Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Earth Hour: verging on the occult

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If previous Earth Hours are any indication, this Saturday's annual ritual will possess a curious blend of contradictions. Switching off the lights for an hour will have little effect on climate change, yet more people participate each year.

Earth Hour won't reduce the consumption of resources. It only delays it. A more effective way to pursue its goal would be to calculate one's annual income, divide it by the number of hours in a year and (cleanly) burn that much money -- less money equals less future consumption.

Some might say Earth Hour is meant to be a symbol. But it won't send a message to politicians and its hollowness causes other problems. And how many Earth Hour participants really enjoy sitting in the dark, as opposed to playing flashlight tag and attending Earth Hour concerts? The message politicians get is that people think this fights climate change, and any policies that actually restrict access to carbon-based energy would be political suicide.

Earth Hour dims the image of carbon emission reduction policies by associating them with hardship. If climate change mitigation policies were sold as policies of sacrifice, they'd be even less popular than they are already. The counter to this claim of sacrifice is that new technologies will make the shift to a low-carbon economy painless. Yet giving up light for an hour celebrates sacrifice and renounces technology.

This is the wrong image and the wrong policy. Earth Hour preaches deprivation but wealthier countries are better environmental stewards than poor nations. People tend to look after their most basic needs first and the environment second. Saving the Amazon rainforest as vital carbon sinks is good and well if you live in a country like Canada, but some people in Brazil are desperate enough for survival that the army must fight illegal deforestation. Wealth and technology should be the celebrated hope for solving problems like climate change; instead, Earth Hour symbolically switches them off.

In contrast, one U.S. think tank is promoting Human Achievement Hour, designed to coincide with Earth Hour. It's a meditation on economic and technological progress that, since 1800, has doubled life expectancies and fed six times more people than ever before. Human achievement all but eradicated countless diseases such as polio and tuberculosis; it also puts 300,000 new books on the shelves yearly, and so on.

I would bet long odds against Human Achievement Hour being anything but a fringe event. Popular culture has moved away from the values that created our prosperous society by choosing a festival that celebrates downplaying or opposing our wealth and technology.

At the most flourishing time in human history, popular culture takes human achievement for granted. Instead, it seeks symbolism that renounces the Enlightenment values of the last 200 years: quantifiable data, measurable results, reason and the liberation of humanity and nature from the effects of poverty that destroys both human souls and nature. In the broad sweep of history, movements such as Earth Hour are usually described as occult.

David Seymour is a senior policy analyst at the Frontier Centre, www.fcpp.org.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 26, 2010 A12

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