Earth Hour is fast approaching

A year ago I posted the the following in honor of Earth Hour 2009. Earth Hour 2010 hits at 8:30pm local time Saturday, March 29th so I thought it was worth posting again. Anyone wishing to compete with last year’s big winner is free to try.

What two countries are these, as photographed at night by satellite?

Which has the lower carbon footprint?

Which would you rather live in? Which would their own people rather live in?

As economist Don Boudreaux points out, while environmentally conscious people around the world were turning off the lights for an hour on March 29th in recognition of Earth Hour, North Korea has turned the lights out for decades. Apparently, they’re doing it to reduce their carbon footprint. How noble.

So, while First Worlders were celebrating Earth Hour, North Koreans get to celebrate Earth Decades.

Anyone up for returning to what Boudreaux calls the Dark Ages?

Steve Buckstein is Senior Policy Analyst and founder of Cascade Policy Institute, a Portland-based think tank.

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Posted by at 05:26 | Posted in Measure 37 | 22 Comments |Email This Post Email This Post |Print This Post Print This Post
  • valley p

    Steve, it was a phony choice the last time you posted it, and it is a phony choice still. No one on earth is advocating we emulate North Korea, or that it is necessary to do so to live responsibly. Try a more mature approach if you want to stimulate a debate among adults.

    • Steve Buckstein

      valley p. Last year stimulated some 59 responses; I assume mostly from adults.

      Of course no one is advocating that we emulate North Korea, but some of fear that the enviromental zealots are trying to head us in that direction. Well worth the discussion.

      • valey p

        As an official spokesperson for environmental zealots everywhere I can assure you we have no intent on replicating North Korea’s energy consumption levels…or anything else North Korean.

  • Sal Peralta

    Steve – I usually find you to be a thoughtful guy, even though I often disagree with you, but this is asinine. What’s the takeaway here? Don’t conserve energy because North Korea is totalitarian and impoverished?

    Since when did it become anathema to a Libertarian think tanker that a bunch of like-minded individuals should engage in a behavior that causes no harm to anyone else for the purpose of drawing attention to an issue that they happen to care about?

    Or are the concerns of some financial benefactor trumping your libertarian values here?

    • Steve Buckstein

      Sal, no, the takaway is not that conserving energy will turn us into North Korea. It’s that a free society leads to prosperity while a totalitarian one leads to poverty and darkness. Sorry if I upset you by using Earth Hour to make this point.

      And, no, we have no financial benefactor urging us to waste energy. Recently I’ve heard a number of “progressives” dismiss Cascade’s ideas thinking we’re funded by Cato Institute, which has received funding from Koch Industries, an oil and gas company. The fact is that Cascade received one $25,000 donation from Cato in 2006 (less than 3 percent of our funding since our founding in 1991), which we used to provide scholarships and overhead for our Children’s Scholarship Fund helping low-income families choose private schools for their kids. We receive no funding from “big oil.”

      • Sal Peralta

        Steve – I don’t particularly care one way or the other about Earth Hour. It strikes me as a harmless, purely voluntary approach to raising awareness about energy conservation. What I don’t understand is why CEI, yourself, Cascade Policy Institute, etc would feel any particular need to push back against the idea of energy conservation, particularly of the voluntary kind, which is what the Earth Hour people seem to be advocating for. I certainly see no rational basis for linking it to North Korea.

        As to your other comments… Perhaps I don’t understand CPI’s position very well. I’ve seen many CPI papers criticizing the implementation of wind energy, tax credits for alternative energy, reducing carbon emissions and so on. Can you point me to any papers CPI has written criticizing government subsidies for oil, coal, nuclear, etc? If there are no such papers, can you please help me to understand why CPI would oppose one but not the other?

        • Steve Buckstein

          Sal, Cascade has written and spoken many times against “corporate welfare” and corporate subsidies in general. Since we focus on Oregon public policy, you’ve seen a lot our papers criticizing subsidies for wind, solar, etc. because those are the government policies in vogue at the moment. When and if the legislature proposes subsidies for oil, coal and nuclear, I hope we’ll be there to argue against those also.

          • Sal Peralta

            Great. Thanks for clearing that up.

          • Todd Wynn


            I constantly state that I am against subsidies for all energy forms including coal, oil and natural gas.

            The U.S. Energy Information Administration reported in early 2008 that the federal government subsidizes solar energy at $24.34 per megawatt-hour (MWh), wind at $23.37 per MWh, natural gas at 25 cents per MWh, coal at 44 cents per MWh and hydroelectricity at 67 cents per MWh.

            The disparity is fairly clear. Politically preferred renewable energy receives 50 to 100 times the amount of subsidies that coal and natural gas receive and this is on the federal level only. Add in the millions in subsidies on the state level and the difference becomes even more apparent.

          • valley p

            “I constantly state that I am against subsidies for all energy forms including coal, oil and natural gas.”

            You left out nuclear, but I’ll assume that was an over sight. In your thinking, do “subsidies” include allowing industries to pass their costs on to others through pollution?

          • valley p

            “It’s that a free society leads to prosperity while a totalitarian one leads to poverty and darkness.”

            Two points. China is still technically a totalitarian government but with a capitalist economy. Their GDP is growing at 10% a year. Singapore is another example of a nearly totalitarian government running a very prosperous capitalist economy. Point being there are different models of totalitarianism, and some seem to have plenty of electricity.

            Second point….why bother comparing the US, on any level with North Korea? Who in the US is arguing that we follow a North Korea model? No one. Not even Dennis Kucinich or Bernie Sanders, let alone Obama. The US should be compared to the social democracies of the rest of the western world. And in this comparison we come out ahead on some things, behind on others. Germany uses 1/2 the energy we do and yet they are plenty prosperous and their cities are well lit. Its past time for “conservatives” to start supporting conservation and stop crying “communism” every time someone does something remotely progressive. Its getting to be the boy who cried wolf.

          • Steve Buckstein

            valley p – On your first point, I agree that totalitarian government mixed with capitalism does seem to be better than totalitarianism all the way around. I conclude that capitalism is more important than democracy; or at least it can successfully come first, although you may disagree.

            On your second point, I get that no one is arguing that we should follow the North Korean model. But since it seems to be the extreme example of what not to do in this world, I still think that comparing it to its southern neighbor as the photo does is instructive.

            And on conservation, I see the advantages, but I oppose the taxes and mandates that too many in our country seem prepared to levy in its name. Of course Earth Hour is voluntary, but the next steps may not be. That’s not crying wolf; that’s listening to what “progressives” are saying and taking them seriously.

          • valley p

            Well, there is no question that a lot of people are concerned about pollution from fossil fuel use, and that includes proposals to reduce use. There should also be no question that we in America waste a lot of energy, and that government policies could be improved in order to cut down on waste. Taxes and mandates are among these policies, so we agree you are not “crying wolf” to the extent you think there may be policies proposed you don’t like coming down the proverbial pike.

            What I meant by crying wolf is conflating democratically adopted, and hopefully reasonable and measured conservation policies, with totalitarianism. To the extent you yell fire every time someone merely lights a match, at some point you will rightly be ignored.

          • Steve Buckstein

            valley p -I appreciate your advice about not crying wolf every time someone merely lights a match.

  • John Fairplay

    There’s absolutely nothing wrong with conserving energy, provided it is done due to a free choice made by individuals. The sort of childish grandstanding represented by “Earth Hour” or “Earth Day” do nothing to impact the actual environmental health of the planet or its people.

    As an alternative, I would encourage everyone to “Turn On Your Lights for Freedom!” at 8:30 pm tonight.

  • JD

    The next time March 29th falls on a Saturday is 2014.

  • Bob Tiernan

    *Valley p:*

    China is still technically a totalitarian government but with a capitalist economy.

    *Bob T:*

    Well, it’s not exactly a capitalist economy (which would imply markets, or the sum of individuals, driving the choices rather than the government doing this). What you see in China is a government that has apparently, after years of denial, at least acknowledging some many basic economic principles that always exist but can be suppressed. You seem to want to label as “capitalism” any example of a government allowing something to be produced, or purchased. It’s an old trick of the Left to associate capitalism with totalitarians, particularly right wing types (and since China started moving in this direction, the “right wing” label started getting thrown around).

    *Valley p:*

    China is still technically a totalitarian government but with a capitalist economy.

    *Bob T:*

    Well, it’s not exactly a capitalist economy (which would imply markets, or the sum of individuals, driving the choices rather than the government doing this). What you see in China is a government that has apparently, after years of denial, at least acknowledging some many basic economic principles that always exist but can be suppressed. You seem to want to label as “capitalism” any
    But this ignores a number of things. Many dictators aren’t that interested in controlling the economy so much as they want to control the hold on power of a single party or agenda. That’s why in a lot of these countries you’ll find the people engaged in very active economies at the street level as they sort things out for themselves. This is also done when the government may not be the totalitarian type but which shows the same lack of concern over controlling the economy — so we find in Peru things like taxi service being developed into a system by the individual drivers themselves in the absence of even an government “umpire” aiding in settling disputes. This limited control means that people can improve their lots with initiative and free exchange, which means that they are better off than those who have every aspect of their lives controlled (North Korea). But like I said, the critics of those regimes (such as those in South America) link these informal and underground market economies with the politics of the dictators, and thus they see capitalism as a “right wing” system when it is no such thing. It’s either controlled (suppressed to varying degrees), or it is not.

    By the way, there was an article in the Oregonian last week or so (on the front page) about how the economic activity in China has led to there being a large number of people who’ve earned and saved enough money (usually in manufacturing plants such as Nike) to relocate back to their home areas where they are building houses for themselves and otherwise improving their situations. They are doing this on their own, whereas you would prefer that this be done with a government program (including telling people that they cannot do this outside UGBs and all that). This is an example of the benefits of this economic activity. Are these people the Nike “slaves” I’m always hearing about? I suppose there are some places that have awful conditions (mostly due to the government wanting it to be like this, if they don’t like real capitalism), but these Chinese people taking their savings and then building houses for their families is hardly the kind of thing one reads about in The Nation magazine.

    Bob Tiernan

    • valley p

      “Well, it’s not exactly a capitalist economy”

      We disagree. It is as capitalist as we are, maybe more. The central government is not managing the private economy. They are managing politics, and that includes a lot of control over where individuals can choose to live. Its not a free society by any means. But it is a mostly free, export driven market.

      And to the point….they have electricity and many modern conveniences.

  • retired UO science prof

    Brilliant, Steve, posing the choice as between a modern society, even one like S. Korea, and perhaps the most deranged society on the planet. Just what we need to help think about the difficult problems facing us. I’m sure this helps us think about medical care, education, the global security situation, the problems facing market economies (which includes all the modern economies).

    Brilliant, just brilliant. Perhaps next week you can fill us in on why we should not be reinstituting plantation slavery.

  • Bob Tiernan

    *valley person:*

    [China] is as capitalist as we are, maybe more.

    *Bob T:*

    Again, you seem to think that capitalism means spending money. It’s not that simple.
    What you see in China is more akin to mercantalism, not capitalism. We have a little
    of that as well (or more than we care to admit), but to say that Cina is more capitalist
    than the ESA or even just as capitalist reveals a lack of economic knowledge on your part (as usual).

    Bob Tiernan

    • valley p

      “Again, you seem to think that capitalism means spending money”

      I didn’t say that and did not even imply it. There are different forms of capitalism. A classic definition is that the means of production are privately owned, and that is clearly the case in China today.

      In China, private capital invests in goods and services with some government regulation and oversight. Its not terribly different than what we have here, though their legal structure for dealing with private enterprise is obtuse, and if you run afoul of the government you end up in a judicial system that is very unlike ours. They have totalitarian politics and a capitalist economy. Its an uncomfortable combination for free market fundamentalists, who for years have insisted that political and economic freedoms are necessarily linked. China, Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea up until a few years ago, Pinochet’s Chile, and many other examples show that private enterprise can exist and even flourish in the absence of political freedoms.

      Is Chinese capitalism nationalistic? You bet. So is capitalism in every other Asian nation.

      But if you don’t think China has a capitalist economy, you have not been paying much attention.

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