The Voltage Gate

So Saturday was Earth Hour, and as if anyone reading this blog didn’t know, lights were supposed to be cut off from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. to send a message to mysterious world power that the world was ready to cut down on energy use. Sort of.

I didn’t honor the Earth Hour. We rarely have more than one light on in our home at a time on a daily basis because it’s wasteful and increasingly expensive. I don’t have a million electronic devices running 24/7, we walk to the store when we can (Heather can walk to work) and luckily, my commute is only about 15 minutes a day. In every daily activity, even blogging, I consider the amount of energy I’m using, and how I can minimize my consumption.

Earth Hour’s website claims that the event “inspired millions”, and that:

Earth Hour 2008 made a difference. Millions of people around the world continuing the commitments we have made-changing our lives and encouraging others to do the same-will change the world.

What exactly was the message? That we should turn off our lights for an hour once a year? I know what they were trying to get at, but I don’t think the symbolism was representative of the spirit of conservation. Conservation is a slow, daily process, being mindful of the consequences of your actions. It’s about curbing, not cutting off.

I’m sure that the organizers of Earth Hour had the best of intentions. Unfortunately, events like these become just another billboard for corporate America, giving them an opportunity to hop on the green bandwagon, which seems to be highly marketable nowadays. There’s nothing evil about this. It’s business as usual, but there’s a conflict of ideology between the concept and purpose of marketing and the concept and purpose of conservation. One is a set of persuasive tools to stimulate consumption of a product, while the other is, like I said before, a daily routine of responsibility devoted to consuming less. Perhaps I’m being short sighted, but when you break it down, it seems like we’re giving people mixed messages or perhaps even the wrong message entirely.

Interestingly enough, the best analysis of Earth Hour that I found on Saturday came from two comments on a post announcing the event on WoW Insider, the first from Kerryk:

I’m all for conservation and good stewardship, but this strikes me as more than a bit silly. Rather than turning your power off for an hour, why not make a commitment to change your life to consume less? An hour is nothing, and even the symbolism of the gesture, sure to be trumpeted as a success by the media and the eco-nuts, is weak at best.

And the second from Vainglorious>:

No, it will *not* send a message to businesses and governments about how serious people are today about the environment. It will send the message that we are a nearly mindless horde of drone [sic] who love our bread and circuses and may just make some sort of symbolic gesture of no lasting practical value. And we may not even do that very well:

“You need not feel pressured to unplug everything”

Jesus. Rather than work on reducing our long term energy consumption habits, you suggest we feel wonderful about ourselves while sitting in the dark for an hour. It sends a message to the powers that be, all right: We are all idiots.

I don’t think people are drones or idiots, but I do believe that we are misguided and give far too much credit to the changing public face of environmentalism to ploys like Earth Hour. The rise in the price of fuel, the crashing large-home market and a looming recession are far more likely to reduce energy consumption in this country.

Comments

  1. #1 Campbell
    March 31, 2008

    I think your brand of practical conservation is a lot more honest and effective than the vaguely hypocritical ‘wash away your energy sins’ approach embodied in Earth Hour.

    I am sure a lot of people supported it, doing something is better than doing nothing, but a lot of the people supporting it were not the people doing nothing in the first place.

    It reminded me of those “stick it to oil companies by not buying gas on Tuesday” emails that used to float around – except in the case of electric grids it’s probably better to balance the usage by not sitting in the dark and turning on lights at the same time.

    Now I am off to buy CFL bulbs and carbon credits so I can fly off on vacation next month.

  2. #2 Emily
    March 31, 2008

    Thanks for saying exactly what I was thinking about this ridiculous PR stunt.

  3. #3 John
    March 31, 2008

    Somehow I missed the publicity for this event. I agree that it will not have much practical effect. Year round reduction of energy use is much better than a single hour of no energy use.

  4. #4 Warren
    March 31, 2008

    Mindfulness — yes, that’s the key. Turning off the lights for an hour is a bit like making a New Year resolution to “lose weight” without actually significantly altering one’s lifestyle, or taking antacids rather than eating more sensibly.

    This isn’t a quick fix thing. Long-term solutions and total changes of consciousness are necessary, not a dim (!) photo op.

  5. #5 Stephen Downes
    March 31, 2008

    You can huff about Earth Hour all you want, but what you’re basically doing here is creating a virtue out of doing nothing rather than something.

    It is likely everyone who shut off their lights is already mindful about their consumption, so it’s not like your own mindfulness is something special.

    Meanwhile, the others are trying to capture the attention of those who are not mindful of their consumption. And what are you doing?

    Oh wait, we covered that: nothing.

  6. #6 magetoo
    March 31, 2008

    You can add SF author (and marine biologist) Peter Watts to the list:
    Earth Hour. Because the World Isn’t Worth a Whole Day.

    Earth Hour. Sixty minutes during which we turn out the lights and pat ourselves on the back for saving the planet. Kings, Corporations, and Communities are all very much on board with this, naturally: in what other context could anyone pose so publicly while actually doing so little?

    I’m still slightly optimistic. It may have little practical consequences, but it’s a sign that at least attitudes are changing. (That might be straining to see something positive in this, but still…)

  7. #7 Joel
    March 31, 2008

    I guess Earth Day is a waste of time also?

    Do you really think these kinds of things hurt?

  8. #8 Courtney
    April 1, 2008

    We filmed the Chicago Skyline during Earth Hour, very neat:

    http://digitalfuntown.squarespace.com/dft-blog/2008/3/31/short-shorts-earth-hour-time-lapse-2008.html

    But notice whose building did NOT turn off their lights… shame, shame, SHAME!!

  9. #9 Jeremy
    April 3, 2008

    Stephen, you don’t know me or the way I live, so how can you speculate about what I’m doing/not doing?

    Joel, Earth Day is not a waste of time and I didn’t insinuate that it was. It’s not making a specific statement and is certainly not specifically sponsored by major corporations (“Earth Day is brought to you by Dow…”). Instead, Earth Day gives many NGO’s, zoos, parks ,etc. the public’s attention for a time to celebrate our planet and bring to light some of the major problems we’re having with the environment. It’s not gimmicky by nature.

    I also didn’t say that Earth Hour hurts anything; I said that it’s not very productive as an educational tool.

    Courtney you can keep your shame; it’s not welcome here. Guilt should not be the mechanism by which we convince the population to conserve.

  10. #10 Crafty Green Poet
    April 7, 2008

    I agree with you. Earth Hour is one of those sound bite events that captures imagination way above the level of real change it can engender. Hopefully it has made some people think carefully about their overall consumption and I have seen some people use it as a hook for thoughtful commentary but in itself it is not the best approach to the problem that sits in front of us.

  11. #11 chat
    October 15, 2008

    thanks

  12. #12 travesti
    October 17, 2008

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