Some years ago, when Ms Gillard was Prime Minister, I served as the Chairman of the National Capital Authority, the body charged with planning for and managing the ‘national capital’ elements of Canberra. In my mail one day came a message from the Government that all government buildings were to observe Earth Hour by switching off all the lights for the set period. I was astonished. ‘You mean, we have to do this, even if we are working at the time?’ I asked our CEO. (Yes, we might well have had people working at night.)
He nodded. I said it was the silliest thing I had heard recently which, given everything else that had been going on, was quite a claim. He chose not to comment on his Chairman’s impolitic remark. And I felt, not for the first time, that the Gillard Government had a strange set of priorities. I could guess that the decision would please the Greens, whose support in Parliament was necessary. But, really. This was symbolic politics at its most inane.
Well, Earth Hour this year passed without my noticing it, and I don’t think many government buildings in Canberra were darkened for the hour, though Parliament House and the War Memorial were. An enterprising group on the top of Mt Ainslie ran a time-lapse video of the national capital through the period, and you can see that there wasn’t much household participation either. Earth Hour organisers issued a call for thousands to turn up to the Federation Lawns in front of Parliament House: This year Earth Hour is all about one of Australia’s most precious natural treasures, the Great Barrier Reef. Together, we will call for positive action on climate change before it’s lights out for our reef.
Some rain didn’t help attendance, but some neatly placed candles spelled out the GBR message, which again is one of the most hyperbolic of the catastrophic claims made by those who enter in to the AGW scare.
Has Earth Hour passed its peak? It’s hard to say. Wikipedia has a glowing entry for it, rather than a darkened one. Reading it reminded me that the whole silly idea originated in Australia, in Sydney in 2007, and that it has gone viral, as the trendies say. In 2012 more than 7000 cities and towns ‘celebrated’ Earth Hour, though the entry is silent on the numbers for 2013, and there is nothing yet available about 2014.
What irritates me about Earth Hour is its emptiness. What should you do for illumination when the lights are out? All the alternatives to electric light are more expensive, more carcinogenic (candles) or likely to lead to more greenhouse gas emissions. Wikipedia even has a list of the objections to it. Bjorn Lomborg has said: Fossil fuels literally gave us an enlightenment, by lighting our world and giving us protection from the fury of the elements. It is ironic that today’s pure symbolism should hark back to a darker age. Apparently hoons enjoy driving around darkened cities for fun, wasting petrol instead of using electricity. Those running power grids point out that rapidly lowering and then raising the demand for electricity not only causes complications for the grid but also increases greenhouse gas emissions. The amount of electricity saved is trivial in the scheme of things.
I have never been a great supporter of symbolic politics, though I recognise that it can be effective in the short run. My position on this example is well expressed by the Ayn Rand Institute, which is not one of my regular sources of information, but quoted in the Wikipedia entry:
Participants spend an enjoyable sixty minutes in the dark, safe in the knowledge that the life-saving benefits of industrial civilization are just a light switch away… Forget one measly hour with just the lights off. How about Earth Month… Try spending a month shivering in the dark without heating, electricity, refrigeration; without power plants or generators; without any of the labor-saving, time-saving, and therefore life-saving products that industrial energy makes possible.
Yep. It’s a bit like CEOs sleeping rough for the night. I might have had to do it myself when I had that kind of job, and would have been torn between objecting to it on principle as a form of empty symbolic politics, and worried that my not taking part would reflect badly on my institution.
As many have said, many times, if people are really serious about these scares, then they should lead by example. Don’t drive, or fly, don’t heat or cool your house, don’t have children, and so on. Al Gore is an astonishingly bad exemplar of what he preaches, and so are many others. I don’t buy messages from people like that, and I’m sure I’m not alone.