Thursday, March 26, 2009

Earth Hour. Really?

Have you heard that millions of people are going to switch off some lights and maybe more on Saturday the 28th? I wish I hadn't.

Yes! Millions of people who don't know why they are switching off are going to become aware of how their uncontroled consumption is draining the world of it's electricity, filling the atmosphere with CO2, which in turn will melt the ice-caps, submerge coastal cities the world over and disrupt the climate. 

The Carniegie Institute is very wonderful - I have no doubt about that. That consumption in the West is contributing to CO2 production in the world is true. That CO2 in the atmosphere traps heat from the sun - like a greenhouse - may well be true. That human activity produces a significant percentage of CO2 compared with natural processes has yet to be proved, in the opinion of some scientists.

So a few people are going to switch things off for a while, sit around by candle-light, and maybe talk to each other instead of watching TV, surfing the web or otherwise improving their minds. (irony) Poor people - the majority on this planet - are going to be really impressed; they are going to question their actual need for a supply of safe water to their shack, for power to illuminate the dark hours, for books to help educate their children.

For one evening in the year? For one hour? 

What is it that makes me angry? First, the complete emptiness of the gesture. Awareness of the need to cut back is lacking, but the real reasons for cutting back are never discussed. I will try to list a few of the reasons I have in mind, don't expect originality; this is not a cleverly researched post.

1. The chasm between the haves and have-nots in the West is widening, and the divisions are destructive.

2. The 'third world' is slowly being promoted to the 'second' and its awareness of the 'first' (with all its excesses) is increasing. Think terrorizm.  

3. A life less devoted to earning for consumption could be a life with more time for human interaction with less stress.

4. A simpler life may be more healthy. 

How can the affluent few share resources with the needy majority without taking a cut in consumtion? The developinng nations cannot go through a process of industrialisation like we did - they have no Empires to steal resources from. If the wealthy nations help significantly with technology, skills, training, materials and so on, how can this happen without a levelling of living standards?  

The free market says "if you make something people want, they will buy it" It does not say "villagers in African want clean water, let's get it to them" But you and I want them to have it, Do we not?

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