So, it was Earth Hour last night. Naturally I wanted to discuss this on Twitter, as the subject was coming up all day. However I wanted to actually discuss it, not just sneer at people, which is pretty easy to do. And obviously I didn’t want to criticise from the angle that people like Mark Pesce did, who thinks that people in favour of “Human Achievement Hour” are “idiots” (This from someone who is a regular guest panellist on a show about new inventions!) The trouble with Earth Hour is not that it is a tokenistic sham. The trouble with Earth Hour is that it implies that reducing power consumption is the most urgent task facing humanity. If it weren’t a sham, it would be much more dangerous to human progress than it actually is.
So I got into discussions with a few people about the issue yesterday, taking up some of the themes that have come up on this blog. I said that I thought Earth Hour implied that slowing consumption and therefore the economy is what the West needs to do, and said that I thought rapid development and massive investment in new forms of energy were better ideas than guilt-trips about “overconsumption”.
The first discussion (read it from the bottom up) was with k_o_o about “overconsumption”, and if such a thing even exists. We didn’t really find a lot to agree about, but managed to at least try and remain constructive and not just shout slogans at each other, which is a good start for trying to work out if there’s anything we do agree on.
The second discussion, with webboy42 was about the definition of “waste” and how it can mean many things, from energy wasted as heat (which obviously should be minimised) or a way to hector people for being evil and wanting to fly cheaply. This reminded me of this Guardian “Comment is Free” article by Green MEP Caroline Lucas, where she uses some very dodgy figuring to claim that it’s only the rich that fly anyway – this sort of attitude is exactly the sort of thing that is an enemy of progress.
The third discussion was about power outages in South Africa. I responded to LaurenLee_‘s tweet saying “Earth Hour Haters” should realise that some people in South Africa have 3-hour power outages, by saying that that sounded like a reason for more development, not less. She challenged me to do some googling on the topic, which revealed that part of the problem is the ANC Government banned the public electricity company from building any new power stations for six years, apparently to try to encourage competitive private investment instead. Electricity is now unofficially rationed in South Africa, by means of the regular power outages, and while I can see the need to ration resources if they are genuinely scarce, the real solution is not to fetishise rationing, but to do all you can to make sure the resources are NOT scarce.
I also got sent this link about how candles are a far more inefficient, and carbon-heavy, way of creating light than lightbulbs are – it’s a very interesting read, I suggest you have a look.
So I spent a lot of time yesterday, including during Earth Hour itself, using electricity to spread the idea that we need to develop power sources as much as we can. I hope it had an effect.