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The Magic Washing Machine

Hans Rosling’s lecture is a beautiful testament to the benefits of modernization.

“So what is the magic of the machine? My mother explained the magic of the machine to me the very first day we got it. She said, ‘Now Hans, we have loaded the laundry, the machine will make the work, and now we can go to the library.’ This is the magic, we loaded the laundry. And what do you get out of the machine? You get books.”

For most of us, it has been several generations since our families crossed the “wash line.” We do not understand the significant impact that such a simple machine can make in the lives of the less fortunate. And it is this separation that has led many to advocate for green policies which would benefit the planet over the poor in developing countries.

While Rosling had a secondary message of reducing energy consumption, his primary message was targeted at the green movement.

He first points out that for green collegians, their care for the environment is mostly fashionable. Many of Rosling’s own students have proudly given up their cars in favor of walking and biking, but none of them have even thought to give up their washing machines. “Even the hardcore in the green movement,” Rosling says sharply, “use washing machines.”

He next argues that individuals in need will vote for industrialization. In his words, “if you have democracy, people will vote for washing machines.” The implication is that if environmentalists want developing countries to adopt strict energy standards, they will have to do so against the will of the people.

This, of course, is not news to those on the cutting edge of eco-statism. Germany’s Scientific Advisory Council on Global Environmental Change published a report in April which states “the world citizenry [must] agree to innovation policy that is tied to the normative postulate of sustainability and in return surrender spontaneous and persistence desires.” Or as one German scientist summarized, “all nations would have to relinquish their national interests and find a new form of collective responsibility for the sake of the climate.”

I venture to guess that advocates for such repressive policies would not look back at their education and wish that they had instead spent that time working on a farm. I further venture to guess that these advocates would not want to overturn centuries of women’s rights and child labor laws to make their wives and children quit their jobs and leave their schools to go back to washing clothes by hand.

If not themselves, then why others? If not their wives and children, why the wives and children of the poor in third world countries that they will never meet?

A friend of mine once silenced a vegetarian who was claiming that “meat was murder” by saying simply, “Once there are no more starving children in the world, once we have eliminated world hunger, then find me and we can argue over what should and should not be food.”

In a way, Hans Rosling is saying the same thing to environmentalists. He is saying that once every child can read a book instead of do manual labor, then we can argue over what should and should not consume energy.

I consider myself an avid reader, and the next time that I spend too much money at a book store I intend to evoke Rosling’s closing statement:

“Thank you industrialization, thank you steel mill, thank you power station, and thank you chemical processing industry that gave us time to read books.”