Thursday, March 27, 2008

Saving the Earth, One Hour at a Time

This Saturday marks observance of the second annual "Earth Hour", an event foisted upon us by the World Wildlife Fund. The idea is that businesses and residences will turn off all "nonessential" lighting from 8pm until 9pm "to symbolize that each one of us, working together, can make a positive impact on climate change - no matter who we are or where we live." (

Now, I'm all for a serious and coordinated response to climate change, though I'm coming around to favor an emphasis on adaptation rather than mitigation. After all, even if we stopped emitting carbon altogether by late this afternoon, human-induced climate change could continue for decades. We should try to mitigate as much as we can, but I have no illusions that the path to a more sustainable form of civilization will be easy or straight.

It is partly for this last reason that I have grave doubts about usefulness of symbolic gestures from people who want to be thought green . . . and there are more of those every day. Major institutions have jumped on the bandwagon, including my own employer . . . an institution filled with people who ought to know better.

In short, Earth Hour may turn out to be coordinated, but it is hardly to be taken seriously.

When the lights are out, everyone can feel unified in their green righteousness. Everyone can feel superior to those who leave their lights burning bright.

Then, at nine o'clock, their duty behind them for another year, the lights can blaze forth once more.

It sure beats actually changing anything.

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