A few years ago, when I was chairing a Commonwealth body, I received a notice from the Secretary to the effect that all Commonwealth buildings would be dark for ‘Earth Hour’ on the coming Saturday. I chanced to talk to the CEO about it a little while later and asked if it applied to us. ‘Yes, indeed!’ he replied. ‘If you want to work here on Saturday, choose a time before or after. The building will be darkened.’ This was at the time of the first Rudd Government.

It seemed odd to me. ‘Earth Hour’ was not a government initiative, but one generated by enthusiasts in Australia and more or less taken over by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). Why was the Commonwealth Government dutifully observing an event that was almost religious in its staging and imagery? Our CEO,  a man wise beyond his years, shrugged, and got on with more important work. There was a great fuss made about the ‘success’ of the event because both Parliament and the great offices went dark at 8.00 pm and television cameras showed the moment.

Over the past few years, my term having expired,  I have lost interest in this little ritual, and was not inCanberra when Earth Hour came round again this year. I asked friends, most of whom were not aware of it. So I went to the Earth Hour website for news. There wasn’t much, and indeed nothing to suggest that anything of any consequence had happened anywhere in our country. I kept searching, and found something on another blog site. Apparently the Australian Tax Office (ATO) advised its employees that it would, for the ninth year running, be showing its commitment to the environment by supporting Earth Hour. Employees were asked to switch off, turn off, etc. A local resident sent this photo of the ATO’s building during Earth Hour.

atohour_thumb

I could add my thoughts on this piece of empty ritual, but someone else has done it better.  Ross McKitrick is a Canadian professor of economics who has written some great stuff about ‘climate change’, both on his own and in collaboration with the mathematics whiz Steven McIntyre, of Climate Audit (see my blogroll). This is what he wrote six years ago about Earth Hour’, at the height of the global warming hysteria.

I abhor Earth Hour. Abundant, cheap electricity has been the greatest source of human liberation in the 20th century. Every material social advance in the 20th century depended on the proliferation of inexpensive and reliable electricity. Giving women the freedom to work outside the home depended on the availability of electrical appliances that free up time from domestic chores. Getting children out of menial labour and into schools depended on the same thing, as well as the ability to provide safe indoor lighting for reading.

Development and provision of modern health care without electricity is absolutely impossible. The expansion of our food supply, and the promotion of hygiene and nutrition, depended on being able to irrigate fields, cook and refrigerate foods, and have a steady indoor supply of hot water. Many of the world’s poor suffer brutal environmental conditions in their own homes because of the necessity of cooking over indoor fires that burn twigs and dung. This causes local deforestation and the proliferation of smoke- and parasite-related lung diseases. Anyone who wants to see local conditions improve in the third world should realize the importance of access to cheap electricity from fossil-fuel based power generating stations. After all, that’s how the west developed.

The whole mentality around Earth Hour demonizes electricity. I cannot do that, instead I celebrate it and all that it has provided for humanity. Earth Hour celebrates ignorance, poverty and backwardness. By repudiating the greatest engine of liberation it becomes an hour devoted to anti-humanism. It encourages the sanctimonious gesture of turning off trivial appliances for a trivial amount of time, in deference to some ill-defined abstraction called “the Earth,” all the while hypocritically retaining the real benefits of continuous, reliable electricity. People who see virtue in doing without electricity should shut off their fridge, stove, microwave, computer, water heater, lights, TV and all other appliances for a month, not an hour. And pop down to the cardiac unit at the hospital and shut the power off there too.

I don’t want to go back to nature. Travel to a zone hit by earthquakes, floods and hurricanes to see what it’s like to go back to nature. For humans, living in “nature” meant a short life span marked by violence, disease and ignorance. People who work for the end of poverty and relief from disease are fighting against nature. I hope they leave their lights on.

Here in Ontario, through the use of pollution control technology and advanced engineering, our air quality has dramatically improved since the 1960s, despite the expansion of industry and the power supply. If, after all this, we are going to take the view that the remaining air emissions outweigh all the benefits of electricity, and that we ought to be shamed into sitting in darkness for an hour, like naughty children who have been caught doing something bad, then we are setting up unspoiled nature as an absolute, transcendent ideal that obliterates all other ethical and humane obligations. No thanks. I like visiting nature but I don’t want to live there, and I refuse to accept the idea that civilization with all its tradeoffs is something to be ashamed of.

That, in my opinion, is a brilliant piece of writing, the frustration and anger kept under — just. The sentence I took as my take-home message is this one: [Earth Hour]  encourages the sanctimonious gesture of turning off trivial appliances for a trivial amount of time, in deference to some ill-defined abstraction called “the Earth,” all the while hypocritically retaining the real benefits of continuous, reliable electricity.

I found other suggestions that, worldwide, Earth Hour is on the wane, and that people generally are ignoring the WWF message. I hope so. There are simply more sensible things to do in serving the ’cause’ of the environment.

Join the discussion 24 Comments

  • Alan Gould says:

    Bravo Mr McIntyre, and bravo Mr Aitkin for quoting it. You are right, Don, it is a splendid piece of persuasive prose. Prosperity rests on plentiful cheap power.
    I see Stephen M. is from Ontario. I recall from my boarding school French our tall French master explaining pronunciation of the acute accent where, in Paris one raps out ‘électricité’ in a series of whipcracks, while in Quebec one pronounces the same thing as ‘le power’.

  • Doug Hurst says:

    Thanks Don. I’ve been trying for some time to get to grips with the hypocrisy of Earth Hour but couldn’t quite do so. Ross McKitrick has done it for me, and as you say, as clearly and convincingly as anyone could wish. I shall read it again.

  • Mike says:

    Perhaps we should honour it as being worthwhile to remind us what life without fossil fuels as the Green’s want will be like. Personally I try not to do anything that acknowledges it.

  • Walter Starck says:

    Earth hour – a sanctimonious mass display of ignorance masquerading as moral virtue.

  • Mike says:

    Walter are you the Walter Stark referred to here https://ipa.org.au/people/walter-starck ? Usually if not always your comments here on this blog are greatly appreciated as is also your view on the Great Barrier Reef.

  • Walter Starck says:

    Mike,

    I must plead guilty.

    • Mike says:

      I confess I don’t have a detailed knowledge of what you’ve said about the Great Barrier Reef. Over the years its demise has been prophesied many times for me it started with the crown of thorns. The reason for this comment is to put it to you what would happen to the reef if the sea was to increase in temperature by 1 or 2° and/or the sea level was to rise? I read this possibly by someone from Cook University who claimed this would be quite beneficial. It would enable growth and the spreading of reef further south.

  • David says:

    “I abhor earth hour”.

    Isn’t that just a tad OTT, even for you? People who participate in earth hour are no
    more anti-electricity than someone who participates in the 40-hour famine is
    anti-food. Symbolic sacrifice exist in many cultures, Lent and Passover are two
    obvious examples. What are you going to
    do, bang out some angry post arguing that giving up meat for Lent is silly because protein
    is good for health and general well-being? 🙂

    • Don Aitkin says:

      Am I to answer this, or Ross McKitrick? I think he explains quite well why he feels as he does. I don’t ‘abhor’ it — I just think it is silly and pretentious.

      • David says:

        You. If you are going to quote someone and then editorialize with “that, in my opinion, is a brilliant piece of writing”

        you can take some ownership and flack. 🙂

    • tony thomas says:

      What are the ethics involved in several hundred thousand schoolchildren being exhorted via class rooms to participate in Earth Hour? This was achieved through the penetration into schools by the Cool Australia group.

      • David says:

        Tony,

        Pour yourself a cool drink. Good schools encourage their children to engage in all sorts community activities, without imprinting life long political views into their students.

        When I was at school I was taken to see a sheep farm, a steel works and a car assembly plant. All very interesting, wholesome industries, and I was not politically scarred as a result.

        • tony thomas says:

          of course you were not scarred by viewing production. earth hour celebrates loss of production. It’s pure ideology.

          • David says:

            I could have been. All that CO2 being released into the atmosphere by the No. 5, coal fired, blast furnace at Port Kembla.

          • Mike says:

            Tony I have been looking at this issue for many years my conclusion is as you seem to indicate not about CO2 but something else. Here is a quote one of many “‘The real enemy then is humanity itself’. King and Schneider, 1991, p. 75”.

            If you look at what they say they also say it’s not about CO2 it is about manipulation. Fossil fuels and climate models are but convenient tools.

  • David says:

    I missed this, “the Earth,” it is such an abstract and ephemeral concept to grasp.

    • Don Aitkin says:

      Think about it. Does one mean ‘the planet’, the set of eco-systems that represent life, or what exactly? It does sound rather religious, the way he put it. Do you have a useful alternative?

  • Dasher says:

    A monument to man’s stupidly.

  • […] sign of it in Hobart, where I was on the hallowed night, and I couldn’t find out much about its effects in Canberra, where I have been for past Earth Hours. Earth Day passed too, without much fuss. So I have gone on […]

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