Writing for Slate magazine, Bjorn Lomborg argues against what he believes to be the futility of Earth Hour. But Mr. Lomborg’s inability to see the value in such collective environmental efforts makes a compelling case for why we need them. As I pointed out here in Green Prophet, modern electric lights are thousands of times more efficient than ancient candles. Mr. Lomborg is also correct that today’s centralized coal power plants are unable to efficiently cope with a short-lived drop in demand. But this points to a failure our energy infrastructure, not in the Earth Hour concept. So, what is the true value of Earth Hour?
Earth Hour, a time when we switch off our lights together for one hour, won’t solve the world’s energy problems any more than Lent and Ramadan will eliminate world hunger and thirst. But before anyone criticizes the value of this largely symbolic effort, consider the fact that we are living in a world of symbols where paper currencies hide true environmental costs. Our great-grandparents endured the smell of kerosene, soot-stained ceilings and coal-dust inside of their homes.
But modern technology conceals our generation’s environmental impacts in faraway smokestacks, pit mines and landfills where we can’t see them. It traps us in a comfortable cocoon of soundproofed SUVs, bottled water and air conditioning. It shields us from both the positive and negative impacts of our actions.
The glare of our glorified technology also blinds us to the light of our universe and to the plight of earth’s three billion poor. In our fictional world, the cost of shipping food thousands of miles is negligible and the cost of repairing a product always exceeds its cost of manufacture. In this pretend world, an individual has no impact on earth’s environment.
We have learned a toxic combination of indifference and helplessness. We also live a fiction that technology can solve a problem that has its roots in human nature.
This temporary interruption of our technological lives helps us to connect with one another and see that through community we can amplify our positive impacts on this fragile earth.So join us in turning off your lights at 8:30 P.M. local time on Saturday March 23.
Enjoy the stars, moon, Jupiter and comet Panstarrs in the western sky. Be thankful that these haven’t been turned into pay-per-view commercial products. If you notice that even one neighbor has followed your example, thank them and understand that your individual actions, no matter how small, can make a positive difference.
For as Margarete Mead put it, ”Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world; indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.”
Photo of Earth Hour celebration in Abu Dhabi and earth hour video courtesy of EarthHour.org.