Never has there been a better time to enliven darkness with celebratory holiday lighting. Nationally and globally, the human condition is improving. And great progress has been made with each of the most affordable, plentiful, reliable energies to meet present and future needs: natural gas, oil, and coal. These are the dense energies, the mineral energies formed over the ages, which consumers voluntary choose and which require no taxpayer subsidy.
Holiday lighting was once just the wealthy putting wax candle holders on their Christmas trees. The first electric lights in the U.S. were displayed by an executive of the Edison Electric Light Company in 1882, and a new tradition was born. By the mid-twentieth century, strings of electric lights became commonplace.
A Positive Externality
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 nights into magnificent glory, border to border, sea to shining sea.
Holiday lighting is a wondrous social offering—a positive externality in the jargon of economics—given by many to all.
Are we running out of energy? Is energy less secure? Is air or water pollution increasing?
The answer across the board is no. Today’s energy comes from an ever-growing capital stock thanks to resourceship in an incentivized economy. Record growth of oil and gas production and reserves in the U.S., as recently documented in Hard Facts, is just part of a happy story about how so-called depletable resources can increase faster than they are consumed.
Not only production, the statistics of price, usage, and reliability indicate that consumers and the general economy are well served as fossil fuels enter into its fourth century.
Hooey the Humbugs
Dense, reliable, consumer-preferred, taxpayer-neutral energies are an engine of economic betterment, which is opposed by deep ecologists. And so celebratory lighting comes in for criticism.
“With the holiday season, the intensity of light pollution only increases,” said a representative of the United Green Alliance.
Ideally, there would be a public outcry against bigger causes of light pollution, such as street lamps and tall buildings. But until that happens, the simplest thing that one can do is to not put up any Christmas or Hanukkah lights.
Another Scrooge wrote in the HuffPost:
Do you love those displays of Christmas (or Hanukah or Kwanza or …) lights? Are you awed by those so impassioned that they string up 1000s of lights in awesome displays worthy of a city center? I once did, pausing on cold winter nights, white clouds issuing from my mouth, enjoying being in the glow of beautiful displays…. But … no longer … I’ve reached the point of feeling like a Scrooge; feeling outrage over the tons of C02 going into the atmosphere via neighbors’ 10,000 light displays rather than feeling ‘joyous’.”
These cries for darkness are fringe and misplaced. Traditional pollutants associated with fossil-fuel burning have been declining for decades with more improvement on the way. Carbon dioxide emissions, on the other hand, while increasing, are greening Planet Earth, as exhaustively documented by the CO2 Coalition. The climate scare more generally is exaggerated and misunderstood given that fossil fuels have made the world safer, not more dangerous, over recorded history.
The climate nannies at the New York Times, while urging less consumption of meat and many other lifestyle alterations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, recommend being “smart” about holiday lights. Replace your incandescent bulbs with LED ones. Turn off the lights after midnight. And “promptly” take them down “when the holidays are over.”
Instead, how about a “thank you” and encouragement of holiday lighting? The displays can be left on for the whole night—and up into the New Year.
Here’s to ever greater holiday celebrations in the years ahead in the energy superpower, the United States of America, and around the world.