Sunday, March 30, 2008

Lights out

By Capt Fogg

There's nothing wrong with the urge to do good, but most often the urge is expressed with romantic, meaningless and even counter-productive gesture. Perhaps "Earth Hour" is one of them. Switching off the electricity for an hour would indeed have some kind of a psychological attraction to those who think technology has done us a mean trick by allowing us to have a more pleasant evening environment than possible whilst squatting around a fire, swatting mosquitoes and worrying about malaria, but I'm sure an hour after Earth Hour, the twin Sub-Zero refrigerators will be back on, along with the pool heater and the air conditioning and the climate control in the wine cellar every house in Beverly Hills is possessed of. I'm sure more kilowatt hours are involved in spreading the word than will be saved by switching to candles made from petroleum based paraffin wax.

Sure, I could have switched off last night; lit some kerosene mantle lamps and indulged in some battery powered music, but to what purpose? Living in a hurricane zone and being an emergency communications specialist, I'm well equipped for temporary self sufficiency. A home lit by fire however, is far less efficient and far more polluting than one blessed by Edison's genius and the pollution and energy consumption involved with producing and disposing of batteries is far worse than what comes off the grid. It's all a bit like wearing ribbons and going on walks for AIDS or breast cancer. It gets people talking and socializing and feeling like philanthropists, but doesn't really involve them in doing anything constructive. Worst of all it allows those who really are vested in raping the planet to dismiss us as hippies, tree huggers, wearers of sandals and with other meaningless categories. Isn't it a bit like getting stoned and painting your face like a color blind Apache and thinking that's going to bring on a new age of peace and harmony?

Is it really that the benefit of having good light after the sun has gone down has made our atmosphere unstable or is it that there are far too many of us? Is it a grand gesture to do without an hour's light while so much of the world lives in abject poverty and filth and darkness, or is it hypocrisy? It's really only the relatively affluent who do these things for an hour before running the jacuzzi, turning on the 52" TV and cranking the AC down to 70 anyway. Isn't it a sad fact that if two thirds of the world had a third of our comforts, the planet's ecology might collapse?

And who knows what people will really do when the lights are out? We had a mini baby boom here after the storms of 2004-2005 and that gets to the root of the problem - there are so many of us that we may have to keep the larger part in poverty so that the smaller part doesn't have to go to sleep when the sun goes down, gets to eat strawberries in February, can travel at will and is never out of sight of a Starbucks. It isn't technology with it's hand around our throat, it's your kids, their kids and their kids' kids. It isn't technology that makes us give in to the urge to breed like rabbits and it isn't sanity that makes us interfere in other peoples efforts to keep the population under control. It's religion, it's greed and sometimes it's even fear of a socialism free future where society won't take care of us making us think we need to have 18 children.

If there's anything I have faith in though, it's that circumstances will continue to rule us rather than the other way around. It's partly because we aren't quite smart enough or rational enough, but it's partly because we indulge in fatuous displays rather than making hard decisions.

Cross posted from Human Voices

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