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Cheers - AE

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Earth Hour

A post on the Libertarian Alliance blog has reminded me that Earth Day is nearly upon us again. For many people this will be the first time that they’ve been nagged and cajoled into turning their lights off at 8.30pm local time on Saturday to help heal the sky, but here in Australia it’s the third time we’ve had to put up with this pointless cockwafterery. The really crazy thing is this: if you believe in man made global warming, if you think Al Gore and James Hansen and the rest are correct, if you think emitting CO2 is hurting the planet, if you think these and a dozen or more related things, then you should hate Earth Hour far more than the most vociferous of sceptics.

That’s right, I reckon the people who should most hate Earth Hour are not sceptics but the true believers. But there’s a reason for that. Let’s assume for the moment that the sceptics are correct. What effect does Earth hour have? None whatsoever, that’s what. A complete irrelevance, a meaningless exercise that achieves nothing of any practical consequence one way or the other. The impact on the life of the average sceptic is no greater than the impact of Catholics holding Mass in your town if you’re an atheist. Okay, Richard Dawkins might get his cock in a knot about it but your average secular Joe or Josephine really doesn’t give a flying fuck if the Catholics want to have their ceremonies and rituals because it doesn’t affect them.

Now let’s take the other side and assume the warmists are right. Let’s assume that CO2 emissions are indeed raising the temperature and making the climate unstable and bringing us nearer and nearer to the point where it gets out of our control* and runaway warming is inevitable and the planet becomes largely inhospitable to humanity/life (take your pick of preferred disaster scenario). Now, with this point of view in mind what effect does Earth Hour have? Answer: a hopelessly inadequate effect. Earth Hour 2008 in Sydney saved, according to reports at the time, about 25 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions. This is roughly equivalent to removing half a dozen cars from the road for a year. Sydney is a city of over 4 million people – how many cars do you think it has? And cars are only the tip of the iceberg. Construction, particularly involving cement, produces heaps of CO2, and personal transport isn’t a particularly large producer compared to power generation. That last point is just as well because many people participating in Earth Hour dutifully switch their lights off at home and then get in the car and fucking drive to somewhere to get a good view of the dark. Now surely if you think CO2 is that bad this is like celebrating giving up cigarettes by having a nice cigar. But the main things is that if the effect of Earth Hour on CO2 reduction is pathetically small, and almost certainly immeasurably small as far as temperature reduction goes, what the fuck is the point of the exercise?

One suggestion trotted out on a regular basis is that Earth Hour may achieve fuck all in a practical sense but it does raise awareness of the issue. If someone says this to you ask what fucking planet they’ve been on since the late 1970s. It’s had so much media attention for the last three and a bit decades that I was fucking aware of it when I was ten years old (just as I was aware that it was an ice age scare a year or two before that). If sufficient awareness had been raised to scare a child in the late 70s who the fuck are they trying to make aware now? Have that many people been in comas or been living in caves? Are there vast numbers that have been cut off from modern society by being stranded on desert islands like WW2 Japanese soldiers? Raise awareness my puckered arse. The only people left in the world that need to be made aware are those who don’t have any fucking lights to switch off in the first place. Developing nations who have fledgling industry have looked at the issue and more or less decided to say fuck it. You don’t need to make them aware because they’ve heard the arguments, they just don’t accept it all as a justification for trapping a couple of billion of their people in the Middle Ages while westerners can just boast about buying more expensive light bulbs while they top up their friends’ glasses with some more Pinot Gris.

Another idea that I’ve heard is that it’s getting us all used to making sacrifices. Well I suppose you could say that if you call turning off a few lights for one hour in March a sacrifice, but it’s not exactly hair shirts and self-flagellation is it? Well, possibly in certain discreet establishments in Melbourne, but you can get that all year round. Earth Hour is designed to be a very painless and convenient sacrifice (hence it’s potential to achieve just about fuck all) so as to get as many people as possible involved in it. The last thing anyone wants is for them to get an idea of what sacrifices might be demanded in future. If that was the case there’d be Earth Week, and rather than being at the conveniently benign time of late March when it’s turning to spring in the northern hemisphere and it’s early autumn in the southern hemisphere it would be held in late January or early February. Down under we’d be sweating our cocks off because we’re not allowed to turn the air conditioning on, and in the northern hemisphere you’d be doing your best not to freeze in the dark and wishing you could put the heating on without being made to feel like a murderer. For a whole week. No driving either. Even if you changed it by six months and suggested that you can usually get by without aircon in the UK summer try telling that to those in the Med. And winter in Melbourne is juct cold enough that I'd like to have the heating on from time to time, to say nothing of Tasmania. But ask people to make a noticeable sacrifice and really go without even for as brief a time as a week, something that actually feels like a fucking sacrifice in other words, and many would look for reasons to listen to sceptics so they don’t have to do it again next year. Can’t have that now can we? No, getting people used to sacrifice isn’t it.

Earth Hour as a first step perhaps? Green friends (or rather friends who like to think of themselves as green) have suggested that. But there are two problems with that answer. First, as above, people have been banging on about man made global warming for thirty odd years – we’re only now taking the “first step” of turning off a few lights for an hour each year? Do me a fucking favour. The second problem is that we really aren’t on first steps in any way that I can see. The IPCC has been set up at the UN and has delivered no less than four weighty reports with various suggestions (and controversies). Then there have been any number of climate conferences attended by thousands, generally held somewhere sunny with a five star hotel and a reasonable expectation of pretty girls in swimsuits such as Rio or Bali, but occasionally somewhere like Poland where the pretty girls may have to wear a bit more. But delegates still aren’t put up in the local Travel Lodge. Sure, that does mean thousands of people flying who might otherwise have stayed put and video-conferenced, and supposedly this is the global warming equivalent of sliding a knife under the ribs of the planet and stabbing it in its heart. But we are assured that it’s all for the good in the long term and that sun drenched palm trees and/or pretty girls have nothing to do with it, and they are arguably steps towards the goal of reducing emissions. And then there’s the biggest step of all, the Kyoto Protocol. Although it took a number of countries** a while (and in some cases a change of government) before it was ratified Kyoto was back in December 1997 – nearly ten years before the first Earth Hour. Since Kyoto both demands far greater reductions than decades of Earth Hours will achieve and has been heavily criticized for not going anywhere near far enough then if Earth Hour, which must have an effect many orders of magnitude smaller than the already insufficient Kyoto protocol, is accepted as a first step it must be a step in the wrong direction.

What about the “every little helps” argument? Again, and following on from the last point, while it can be said that every little helps, and in a literal sense it may even be true, how little must something be before it’s considered meaningless? And as already said its arguably going in the wrong direction since its effect is even smaller than the small steps that preceded it. It’s like claiming you’re helping to fix world poverty by giving Oxfam a tenner, and then next time giving them a penny and making the same claim. How seriously are we supposed to take “every little helps” when the little starts off small and shrinks? Even if many people go home resolving to break the standby habit and switch appliances off at the wall etc., and actually stick to their resolution all year till the next Earth Hour, it’s simply not credible that it helps in any meaningful way when you’ve got people like His Royal Wingnut the Prince of Whales claiming that we’ve got less than 100 months or we’re all toast and Jonathon Porritt saying that things would be fine if only half of us would drop dead. An hour of darkness and saving the energy of a few standby lights ain’t gonna do it, even if millions of us join in.

Okay then, so still assuming that the warmists are correct Earth hour is hopelessly inadequate both as a practical measure and an indication of the level of future sacrifice, serves no purpose to raise awareness since awareness is pretty much at saturation point after three decades, and is a step backwards in terms of progress. If you were a warming believer you’d be forgiven for thinking that perhaps the organizers of this sort of thing don’t actually take it all that fucking seriously. In fact when I put myself in the mind of a global warmer, which isn’t hard because I believed it all fifteen years or so ago, I can’t come up with any logical reason for Earth Hour so I’d be farting sparks about it. I’d be absolutely fucking livid at the shits who came up with this meaningless wank instead of something substantive, and I’d be wondering what the true purpose, if any, really was. Possibly I’d start thinking about money trails and begin to suspect that the whole fucking exercise is little more than a ritual to keep people believing and spending their money on greenery like wind energy and eco-bulbs, and thus arrive at a similar opinion to the one I have as a sceptic.

Greens of my acquaintance would all do a synchronized sharp intake of breath at the suggestion that filthy lucre is involved, but seriously, just have a think about it. Think of any green product, anything at all that is being offered as part of the solution to global warming and greenhouse gasses. Doesn’t matter what it is you’re thinking of, I can tell you three things about it. One, regardless of whether the people behind it believe or not it was made in the expectation that there’d be buyers. Two, if there were no buyers it would either not exist at all or not in the form it’s being offered. And three, it has a price tag on it. Outrageous? But would wind turbines be of any interest if people didn’t think we needed to cut down on the CO2 (I’m not even getting into how much they actually do save – plenty of argument on both sides all over the web if you want to go looking)? In the absence of belief in global warming the wind would be harnessed just to pump water into sheep and cattle runs and possibly provide power in a handful of remote locations that can’t be conveniently joined to the grid. What about all those eco-bulbs? Normally when old product A is offered alongside new product B which is considerably more expensive and doesn’t always match up to the claims people will grumble loudly and stick to buying A, but it seems as if the grumbling is muted and people are in fact proud of coughing up $10 for their shiny new glowing mercury bottle sorry, CFL bulb (again, apart from the irresistible mercury dig I’m going to avoid discussing the other pros and cons – Google is your friend). Micro generation at home from solar cells and wind? Well, other than solar water heating (which isn’t generation anyway) these things have been around for boat owners for years so the products don’t depend per se on green belief, but there are far more homes than sailing boats. Green belief isn’t their whole market but without it their potential customer base would be massively reduced. Then there are things like carbon credits/offsetting, which have been created solely on the back of global warming and which would surely not exist in any form without this demand that has been created for them by global warming fears.

So if Earth Hour makes me believe anything at all that’s it. It’s a ritual designed to make participants feel good about being a believer but bad about their energy use. At the worst it should encourage believers to stay believers, but hopefully the next time people see a link to a carbon offset company when they book flights, or there’s an offer on solar this or windy that when you get quotes in for home renovations, or some poor cunt at a telemarketing firm phones up and tries to sell green power (I’ve had two this week), or most of all the next time the government says a green tax is needed, people will be more likely literally to buy it. Hey, it’s for the good of the planet y’know, though we won’t go into how ineffectual all those measures would be if Prince Wingnut and Jonathan Porritt are to be believed either. And of course the belief should also help sell copies of the, aha, dead tree press (even if to stoke the belief furnaces they have to indulge in a little photographic bullshit er misdirection er trickery, oh fuck it - whatever you want to call photographs taken on different days with different weather and light conditions and different exposure values), and funnily enough Fairfax Media, owners of The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald among others, fucking invented Earth hour. Yes, the WWF were on board and I'm sure they're all believers, but is it perhaps possible that Fairfax wanted to flog some advertising space to manufacturers of green anti dioxide global carbon warming climate products and anyone else who wants to jump on the bandwagon and give their company a green veneer?

Okay, some might say that this money angle is the sort of cynical conclusion a sceptic would naturally come to, but I’ve got to the same place with my old Warming Believer head on and the only difference is that as a Believer I’d want blood over this. As a sceptic I don’t really give a shit. It’s not my money they’ll be getting.***

*Yes, I know that the climate stability has only ever been on timescales of tens of thousands of years or more and has certainly never been stable over terms as short as a human lifespan, and also that it’s never actually been under our control and it’s very doubtful that it ever will be. But this is this sort of thing that people, even educated and otherwise sensible people, say across dinner tables all over the western world whenever the subject comes up.

**Incidentally the non-participation of the US really isn’t the fault of Dubya. 1997 was during the Clinton/Gore years and although Bill signed it he and Al sort of didn’t get round to asking Congress to ratify it. That might have something to do with the Senate voting 95-0 in favour of sticking two fingers up, well they’re Americans so a middle finger, if Clinton and Gore did ask. Bush simply abandoned the pretence of being a signatory that was never going to ratify the fucking thing. There are many things to blame him for, but not the US ditching Kyoto – it was never going to be adopted whoever was President (and I can’t see Obama doing it either) and Al Gore must have known that before his failed bid for the White House.

***My opposition to Earth Hour, such as it is, doesn’t run to switching everything electrical on and leaving the house for an hour to go on a nice drive in the most fuel inefficient car available as some of the refusniks propose. Fuck that! My protest is ignoring the hype and not wasting money on greenwash, so I don’t see any point in spending more on petrol and electricity in its place. Besides, this year it’s on the same weekend as the Melbourne Grand Prix and the start of the Aussie Rules Football season. Wild horses with machine guns won’t get me away from the TV for twelve whole hours on Saturday night.

UPDATE: On the subject of the environment, here's The Daily Mash on wind turbines.
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