In defense of Earth Hour –
8:30PM this coming Saturday is the fifth annual Earth Hour event, which began in Sydney Australia in 2007.
I admit to my own personal ambivalence of Earth Hour: Does it send the right message? Does it really make any difference in pushing the public discourse forward about climate change? These questions can (and should) be asked of any such symbolic event.
I am encouraged by the emphasis this year of organizers to “go beyond the hour,” but understand many may remain dubious or find little use in such symbolism. Maybe you are one who’s just not a great fan of Earth Hour…
But I must take issue with an essay Ross McKitrick wrote explaining why he “abhors” Earth Hour. WattsUpWithThat recently republished Earth Hour: A Dissent because Anthony Watts felt it deserved a “wider audience.” On that, we agree.
McKitrick has gained some notoriety as a climate scientist — oops, I mean as an economist — skeptical of the dangers of climate change. His work in that regard, flawed as it might be, is not the point here today.
If McKitrick wants to spend his time and energy “abhorring” Earth Hour, well, that’s his privilege and right. Just as it is mine to consider his arguments for the basis of such loathing specious and ludicrous.
That Earth Hour is, at its core, merely a symbolic event is undisputed by anyone. Symbolism plays a vital and important role in civilization. As such, I suggest it is important to understand the intent and meaning of the symbolism before launching a condemnation of it.
Mckitrick begins with an explanation of the benefits of electricity (just in case you didn’t know):
“Abundant, cheap electricity has been the greatest source of human liberation in the 20th century,” he writes, going on to explain how the human condition has been vastly improved through the “proliferation of inexpensive and reliable electricity.”
I have no quarrel with that. It is obvious that electricity has fundamentally transformed the lives of billions of people for the better, though McKitrick seems to assume that “cheap, abundant electricity” will continue unabated into the future as a matter of course. Considerations of sustainability are of no apparent consequence for McKitrick.
He thus goes off on a wild tangent, misappropriating the intent of Earth Hour in a mean-spirited diatribe that borders on the laughable.
“The whole mentality around Earth Hour demonizes electricity,” he asserts. Huh? Is he serious? Where does McKitrick get that idea? How does turning off a light demonize electricity? Does conservation of a resource constitute demonization of it?
I find no suggestion from any message released from Earth Hour organizers that electricity is evil and should be “repudiated.” It seems it’s just a figment of McKitrick’s fervid imagination.
The accusations and ranting then becomes decidedly unfunny:
“Earth Hour celebrates ignorance, poverty and backwardness. By repudiating the greatest engine of liberation it becomes an hour devoted to anti-humanism,” he impugns wildly.
Indeed, it is Mckitrick’s mischaracterization of Earth Hour that celebrates ignorance, including his own. It is he that promotes anti-humanism, backwardwardness, and poverty.
In his smug, willful ignorance, McKitrick assumes the intent is to “shame” people into “sitting in darkness for an hour” that they should forsake the modern world for a return “back to nature.”
If McKitrick is ashamed, it is his own doing. It is disingenuous to put that motivation on Earth Hour. Such motivation or intent is proffered, expressed or implied, only by McKitrick himself.
If anything, it is an appeal to the common humanity that unites us, not “anti-humanism,” that motivates organizers and participants of Earth Hour:
“The highlight of Earth Hour 2011 will see the world’s most iconic landmarks go dark for one designated hour, as hundreds of millions of people transcend race, religion, culture, society, generation and geography, switching off their lights in a global celebration of their commitment to protect the one thing that unites us all – the planet.”
The symbolism of a darkened hour is not to shame people into some return to brutish nature, but an act of unity and hope for the future.
Despite McKitrick’s assertions, perhaps “anti-humanism” rests in the rejection of science, in resource exploitation that borrows against future generations (and whole generations of people now alive), and denying that even the most advanced and humanitarian society rests upon and depends on the nature from which we’ve arisen — in the soil, water, and air upon which all life is based. The fruits of humanity’s labor and ingenuity can only truly thrive in living with, if not in, nature. For McKitrick, nature is merely a place one visits.
McKitrick throws up a false dichotomy — one that serves little purpose in lighting the way toward a thriving and sustainable future.
Tom Schueneman is the founder and publisher of GlobalWarmingisReal.com
Related Story: Earth Hour 2011: Join The World Turn Off Our Lights!
Image via I’m Fantastic, courtesy Flickr
Tom is an online publisher, editor, and freelance writer. He is the founder of GlobalWarmingisReal.com and the History Blog Project, as well as publisher and site director for the HippieMagazine.com here on the Important Media network. Tom also contributes to numerous environmental blogs including TriplePundit, Ecopolitology, Sustainablog, Planetsave, and Revmodo. Tom's work has led him to Europe, Africa, Latin America, Canada, the South Pacific, and across the United States. His home base is San Francisco, California.