Saturday, March 29, 2008

Earth Hour: Trivializing the Environmental Movement

Well, here we go- another exercise in empty symbolism ; a "feel good" for participants that relieves them of taking daily action that might actually reduce their energy consumption, while fanning their vanity and self-righteousness.

For the convenience-addicted American, Earth Hour supplies the ideal vehicle for the discharge of guilt while encouraging the participant in the belief that he or she can "make a difference" in our prodigious waste of energy, out-of-control overpopulation, rapidly depleting resources, and potentially devastating climate change, simply by turning off the lights and all non-essential electric appliances for an hour, never mind an entire day.

After you have served your hour of sacrifice, you can go back to consuming and polluting, knowing that you have done your little bit to Save The Planet. Just like the folks who revert to enthusiastic sinning for another week after the trip to the confessional or after their Sunday dose of prayer and sermons, the trendy eco-phonies can continue life as usual, meanwhile screaming for authorities to cap fuel prices so they can continue on with their daily lives of an average of 11 automobile trips.

This is the kind of crap our politicians and business leaders just love. It's so much easier to promote this kind of nonsense than it is to change our disastrous public policy and urban planning to shift funding from highways to public transportation, or change the zoning of towns and cities to foster walkable communities or mixed-use, higher density development, or even make small changes to render the built environment more friendly to people and bikes at the expense of cars. ComEd is one of the sponsors, and Chicago's eco-hypocrite-in-chief, Da Mare, is promoting this event loudly.

This is also exactly the kind of garbage that has trivialized the environmentalist and Peak Oil movements, and helped get them labeled as elitist movements driven by folks who care more about plankton than people; and for this reason alone,this nonsense has done incalculable harm to the quest to conserve our resources and found our communities and economies on a sustainable basis.

There is no impetus among the general population for radical re-ordering of our daily lives to drastically reduce our energy consumption and to make it possible to live life with a reasonable level of technological amenity without high imputs, because the majority of middle and lower income Americans believe that the environmentalist movement does not only not pertain to them or their lives, but will damage them economically and make their lives even more difficult than they already are.

This is the central tragedy of the environmentalist and Peak Oil movements as they are currently constituted. For it is the non-rich who will suffer the first and the most as the curve of resource depletion begins to arc into a line pointing straight down; and it is the poorest among us who will die in large numbers as the food supply crashes, potable water and home heating become unaffordable, jobs disappear by the hundreds of thousands, and the predictable reduction in sanitation and the disappearance of medicines and vaccines results in pandemics and the re-emergence of diseases we thought we defeated 80 years ago.

So, instead of promoting yet one more opportunity for celebrities to display their superior eco-consciousness while spewing hydrocarbons allover the Western hemisphere taking planes and buses on speaking tours and benefit concerts and other monuments to vanity and superficiality, our leaders and policy makers need to give a solid hour to real thought as to how to keep our lights turned on and our population employed and able to eat, drink water, and remain gainfully employed in the face of spot shortages and brownouts, and how to sell the public the policies that will enable our cities to run on a steeply reduced fuel supply with the minimum of infrastructure failure and distribution snafus.


Paradise said...

What else are you going to crab about? You have all these big ideas, but you negate all the time. I've heard enough. Yeah, the environmental movement is largely an elitist movement, but you know what, those are the big consumers and the biggest contributors to waste and pollution. What, are you gonna tell poor people they should consume less when five people live in a one bedroom and thrift is a way of life? Low income, middle income, wealthy, it doesn't matter, people don't like... you should do this, you should do that. People don't like to be criticized either. If there's a better way of doing things, people go along. If the bus is easier than a car or cheaper people go along. There isn't even enough capacity on mass transit now to accomodate everybody if you did harass them into it. I say, alright, way to go for Earth Hour. You know why, because its popular and alot of people are doing it. Anybody, mayors, businesses, human sheep see that it is popular and they are going to embrace that. Maybe they'll try to outdo each other to see who can do more, maybe they really will implement more little things into their endeavors. I heard the same criticisms twenty years go, people called me a stupid do gooder and it hurt then and it hurts now. Well I participated and I liked it. It reminded me of an evening maybe ten years ago when I turned off every electricity in honor of some special thing and hung out on the floor with my guinea pigs. They seemed excited by the quiet, they were exploring, a little train of three pigs winding around the apartment and surrounding me in a circle wondering why I was sitting on the floor. I still remember that night. The quiet was profound. And it was again this time too. I thought of all the other people, and I sit in the dark and think from time to time and its always interesting, but I enjoyed lots of people doing it. I did something new this time. I work hard and I'm getting older. I see this lady for my back and she always tells me to stretch and excercise, but you know, I never do it regularly. Nobody that labors goes home and excercises. It seems absurd, but I did the whole thing and payed attention to all the muscles and I thought about taking care of my back and maybe not even cleaning anymore, because I am just about worn out and I can feel it, I'm in pain and I can really feel it when I focus on my body. So it was good, and I did it because it was organized and promoted and I joined in. So just quit crabbing OK?

The North Coast said...

Paradise, I can see by your post that you missed the point of my post entirely.

Did your one hour of participation make a jot of difference in the way you do things day to day? Did it inspire you to, say, unload your car? Demand more funding for transit and less for highways? Or, if you are any type of social worker, perhaps get together a group of people to start a community vegetable garden? Or learn how to can things?

If not, then it was a waste, and a pernicious one. Our leaders already waste enough fuel without giving them one more reason to fly allover the country on speaking tours and conferences.

You don't seem to get that we make MASSIVE changes in the way we are doing things, and make them very soon, that we are in for a world of suffering, and it is the 95% who are non-affluent (you and me) and most of all the poor, who will do the suffering, and DYING.

I can't emphasize that last strongly enough.

It will take an incredible shift in public policy to re-organize things like transportation, food production, housing, and other features of daily life, so that we can retain a comfortable life with technological amenities of the basic kind-like motorized transportation of some kind and a basic food supply, and heat in the winter, and drinkable piped water- and we won't make it if we cling to our current ways.

Earth Hour stands in stead of real action. Most people who participate won't, for example, even THINK about how they will do without their precious cars. Well, they had better spend Earth hour and a lot more time than that, considering how they will, because in 6 years most people won't be able to afford them no matter what our politicians say or do. Our will in the matter will mean nothing against the laws of supply and demand, and that there just isn't enough to go around anymore. It's sickening the way our politicians try to evade this. There is not one presidential candidate who has a clue how we are going to deal with this, and they are all making irresponsible promises about the "hydrogen economy", like the Republicans, or promising to manipulate the fuel prices by releasing oil from the SPR, like Obama, or fostering biofuel development (the most tragic scam of all)like Clinton and Obama.

Notice also that the whole emphasis of the environmental movement is on Global Warming and that nobody says anything about Peak Oil. When asked, they just blow past the matter with the glib assurance that they will foster biofuel development- in other words, burn our food supply up in our gas tanks.

Participating in this nonsense is so much easier, and so much more pleasurable, than thinking about things like this, and that's why our politicians and even the "environmentalists" would rather, because the steps we are going to have to take in order to re-template our towns and cities for steeply lower energy consumption are going to be VERY unpopular.

And no pol is going to deliberately risk being unpopular.

So, we are going to just keep rolling at top speed toward the edge of a cliff. The window of opportunity is getting smaller.

Take your choices now. Would you rather voluntarily make the changes you will need to make, and learn how to live on much less on a daily basis NOW,or do you want these adjustments crammed down your throat by reality down the road? Should we at least scramble to get our transit in place now, or should we just wait until 60% of our citizens can no longer afford gas, or food, and we can no longer afford the new transit infrastructure we will need on any terms? Same thing with other things, like energy efficient buildings and heating systems. This stuff is very expensive, and the more expensive fuel becomes, the more difficult it will be to retrofit our buildings. Absolutely everything will become much more difficult and expensive, as everything already is, and it is the poor, and the next few classes up, who are getting the brunt of it.

But because our leaders and policy makers won't confront the nasty reality of the situation, and would rather promote "feel goods" then supply real leadership and make meaningful changes in the way we allocate public money and plan our development, we are just going to cruise right over the cliff. We will endure much more suffering and deprivation than necessary.

I know this all sounds very "negative", but reality can really be a bummer, especially if you aren't prepared to deal with it. That's why I hate words like "negative" and "positive"- they imply that you can alter reality just by "reframing" it.

Fargo said...

I certainly see your points here, and you've made some very valid ones. However, there is some potential for change in this "empty gesture."

I did turn off my lights and enjoyed some peace and quiet time. And when I was done, I went to turn on the lights that are normally on most evenings and thought "does this light need to be on daily?"

We normally only have a few lights that stay on in the evenings. I decided we could reduce the daily routine a bit. I got a new fixture to replace the front door light that is on every evening. We'll install it soon, with CFLs to replace the incandescent bulbs in the old fixture. Some lights are on timers, and I reduced the time. I adjusted the programmable thermostat so that the heat is a few degrees cooler for several hours each day.

I already drive very little, using my feet, public transit, and my bike for the majority of my mileage. I expect that to continue.

The majority of people may not make any changes, but any widely publicized action that brings about some positive change can be a step in the right direction.