Earth Hour is a stupid idea. It’s as stupid as creek cleanups. Or “clean coal”.
Earth Hour is one of those events that let’s people think they’re really doing something for the planet when in fact they’re perpetuating the myth that small changes can make a big difference. Know what can make a big difference? Big changes. Radical changes. Making changes to your life as if the planet matters.
Last year we were entertaining some environmentally conscious friends during Earth Hour night, and they were surprised that we weren’t turning off our lights. Why would we? Our lights are powered by the sun and wind. There are no negative impacts from us having our lights on for an hour, or a night, or a year. Or at least no additional negative impacts. Some resources and energy went into making the components of our off-grid electrical system. The solar panels recouped the electricity that was required to manufacture them in less than 3 years. They’ll last for at least 50 years, so it’s a good energy return on investment. The lead in the batteries that keep our lights on at night is recyclable. Our solar- and wind-generated electricity doesn’t have the same environmental impact as grid power from coal or the legacy of nuclear energy’s waste.
Yes, any form of energy generation has some impact, and I’m pretty comfortable with the fact that ours is minimal over the long haul.
The climate scientists are now starting to discuss “geoengineering;” ways to mitigate the impact of climate change. One of the options being considered is shooting sulphur particles into the atmosphere to creating low-level clouds over the oceans to reflect some of the sunlight and heat back into space. You know you’re in trouble when the debate has turned to suggestions like this.
Before humans starting burning fossil fuels the concentration of C02 in the atmosphere was about 280 ppm. Now it’s at 380. With business as usual we will hit about 450 ppm in the next decade or so. Many scientists are suggesting though that we need to get back to 350 ppm to be safe and avoid cataclysmic climate change. The organization called www.350.org/ is leading the charge on this.
This isn’t going to be easy. It’s going to require some discomfort. It’s going to require that people change the way they live. People will have to drive less, or not at all. They will have to stop flying. They will have to stop using natural gas and heat with geothermal systems and use solar domestic hot water heaters.
A magazine that Michelle subscribes to arrived in the mail recently and she was telling me about an article about an expert who attempted to “green” a family. What a crock! They learned how to take baby steps. But they admitted that with all their kids and their busy lives they won’t consider giving up their SUV or the minivan parked in their driveway. They probably fly to Florida in the winter and trek up to a cottage every weekend. The article talked about how they are learning to make their own “green” cleaners for around the house and how they have begun eating one meatless meal a week. Sorry people but making some green cleaners out of lemons isn’t going to do it. In fact, I’m not even sure it’s worth it.
When we lived in the city we belonged to a number of environmental organizations. Once a year, usually around Earth Day, we would inevitably be invited to pitch in at a “creek cleanup.” You know, where you go and pick up the garbage along a creek that had obviously been thrown there by people who don’t give a crap. Great idea! Let’s spend out time picking up after people who’ll just continue to mess it up again. Let’s reinforce the idea that it’s OK to litter, because environmentalists will clean it up. What was even worse is that all of the environmentalists would drive their cars to the creek and put on a brand new pair of disposable gloves for the cleanup. Am I missing something? It was a lame idea 20 years ago and it’s a lame idea today but every Earth Day I still see pictures in the newspaper of groups of people out cleaning up parks or creeks.
One of the problems with events like “Earth Hour” or “creek cleanups” is that it lets people feel that they’ve made a difference and they’ve “done their part of the planet” when in reality they’ve done next to nothing.
On Earth Hour my house is lit up like the 4th of July. The electricity that keeps those lights on comes from the sun and wind and is 100% renewable. No coal or nuke power is keeping those lights on. The people inside that house enjoying all of that light make their decisions - all of their decisions - as if the planet mattered. They heat a with carbon neutral woodstove. They have a solar domestic hot water heater. They stay at home. They don’t fly. This isn’t about one hour on one day. Our commitment to the planet is a 365-day a year one.
Photo by Cam Mather