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December 22, 2017

Three Cheers for Holiday Lighting!

December 22, 2017
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Environmentalists critical of electrified America must have mixed emotions this time of the year. It may be the season of good cheer and goodwill toward all, but it is also the time of the most conspicuous energy consumption. America the Beautiful is at her best when billions of strung lights turn darkness into magnificent glory from border to border, from sea to shining sea.

Holiday lighting is a great social offering—a positive externality in the jargon of economics—given by many to all.

While energy doomsayers such as Paul Ehrlich have railed against “garish commercial Christmas displays,” today’s headline grabbers (GristThink Progress, where are you?) have not engaged in a public debate over the issue.

Yet holiday lighting is a glaring exception to their goal of reducing discretionary energy usage to help save the world. If holiday energy guzzling is forgiven, why not excuse outdoor heating and cooling, one-switch centralized lighting, and instant-on appliances, not to mention hot tubs and SUVs?

Prancing around to turn on individual lights or waiting for the paper copier to warm up, wastes the scarcest, truly depleting resource: a person’s time. Surely extra energy use for comfort and convenience has priority over purely celebratory uses of energy.

So, what about the holiday humbug that celebratory electricity depletes energy minerals, fouls the air, and “destabilizes” the climate? Good tidings abound!

Resourceship: More for All

Between 1980 and 2016, despite record production and consumption, world proved reserves of oil and of natural gas have each grown by more than 150 percent.

The US has been in the forefront, with newly found supply outpacing consumption. Between 2000 and 2015, US reserves of oil and natural gas increased by 47 percent and 74 percent, respectively. Globally, the United States is number one in oil and natural gas production and second in coal production.

Coal is even more abundant than oil and natural gas abroad and at home. World proved reserves increased one-and-a-half-fold between 1980 and 2016. US coal supplies compose 21 percent of the world total, second only to China.

Domestic coal reserves are greater on a Btu basis than oil and natural gas combined. In terms of domestic usage, our coal represents 350 years of present consumption.

Political events can drive down supply and increase prices, but the raw mineral resource base is prolific—and expanding in economic terms thanks to inexhaustible human ingenuity, as well as increasing exploratory capital from a growing economy.

Ever greater mineral energy wealth will come with any moves toward worldwide energy privatization, beginning with subsoil rights to minerals. The energy upside from freedom is tremendous.

Improved Air Quality

Growing energy consumption has been accompanied by improving air quality. All told, emissions of the six principal air pollutants have dropped by two-thirds, at a time when the economy and fossil-fuel usage grew substantially. Between 1980 and 2016, the US Environmental Protection Agency reports, “gross domestic product increased 158 percent, vehicle miles traveled increased 111 percent, energy consumption increased 25 percent, and U.S. population grew by 42 percent.”

The reductions per criteria pollutant between 1980 and 2016 have been:

  • 85 percent for carbon monoxide (CO);
  • 33 percent for ozone (O3);
  • 99 percent for lead (Pb);
  • 62 percent for nitrogen dioxide (NO2); and
  • 87 percent for sulfur dioxide (SO2).
  • 57 percent for particulate matter (PM10)

So much for the gloomy I = PAT equation from Paul Ehrlich and John Holdren that correlated a negative environmental Impact from increasing Population, Affluence, and Technology. Just the opposite has proven the case, as Julian Simon recognized.

Climate Alarmism Not

Should good citizens think twice about holiday lighting, given global warming and other suspected climate change from increasing man-made emissions and atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases? Hardly!

High-warming scenarios from climate models are increasingly being refuted by reality. “Climate computer model projections of future man-made warming due to human emissions of carbon dioxide are running too hot,” noted Ronald Bailey, referencing a new scientific study. “This is really good news,” he added.

Indeed, there has been a “pause” in global warming since the late 1990s. The discrepancy between models and data is likely to widen, even if average temperatures continue to rise.

It is time to dial back the alarm. “Based on everything that I’ve seen,” summarized Judith Curry, “it is very difficult to conclude that human-caused climate change is potentially a ‘ruin’ problem on the timescale of the 21st century.  But climate change is interesting and important, independently of whether AGW is the dominant factor or not.”

Beware of claims of settled science—and the “consensus enforcers versus the Trump administration.”

Climate economists can point to positive externalities, not only negative ones, from the human influence on global climate. A moderately warmer, wetter world, whether natural or anthropogenic, such as that experienced since the end of the Little Ice Age in the mid-19th century, has brought significant benefits. Even the New York Times has noted the “global greening” from CO2 fertilization.

Affordable, plentiful energy provides the primary means for societies to improve the environment—and protect against weather and climate events. In the final analysis, wealth is environmental health, which explains why increasing energy usage and environmental improvement have gone hand-in-hand in the Western world.

Climate Taxation Not

Perhaps a fourth cheer should be added to the above three. The new tax bill put consumers and America first by not imposing a price on carbon dioxide (CO2). A carbon tax is not tax reform but its opposite. An Obama-level CO2 tax of $40 per ton, for example, would have increased gasoline prices by 18 percent ($0.36/gallon); natural gas by 50 percent ($2.12/MMBtu); propane by 48 percent ($0.23/gallon); home heating oil by 41 percent ($0.41/gallon).

Use coal, buy electricity generated by coal, or work for the coal industry? Think what a 264 percent increase—$84.03 per short ton—would have meant for you and others given a carbon tax.

Prices of US electricity, two-thirds of which is generated from fossil fuels, would rise by about 40 percent ($0.04/kWh) under this tax.


A post at Yale Climate Connections laments that “the holidays have a huge carbon footprint.” Travel and gifts are the villains. “The holidays can be a time of abundance, with lots of food, gift-giving, and fun,” it is stated. “Unfortunately, they’re also a time of abundant carbon pollution.”

Don’t resort to inconvenient carpooling, mass transit, self-made gifts, or recycling as recommended in the above post. Choose convenience and, as they say, don’t sweat the small stuff. When it comes to energy, there is not a depletion, pollution, or climate problem in the United States or other areas of the world where private property, voluntary exchange, and the rule of law prevail.

There is, in fact, much to be thankful for this holiday season with our energy economy. But thoughts about the less fortunate should be with us too. An estimated 1.1 billion people do not have electricity for lighting, heating, cooling, cooking, or water purification. A Christmas tree for us is likely to be firewood for those living in energy poverty.

For the energy impoverished, there could be no greater holiday gift than affordable electricity itself, explaining why the developing world cannot afford to join the global warming/climate crusade—really a war on fossil fuels—to satisfy Western elites.

Free-market energy makes our lives safer, cleaner, more comfortable, and more convenient. The master resource also gives us the power to celebrate. May one and all in good conscience enliven this holiday season with lights aplenty.

With fuels and energy technologies rapidly improving, Americans can look forward to even more energetic celebrations and shared goodwill in the holidays ahead.

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