Tuesday, March 18, 2008

It's A Mad, Mad, Mad World

This week, Fairfax newspapers throughout this country have been throwing in with their usual newsprint a forty-page, full-colour glossy magazine supplement which is intended, as far as I can see, as a "celebration" of Earth Hour, a forthcoming event in which we will all turn off the electricity for one hour on a Saturday night to demonstrate our commitment to dealing with climate change.

Isn't this somehow missing the point? Leaving to one side the question whether the belated recognition that we are living ourselves to death is something worth celebrating, the way to defeat climate change (assuming it can be defeated) is, surely, not by printing several hundreds of thousands of copies of a document, admittedly well-intentioned but also not entirely devoid of underwear advertisements, the overwhelming majority of which will either be put on bonfires, added to landfill, or sent out with the recycling next Thursday night. If Earth Hour is to achieve anything by putting the Climate Change Armageddon Clock back by a few seconds, those seconds have been reduced by the amount of energy it took to produce, and then destroy, this ultimately pointless artifact. Humbug.

And another thing. Our household will, of course, be willing participants in Earth Hour, but we are kidding ourselves if we think it will make any meaningful difference. By my (admittedly back-of-the-recycled-paper-envelope) calculations, it would need every person, company and organisation in every country of the world to switch off all carbon-producing energy sources for two or three entire days every week for the indefinite future in order for emissions to be reduced to the extent that the damage already done, and continuing to be done, to be in any significant way reduced.

And a question: is Earth Hour a kind of "We Are The World" for the climate change generation, a galvanising and positive "tipping point" for change, or is it just another salve for middle-class guilt, as are (I would argue, but in both cases it doesn't necessarily make the venture itself entirely a bad thing) carbon-offsetting schemes? (As to the latter, can't a case be made that they actually encourage carbon usage? As in, the more you use, the more you have to contribute to carbon offsets; the more you contribute the better you feel.) It's just a thought.

Did you turn out the lights and switch off the computer and printer before you went home?