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, 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.
While energy doomsayers such as Paul Ehrlich have railed against “garish commercial Christmas displays,” today’s ilk are shy to engage the issue. Yet holiday lighting is a glaring exception to their goal of reducing discretionary energy usage to help save the world from carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and other byproducts of modernity. 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 an appliance 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 from More
“Stronger oil and natural gas prices combined with continuing development of shales and low permeability formations,” the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) recently reported, “drove producers of crude oil and natural gas in the United States to report new all-time record levels of proved reserves for both fuels in 2017.” This result has made the US the world leader in the production of oil and of natural gas.
In terms of proved reserves (found and producible under existing technology and economic incentives), oil supply has doubled in the last decade and now stands above the record set nearly a half-century ago (1970). For natural gas, a one-third increase in found-and-ready supply was registered in the last year alone, resulting in an all-time U.S. record.
Globally, the news is positive despite statism wracking the petroleum industry in reserve-giant Venezuela. Between 1980 and 2017, despite growing production and consumption, world proved reserves of oil and of natural gas have grown by 148 percent and 170 percent, respectively, according to BP’s Statistical Review of World Energy.
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. U.S. coal supplies compose 21 percent of the world total, second only to China. Far from dead, the U.S. coal industry is enjoying an export boom to Asia, which has record consumption with much more to come.
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. Far from a dying resource, world coal production increased 3.2 percent last year.
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 provided by a growing economy.
Ever greater mineral energy wealth will come with any moves toward worldwide energy privatization, beginning with subsoil rights to minerals, as advocated by the late Guillermo Yeatts. 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 73 percent at a time when the economy and fossil-fuel usage have grown substantially. Between 1970 and 2016, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports, gross domestic product increased 253 percent, vehicle miles traveled increased 190 percent, energy consumption increased 44 percent, and U.S. population grew by 58 percent. Yet since 1990, criteria pollutants have fallen:
- 75 percent for carbon monoxide (CO);
- 22 percent for ozone (O3);
- 99 percent for lead (Pb);
- 56 percent for nitrogen dioxide (NO2);
- 85 percent for sulfur dioxide (SO2); and
- 39 percent for particulate matter (PM10).
These results falsify the once fashionable I = PAT equation formulated by Paul Ehrlich and Obama science advisor John Holdren, which correlated (negative) environmental Impact with (increasing) Population, Affluence, and Technology. Just the opposite has proven the case, as Julian Simon recognized in his day.
Climate Alarmism Not
“With the holiday season,” stated one eco-activist, “the simplest thing that one can do is to not put up any Christmas or Hanukkah lights.” 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 CO2 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. “This is really good news.”
Indeed, there has been a “pause” in global warming since the late 1990s. The discrepancy between models and data is widening even as average temperatures continue to (slowly) rise. Meanwhile, incessant climate-change exaggerations have hurt the credibility of science itself.
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.”
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.
“Atmospheric carbon dioxide is the elixir of life,” concluded one study.
It is the primary raw material out of which plants construct their tissues, which in turn are the materials out of which animals construct theirs. This knowledge is so well established, in fact, that we humans – and all the rest of the biosphere – are described in the most basic of terms as carbon-based lifeforms.
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.
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 carpooling, mass transit, self-made gifts, or recycling as recommended in this 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. The consumer-driven, taxpayer-neutral energy market is sustainable and becoming even more so where human ingenuity is allowed to thrive. Celebration is called for, holiday lighting and all.