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.


Join the discussion 34 Comments

  • David says:

    “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.”

    So Don for the record I

    1. Ride a bike for my daily commute to paid employment, but do drive a car for trips over 30 km

    2. Don’t heat or cool my apartment

    3. Don’t have children

    So, I would have your approval then?

    • Don Aitkin says:

      You seem to be practising what you preach, so good luck to you!

    • FredG says:

      Really you should walk to work and only use a bicycle for trips over 30 km. Studies have shown bike riders breath out more CO2 than people walking. If you are serious 30 km is a short distance for a bicycle. Sell your car it is a travesty that you own one.

      Have children who else will carry on your good work?

    • Gus says:

      “Don’t heat or cool my apartment…”
      Don’t know where you live, but where I live, you have to heat your house in winter. Otherwise, you die. And you have to cool the house in summer. Otherwise mold eats it and it falls apart. The only place where you can get away with neither heating nor cooling would be San Francisco and around. Well, it’s a very expensive city, and definitely not everyone’s favorite, even though the climate’s nice. The long overdue massive earthquake may wipe it out. And if it doesn’t, the tsunami to follow will.

      • David says:


        It was Don who said

        “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…”

        not me. If you have a issue with this statement then you should direct your comments to him.

        I just happen to largely comply with these behaviours, but not for any environmental reasons. I live in Brisbane, which happens to have a pretty mild climate., so I don’t need heating or AC. And I am certainly not asking you or any one else to freeze in apartment.

        • John Morland says:


          If you don’t need airconditioning in Brisbane then it sounds like you live in a old Queenslander house – they are great. Tall ceiling, wide varandas, wooden windows with green inserts..Aah…! A house designed for the climate and offering the Queensland lifestyle – relaxing sipping a XXXX overlooking the Brisbane River.

          Don’t worry about CAGW, it’s all part of things going round in cycles. Just relax, it wiil all sort itself out.

          You are in God’s Own and it has never been better…

          Enjoy your QLD lifestyle.

  • dlb says:

    One government wanting to the darken the nights and the other bringing back the knights. Both retrodrade gestures appeasing different minorities.

  • Alister McFarquhar says:

    The issues here seem to me obscured by the ephemera of the case you raise

    Surely politics are driven by the symbolism perceived to get votes at the next election

    As Manager of Capital what were your objectives??

    Getting votes for party in power

    maximising your perception of efficiency

    or optimising subject to what you considered politically feasible

    • David says:

      Alister, Interesting post.

    • Don Aitkin says:

      As Chairman I didn’t control our building, which the NCA did not own (we were in the Treasury complex), so Earth Hour went ahead. My job was largely representational – remind the citizens of Canberra that they lived in the national capital, which had many benefits but also some costs, and also try to persuade MPs and Senators that they still had an obligation to build the national capital, which is always unfinished.

      The NCA was a stand-alone agency, responsible to Parliament through a Minister, but not subject to a departmental secretary. Tricky stuff, in fact.

  • David says:

    If as you say you have never been a great supporter of symbolism, you must find ANZAC day tough.

    • Don Aitkin says:

      Not tough, just another puzzle. One of my next few posts will be on ‘the tribe’, and Anzac Day is a tribal event. I thought it was dying out in the 1980s, but it has been reborn. As it happens, I don’t see it as a celebration of military prowess, but of sacrifice and selflessness. Yet, I do feel that it is all overdone, and that the Somme, all things considered, was much the greater loss of Australian life in battle.

      • DaveW says:

        As I understand it (and I’m part of that 1/3rd of Australia that was born overseas, so I may have it wrong), ANZAC Day was initiated by the Gallipoli fiasco, locally observed soon after and declared nationally before the Battle of the Somme. I see it as a way of honouring those who fought and often died for preserving Australian values and even when I am not fully in support of those values (I am no fan of Britain or its Empire), I still think it is important (and not empty as David seems to think) to affirm my thanks for their sacrifice. I got up this morning at dawn and spent some time thinking about the dead. That is of no use to them, and probably not much use to me, but it seemed a fitting thing to do.

        • David says:

          The purpose of my comment was not to imply that ANZAC day is not important, in fact the complete opposite. I think the symbolism embodied ANZAC day does serve
          an important role in our national calendar.

          My point is that symbolism is used to communicate all sorts of beliefs and feelings, which promote social cohesiveness. Symbolic acts, are well, …. symbolic. And clearly comments like,

          “I say to all those who wish to observe EH it is a fine thing you do. Switch of all electricity, gas or other source of energy to your home. Then sit in the dark and pray to Gaia for guidance. Contemplate that darkness is your future for
          both body and soul”

          are infantile. It is misguided to expect the symbolic acts
          to fulfil or satisfy some concrete goal. We don’t expect attending a dawn service to materially make the nation more secure, or contribute to the financial well being of injured soldiers or their families.

          • GenghisCunn says:

            Oops, obviously not with it today, hit down-arrow rather than Reply. I’ve never been into symbols, and have never really understood symbolism. To live an harmonious, moral, productive life, we need to understand reality as it is, not obscure reality with symbols. Saints and sages have long said “Know thyself,” “The Kingdom of Heaven is within you,” etc, and working to develop understanding and wisdom within oneself far outweighs any positive effects of synbolism. Symbols can be used, of course, to inspire people to do harm rather than “promote [positive] social cohesiveness.” Earth Hour lights-out is an empty gesture with no benefit.

          • Peter Kemmis says:


            You make a fair point that symbolism can never substitute for a concrete goal. It may indeed focus attention on that goal. But I read Mike’s comment on Earth Hour to imply that for many, that symbolic action may be quite superficial, undertaken to make them feel better, without requiring any behavioural change.

            Also, I think the serious point behind his irony is that many of those same people are not thinking through the implications of a world trying to run without affordable energy. I don’t think his comment is infantile, nor do I think your reflections are anything but serious and thoughtful.

            As for me, I had a “gutful” of symbolism in my first 20 years of life, so (as does GhengisCunn), I’d sooner work on concrete objectives. I agree that Earth Hour is “an empty gesture with no benefit”; it does not encourage people to think afresh, to question and examine – instead it encourages them to follow mindlessly a negative and socially destructive belief that we humans are hell-bent on damaging inexorably the planet we live on.

            I know that is a view you do not share, and I respect your right to hold that view; but some while back you asked what were the questions you had not answered on these pages. David, you had not answered the questions I put to you about the present observations of global temperature and sea level rises, and the almost total inconsistency of projections from all of the IPCC models with those observations. I recall I asked a little more than that, but you’ll get the drift.

  • John Morland says:

    There is also Earth Day. This started in 1970 with the usual doomsaying prophesies. Here are 13 of the most rediculous – none turned out correctly (surprise surprise).

    • GenghisCunn says:

      Oops, I accidentally voted this down. I had just copied the list of 1970 predictions to post here when I saw this, and meant to hit the dots to “See more.”

  • DaveW says:

    “What irritates me about Earth Hour is its emptiness.”
    I disagree. I think the true believers would like to return the world to the Dark Ages and most certainly desire the power to control people and make them do their bidding. Earth Hour is actually a rather frightening example of just how easy it is to make people do mindless things, to believe that black is white if their leaders say so. Of course, most participants probably do it for a lark or a badge of belonging or false penance (like bragging they bike to work) or political expediency, but I still find it disconcerting, especially the harrying and bullying to go along. So, I don’t think Earth Hour is empty symbolism: it very well represents how facts are irrelevant when it comes to religious belief and political power.

  • PeterE says:

    Yes, Earth hour is one of those attempts by a snobbish elite to try to put pressure on others to conform. I’m pleased that few now take any notice of it. It is impossible, however, in Australia today not to notice many other sly attempts to change us. Just yesterday I visited the Old Parliament House and noticed that the attendants have adopted an orange and black colour scheme, as indeed has the Canberra announcer of the ABC news. So what? Well, it is one of those subliminal messages of semiotics that someone has chosen for us and I certainly would not object to an open debate on the subject of the flag, the republic and so on. I do object to subversion, especially if paid for by taxpayers’ money.
    Although I was one of that lucky generation that was too young for WWII, too old for Vietnam and too scared for Korea, I have been attending Anzac Services since the 1980s (when the dawn service was easily accommodated within the
    AWM). Anzac now goes far beyond one day and encompasses every type of military service up to and including today. The appreciation that the Somme in 1916 was a massive contribution to victory in 1918 is growing, as is knowledge of the victorious offensives of 1918. I agree, though, that parts of the service may be being overdone. I was present when Paul Keating delivered an appalling long speech full of splenetic nonsense last year and also heard Tony Abbott in person this year. He was much better but I felt that a good third of the speech could have been edited out. Anzac Day is not symbolic; it is a funeral service and a time to give thanks.

    • Gus says:

      Ah, the flag… It is, of course, for Australians to discuss and decide and, I agree, smuggling the idea surreptitiously is the wrong way to go about it. The reason they do it is because they know they don’t have much support for it.
      But, let us look at the flag openly and ask some open questions about it. What the Australian flag says is: “We are British colonials living under the Southern Cross in Seven States and Territories.” And indeed, this is what Australians were during WWI. The flag of New Zealand is deceptively similar. Many foreigners don’t see the difference. It says pretty much the same thing, “We’re British Colonials living under the Southern Cross.”
      Now have a look at the Canadian flag. What does it say? It says: “We are Canadians.” It does not say “We are British colonials.” And, indeed, Francophone Canadians would strongly object to it, as would the Eskimos and the Chinese of Vancouver.
      The American flag. This one’s quite ornamental. The stars stand for all current states. The stripes stand for the 13 original colonies that formed the US. There’s no Union Jack here. Pointedly. Americans fought against the British twice, thrice even if you recall that Britain supported the South in the American Civil War.
      So, when we look at the Australian flag again, does it say what Australians still want it to say? Is it how Australians want foreigners to see them?

      • DaveW says:

        I think you meant Inuit, not “Eskimo”.

        Speaking as a former landed immigrant in Canada, and resident of Alberta, I rather like the Maple-leaf Flag. That doesn’t mean I mistake it for a true symbol of Canada. Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum) is an eastern species – it only occurs naturally in eastern North America and just barely makes it into SE-most Manitoba in Canada. It cannot survive very far north. The Maple Leaf is really a symbol of the hegemony that Ontario exerts over the rest of Canada.

        Many aboriginal Americans resisted the French and then British colonization. Their descendents may or may not be especially fond of the Maple Leaf, but probably like it better than the various red ensigns that preceded it (and are still on display in the flags of Ontario and Manitoba). Louis Real and others also resisted British Imperialism, but had no success. The Quebecois that I know tend to be very proud of their French heritage, but also appreciate Canada as a state and its flag. All in all, the Maple Leaf seems to unite Canadians more than divide them, but it is an artificial emblem of the country.

        Resistance to the British Empire in Australia and New Zealand seems to have been mostly limited to resistance by the Aboriginals and Maori, respectively, and a few riots like Eureka Stockade. The British Empire is a large part of what it means to be an Australian today.

        I see the Southern Cross every night when I step outside, so I like the idea that it is on my flag. I’ve grown to resent the British ensign less over time – yes, Australians died in the Boer Wars and WWI with no net benefit to Australia, but Australia either didn’t yet exist or was very young at the time. I no longer see a need to abolish the British ensign – it is part of our heritage. Perhaps it could be reduced in size and opposed by a symbol of the more culturally diverse country that Australia is today. Please, no maple leaves, though: anything reflecting Canberra or Sydney would be an abomination.

        • Gus says:

          “I see the Southern Cross every night when I step outside…”
          Australia’s Southern Cross is shared with many other countries and flags. You will find it in the flags of Brazil, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Megallanes province of Chile, and Tierra del Fuego province of Argentina.

      • Tim Florin says:

        Dear Gus
        These long weekends are terrific for me because they provide time for me to read and to comment. Are there are some big issues with flags?

        The Australian flag says something about where we have come from, as do most flags. Obviously, flags dont say something meaningful or even pleasant for everyone – they never will – but they do provide symbolic meaning for many. By way of example, you should check out the flag of the 50th US State with its prominent Union Jack. The American and Canadian national flags also say something about the origins of the majorities in their population but I am unaware of symbolism to represent their “First Nations” or, for that matter, the large Spanish-speaking population of the USA.

        There will of course be a need for a change of flag in Australia once the recent British cultural origins of the largest group of Australians are overturned. But surely, you are not suggesting that we change before this? Flags work because they provide a recognisable identity over time. I doubt that foreigners are confused when they see an athlete draped with a flag bearing the Union Jack, our Southern Cross and that extra star representing our states. They know it is an Australian who is standing on the podium.

        A premature change to the flag could cause confusion because it takes time for a symbol to gain traction. Therefore, lets wait till we have a major political event such as union with Indonesia or we join up as the 51st State of the USA. LOL.

        • Gus says:

          “There will of course be a need for a change of flag in Australia once the recent British cultural origins of the largest group of Australians are overturned.”
          I don’t think this is going to happen any time soon, if ever. The current numbers, about 90% of Australians being of British or Irish background (even if by one parent only), are likely to remain, more or less, undiluted. There is, from what I know, little support for the change of the flag.

  • Mike O'Ceirin says:

    I say to all those who wish to observe EH it is a fine thing you do. Switch of all electricity, gas or other source of energy to your home. Then sit in the dark and pray to Gaia for guidance. Contemplate that darkness is your future for both body and soul.

  • Gus says:

    Earth Hour, yes, I just turn all lights on and drink champagne. Two new books of some relevance: “Not for Greens” by Ian Plimer, Connor Court 2014, ISBN 9781925138191 (available in May), “The Little Green Book of Eco-Fascism” by James Delingpole, Regnery Publishing 2013, ISBN 978-1621571612 (available on Amazon).

    • DaveW says:

      How is Plimer’s book? I liked his go at the god-mongers, but his climate book was poorly edited and more than a bit bombastic.

      • Gus says:

        Plimer’s “Not for Greens” is not yet available. You can pre-order. It’ll be released in May. There is an interesting angle to it. It is about a spoon. A typical modern flatware spoon. The author outlines what it takes to produce it, all the way from digging the ore in the ground to the finished product you buy in a shop. It’s an enlightening lesson. It shows how much we owe to the modern civilization, even in matters as trivial as a spoon.

      • dlb says:

        It makes me smile when Plimer went from darling of the ABC’s science unit for his critique of creationism to persona nongrata with his climate book. I’d say many are in denial that that blind faith applies to them.

        • DaveW says:

          Yes, that was sad, but predictable and has happened to others.

          Plimer has been consistent in his attacks on the intrusion of religion into science, but I found his Heaven & Earth hard going and, although interested in earth history, was unable to finish it. I think he could have cut down on the rhetoric and improved on the editing, especially of references supporting claims. It was too long and too repetitive and a few of his major assertions are unsupported. Drove the alarmists mad, though, which was great.

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