Jack be nimble, Jack be quick, Jack has jumped the candlestick

Tonight, Jack Layton attended a local candlelight vigil to mark/protest/mourn/do-something about climate change. The vigil was part of a larger global effort organized via Blackberry, cellphones and Facebook. He tweeted:

http://twitpic.com/taa1o – Joining a moving global candle vigil, in #Toronto, with new friends Anastasia and Michelle #cop15

Throughout our history of scientific achievement as a civilization, progress has most significantly been marked by maximizing outputs while minimizing input and waste output. This is the standard engineering principle of efficiency.

The industrial revolution that started in the 18th century is referenced as a pivot point of human impact on its environment. Since this era of increased efficiency, from the advent of the assembly line and distributed tasks at the outset to the miniaturization of electronics to maximize calculative output most recently, our progress is marked by our giant leaps of efficiency. It may be unpopular, but no less true, to recognize that it has been the industrial revolution — indeed still ongoing — that has and will continue to allow us to produce more from less and waste less in the process. For example, the wheel is one of our earliest innovations and has been improved and made more efficient at least one thousand fold with respect to input costs, labour and yes, even CO2 output.

Tonight, the leader of Canada’s socialist party — a party representing an ideology that has sought to increase the costs of input (organized labour, tariffs on inputs) while diminishing the benefit of the output (taxation on goods produced, regulations of its use) — very symbolically holds a flame for the very principles that would jam the gears of modernization, efficiencies and progress. Instead of allowing the inherent market mechanism that favours efficiency to reduce waste (CO2 as a by-product), Layton and friends use a sledgehammer instead of a scalpel to act broadly against desired outputs and necessary inputs rather than just waste.

While leaders around the world seek to reinvent the wheel outside of market based innovation and progress, Jack Layton is at home tending to our earliest invention. One hopes that Layton realizes that the candle he holds is more symbolic than logical as a burning candle produces 7x more CO2 output per lumen of light than a 40W incandescent lightbulb (calculation here). To decry our own greed and supposed inefficiencies, Layton harkens back to a time before the first refinement of our first spark of genius.

Layton’s flame is symbolic, though perhaps not in the way he intended. Indeed, his burning candle is symbolic to our self-loathing attitude towards a process that brought billions out of relative poverty since the 17th century, has extended our life expectancies by decades through health research and nutritional knowledge, and has allowed mass communicative capacity to organize protests, rallies, vigils and the like. Jack’s flame, much like his solutions, are inefficient and regressive.

Though Mr. Layton would put up flame to the bridges that have brought us health, wealth and happiness since a darker age, hopefully other leaders will have a lightbulb moment and realize that it has been our unbridled innovative capacity and not a misguided effort for central planning, that has and always will move us along the road to enlightenment.

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