Sunday, March 29, 2009

Earth Hour

Did you miss the latest environmental initiative--Earth Hour? If you have no idea what it is, check out this story on the BBC. According to the article, the aim of this event is to "create a huge wave of public pressure" to bring about a new climate treaty at a meeting in Copenhagen later this year.

I generally consider myself relatively friendly to green movements and try to keep an open mind on the whole question of global climate change. (Perhaps I'll write more about that another day.) But I have to agree with the critics on this one. Earth Hour strikes me as a meaningless gesture. Its effectiveness seems to me similar to that of those efforts, circulated routinely by email, to get people to not purchase gas on a specific day, so that we can "really show" the oil companies that we're serious about high gas prices. Gee, do you think they really feel the pain, when they know that we'll just have to refill our tanks the next day? Similarly, are we really making a powerful impact by turning off lights for one hour? Sure it saves some electricity, but does it really make a difference in the way we live? We're still going to use electricity. Modern society is utterly dependent on it. I know of situations where people live for months without electricity. I don't imagine that most of us in the modern world are eager to return to those conditions, because they are difficult and unpleasant. Progress is not turning off our lights. It is using them in a conscientious and economical manner.

Far more effective would be an initiative to get people to reduce energy usage on a regular basis through exchanging incandescent for flourescent light bulbs, or by implementing other energy-saving features. In fact there are movements promoting precisely such actions. But they aren't as high profile and headline-grabbing as "Earth Hour." How exactly is Earth Hour going to create a huge wave of public pressure anyway? Will politicians or energy company executives really be swayed by people turning off their lights for an hour once a year? I hardly think so. Maybe they are right, though, because modern political leaders seem to be far more easily influenced by large public displays, meaningless though they may be, than by the small but significant actions that don't garner headlines and public attention. I found it interesting that the BBC's story invites people to blog about their experience. Wait a second--doesn't blogging require computers and internet connections, all of which require electricity? Ironic, isn't it?

So last night at 8:30 my lights were on. Not all of them--just those in the rooms being used, with most of the bulbs being low-wattage flourescents. My statement won't be noticed by anyone. But it will, in a small, low-profile manner, contribute a bit to reducing energy consumption. And I can be at peace with that.

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