingvista, Sandre, and Richard Stands point out, each in his different way, it’s not at all the case that turning on the lights for Human Achievement Hour is wasteful.  It is, instead, a productive matter of choice.

Those of us who celebrated Human Achievement Hour were indeed making a statement – expressing our opinions – as opposed to keeping the lights on merely to perform some narrowly utilitarian tasks.  But if this expressive action be wasteful, then it was no less wasteful for those who celebrated Earth Hour to express their opinions by turning their lights off.

According to the implicit logic in Emerson White’s comment, by arbitrarily going one whole hour with significantly reduced energy and artificial lighting, human labor was wantonly wasted.  Productive activities that could have been performed – doing the laundry, cleaning the basement, studying for that mechanical-engineering or poetry exam, tinkering in the garage on a project that might be the next-generation’s supercomputer – were arbitrarily not performed.  One full hour of human labor down the drain, never to be recovered.  For one entire hour, human labor was wasted for no purpose other than to make a political statement.  Wasting labor wantonly is not how humans achieved so much.  (Human labor, by the way, is one of the few resources that is becoming increasingly scarce over time.  As the real prices of petroleum, magnesium, coal, and most other ‘natural resources’ trend downward over time, the real price of human labor in industrialized and industrializing economies continues to rise.  So it is especially egregious to waste human labor.)

Of course, while I disagree with the factual and economic premises upon which Earth Hour is based, I do not really believe that Earth Hour celebrants were being wasteful.  Each of those (I think misguided) celebrants made and executed a private, peaceful choice for his or her own private, subjective reasons and, in the process, took no property of others.  Earth-Hour celebrants weren’t wasteful – but nor were Human Achievement Hour celebrants.

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