By Edward Hudgins – December 20, 2022
“Energy is not for saving; It serves to unleash us to improve our lives, to enable us to achieve our dreams and to reach for the stars, those bright lights that pierce the darkness of the night.”
Since early humans lit the first fires in caves, the release of energy for light, warmth, cooking and all human needs has been the essence and symbol of what it means to be human. The Greeks saw Prometheus conquering darkness with the gift of fire for humans. The Romans kept an eternal flame burning in the Temple of Vesta. Our deepest thoughts and insights are described as sparks of fire in our mind. A symbol of death is a fading flame; The poet Dylan Thomas urged us to “rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
Therefore, the recent extinguishing of the lights in cities across Australia and in other developed countries is seen as a symbol of the deepest social darkness, not as a result of power outages or natural disasters, not as a conscious act of homage to the death of a few worthy souls, but to remind us all urging to limit energy use over fears of global warming.
This is not the symbol of death, but of a civilization’s suicide.
Certainly most people who turned off their lights saw their actions in a narrower perspective. You have been told by all the media that the warming of the earth’s atmosphere due to human activities will surely cause a global catastrophe unless we act now to radically reduce our energy consumption. The case for disaster is still weak; but this matter, which deserves dispassionate and serious consideration, is hyped up by the entertainment industry and pandering politicians like the problematic products aimed at attention-deprived audiences.
In our individual lives, wanting the best for the least is quite rational. We want the highest quality food, cars and homes at the lowest price. And we want to pay as little as possible to run our cars, heat our homes and power our consumer electronics. This means that we want to waste as little as possible, because waste is money that could be spent on other things. So turning off the light in an unused space is an act of self-interest.
The aim of our actions should always be our own well-being. And basically this means using the materials and energies in the world around us for our own well-being. The means is to train our rational mind to discover how to start a fire, build a dynamo to generate electricity by burning fossil fuels, or tap into the inexhaustible energy of the atom. The yardstick for choosing the best remedy is cost-effectiveness. If producers in a free market can generate a kilowatt of electricity for pennies by burning oil compared to dollars per kilowatt from windmills and solar panels, there’s no point in using the latter.
Some will argue that the full cost of any remedy must account for unintended adverse consequences, such as pollution that causes measurable damage to our lives, health, and property. But there are means of dealing with such externalities – which usually involve strict application of property rights – that will do us little more harm than the supposed evils they seek to mitigate by dampening creative human activity and innovation.
If the cost of generating energy from oil rises too high as supplies dwindle – many decades, if not centuries, away – our creative minds will develop more cost-effective ways to harness wind, waves and sunlight in a free market.
Through myopia, sloppy thinking, emotional indulgence, and even a deep malice, many environmentalists today—particularly in their approach to global warming—perpetuate an ethos of darkness. Consider the damage done by their symbolic actions, not to mention the policies many of them advocate.
Most individuals acquire their values through culture, often through implicit messages that they do not subject to rational analysis. The implicit message for many of turning off a city’s lights is that we should feel guilty for the act of being human, that is, for changing and using the environment for our own benefit.
In her novel Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand describes the implications of such an assumption viewed from an airplane flying over a collapsing country:
New York City… rose in the distance ahead of them, still spreading its lights in the sky, still defying the original darkness… The plane was over the tops of the skyscrapers when suddenly… as if the ground parted, um devouring it, the city vanished from the face of the earth. It took them a moment to realize… that the lights of New York had gone out.
In any discussion of the environment, we must clearly focus on the fundamental issues: the right of individuals to pursue their own well-being as they see fit; the requirement that man, as creator, use the material and energy in the environment to meet his needs; the rational exercise of our mind as a way of discovering the best means of doing so; and exercising that ability as a source of pride and self-esteem
The spectacle of a night skyline is the beauty of millions of people at their most human.
Energy is not for saving; it is unleashing, to serve us, to make our lives better, to enable us to achieve our dreams and to reach for the stars, those bright lights that pierce the darkness of the night.
Edward Hudgins is the founder and director of the Human Achievement Alliance. His previous affiliations were with the Heartland Institute (Research Director); the Atlas Society (director of advocacy, senior scientist); and the Cato Institute (Director of Admissions Studies).
Hudgins is the author of Freedom to Trade: Refuting the New Protectionism; The Last Monopoly: Privatizing the Postal Service for the Information Age; Mail @ the Millennium: Will the Postal Service Go Private? and Space: The Free-Market Frontier and Other Studies.
This paper, originally published by the Atlas Society in 2007, is a classic in free market energy thinking.