March 18, 2008

Not the Brightest of Ideas, Perhaps

AS I UNDERSTAND IT, on Mar. 29 various well-meaning people around the globe (as of now, about 142,000, or .002 pc of the world's population) will shut off their lights for an hour to take part in a consciousness-raising exercise about global warming. Along with these 142,000 folks, some 24 cities around the world -- including Chicago, San Francisco, and Atlanta -- will also take part, thus potentially cajoling millions of others to join along.

I have to admit, being the contrarian I am, that news of this initially made me wish my electricity use was time-priced, so I could take advantage of the lowered demand on Mar. 29. Sadly, my power supply is not so rationed, and as such I can derive no benefit from any well-meaning person taking part where I live. Still, although I certainly can't complain about well-meaning people wanting to show they're well-meaning, I have to wonder whether this is the most effective way of promoting an agenda that at its heart is focused on less consumerism. Consider how some Australians are celebrating the mass-switching-off, according to The Sydney Morning Herald:

When the international campaign to raise awareness of climate change was launched last year, several restaurants in Sydney and Melbourne turned their lights off. The Carricks (Shaun and Margarita) were also keen to participate but their first Earth Hour dinner started as a fairly informal affair when some of their B&B guests asked if they could join them for their evening meal.

"We said, 'You're welcome to have it with us but we're doing the Earth Hour, turning all the lights off,"' Margarita recalls.

This year looks set to be more lavish, with about 15 guests joining them for three courses of organic patés, wines, meats, fruits and vegetables grown on their Pine End Organic Farm or sourced from local organic suppliers.

The evening will open with a petanque tournament and a selection of homemade cheeses, before the sun goes down and lights go out at 8pm. Ten per cent of the evening's proceeds will be donated to the WWF, one of the organisers of Earth Hour.

Petanque is a fancy term for lawn bowling, or so I am told. I have never lawn bowled but I understand that socially it is on par with croquet, another fancy lawn sport at which I was never very proficient. As you can see, the Carricks and their friends are of the proper sort and so it would be bad form to suggest having 15 people over for a grand dinner party might use more energy than that which would be saved during the hour of diminished lights. Even if some are already staying at their bed and breakfast. Also, shouldn't the cheese course follow the dessert?

But I quibble.* As I said, if people wish to switch off their lights for an hour because it makes them feel good, by all means they should go for it. Still, after that -- why not get some solar panels, or switch to wood-fired heat, or plan to buy a more fuel-efficient car, or buy a bicycle and actually use it, or take other very real and very concrete steps towards reducing one's consumption? Since increasing standards of living across the globe will subsequently mean higher prices for things we in the Western world already enjoy -- too much money chasing not enough goods -- why not act accordingly? It might even help more than one's pocketbook.

* It might also be bad form to note that out of the 142,000 or so people committed to take part, 113,265 are from the G-7 nations and Australia, while only 3,221 are from the BRIC nations -- Brazil, Russia, India and China.

(via Tim Blair, whose reaction leads one to believe that during Earth Hour, he might crank up his diesel generator).

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at March 18, 2008 10:41 PM | TrackBack
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