Happy Earth Hour! — For Reals?

There really is something now called “Earth Hour”, the point of which is to turn off your lights for one hour?


I remember that Earth Day thing. In fact, I did a musical waaay back in college about how we need to safe guard our resources and reduce consumption of… well, everything. We did 4 shows to half filled houses and did a great job of shaming everyone there for a good 90 minutes with song. Nothing like paying $15 to feel really bad about yourself!

And the result? Did we win? Anyone? Crying Indian? Captain Planet? McGruff?

Earth Hour feels like a retrenching by the environmentalists. People have grown weary of the Earth Day thing so it’s been recycled and reduced by 1/24th into something that people actually can accomplish and feel good about instead of the usual hydrogen powered guilt trip we all take on Earth Day. Earth hour is like those perky nutritionists on the “Today” show that tell you to order the steamed vegetables instead of the French fires to go with your fired chicken covered with mayo and hot fudge. They smile with their large heads on their tiny bodies and let you know that you’ve saved 300 calories while ignoring the fact that the main course and dessert was 65,000 calories. Turning off your lights is steamed vegetables, but Vegas is still that Chocolate Thunder Cake with double icing (note to self: eat food).

I actually tired the Earth hour thing tonight. Partly out of the distant echoes of self-righteous eco-musical numbers still lodged in my head but mostly because I thought it would be cool to walk around with candles for an hour for a “Colonial Vibe”. Either way it was a half-assed experience.

For starters, we let Kiernan watch “The Backyardigans” on our 50″ DLP HDTV. I had fantasized about drawing him close and telling him stories around the fireplace like a modern day Daniel Boone or Mark Twain. Ran out of time on that one. Also the idea of letting him watch his show (Which is a pre-bath ritual and as any parent will tell you: don’t screw with the routine!) on a laptop under the misguided logic of at least it’s not drawing from the grid for the next hour, flew out the window. Nope, concession number one was the big bright TV telling tales to my son of anthropomorphic animals who pretended to live in medieval time (true dark ages) and sang non ecologically based songs.

Next, I turned off the computer monitor. Not the computer, mind you. Nor the modem. Or the printer, drawing power while idle. In fact all the DVD players, alarm clocks, TiVos, Phones and microwaves somehow eluded my keen, energy saving eye. Those that did not were saved by one simple thing: I didn’t want to set the time on them again.

Finally, after my son’s non-romantic candle lit bath, we hit our hardest snag. I had just finished my own Knights Tale (we have the episodic story of Tiberius, a knight of strength, virtue and occasional friends like the “Throw-up knight”) with Kiernan and he started to get upset. We leave the hall light on for him and tonight it wasn’t on (routine!). I told him we’d turn it back on… we had saved the Earth, but he was all about the here and now. Fearing a melt-down, we officially canceled the “Battle of Britain” bombing raid exercise and turned on the hall light. All clear, Earth doomed, better luck next year with the Earth Minute.

Later tonight as I settled in with my wife to do our part for HBO Hour, it hit me. Like my son, humanity is really all about the here and now. Because the threat is massive but ambiguous (“in the future, we’ll probably run out of fossil fuels and will eventually cause the Earth to heat by an indeterminate amount should all the current projections stay true”) we can’t grasp it and eventually just forget it. Our threat analysis is flawed and can only address a very provincial scope. We’re also a greedy, lazy self-absorbed animal that in the end will weigh the cost/benefit of helping others that are not in our circle of friends/family as a low priority.

So am I saying we should all just throw up our hands and give up? Doesn’t that mean the terrorists win, Mike (trademarked phrase)? What they hell kind of blog is this?

Here’s pretty much what I’m saying: buy the Prius if it makes you feel better, but that’s about the biggest impact it will have. Should we all try to conserve? Sure, why not. But in the long run, conservation won’t save us, science will have to. That’s where I’ve been going with this rapidly-declining-in-popularity blog.

I’m probably not an environmentalist, but I am a futurist. There is a constant race with science to ultimately fix the problems that science creates. It seems like a dog chasing it’s tail, but if you picture that dog chasing it’s tail up a spiral staircase (that I dub PROGRESS!), the analogy holds together a little better. We’re not smart enough to escape our basic programming of consuming resources until they are gone, but we’re smart enough to find smart people to find other resources.

This is not my Pollyanna future, but rather the darkest before the light scenario. We’ll continue to consume whatever we can, as much as we can until we run out and it starts to kill us. Conservation will slow it down, but ultimately really smart, well fed, well rested scientists are going to have to step in and make stuff that will allow us to keep living by preventing us from killing ourselves. Case in point: Cars kill people, scientists make airbags. Scientists are gonna have to make a big airbag for the Earth, cause we’re going too damn fast.

Will we make it in time? Maybe. Like I said, it’s always a race. In the 60’s people predicted widespread food shortages by the 1980’s. Luckily, some really smart scientists figured out how to crossbreed rice that would grow in various climates and resist insects and blight. Bullet == dodged, and millions of Thai children were able to eat, grow up and make us cheap foam globes with the words “Earth Hour” inscribed on them with lead paint.

There’s also a good chance that our children’s children may have to suffer for a while before we right the ship. I hope not. Maybe Earth Hour does have one true benefit: it can fulfill the old saying of “lighting a candle rather than cursing the darkness”. Maybe there’s hope that if we put our resources into the scientist and then actually LISTEN to them occasionally, their illumination will show us a less bumpy path.

And no matter what our future holds, we can be glad for one thing: that none of you will ever have to see that crappy musical I did. That, friends, was the true darkness.


  1. bortQ. says

    Right on! Earth Hour’s gotta be the dumbest idea since midichlorians!
    Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for the environment, but wouldn’t the power companies literally overload if a large chunk of the populous switched everything back on AT THE SAME TIME?! Then the terrorists WILL win!

  2. Anne Macksoud says

    I just discovered this as I was Googling for ways to alert my town to EarthHour 2009.
    As I read the cynical, superior, judgmental essay, I was very glad not to be Kiernan.
    Lots of Hope,

  3. ejdalise says

    Most people will also forget to switch off pilot lights in electronic fireplaces, water heaters, etc. , but what the heck, it might make someone feel good.

    If we really wanted to do something, we would all consume like crazy and precipitate a crisis. There is nothing like a good crisis to force people into finding solutions.

    . . . wait . . . I think we are doing that with the economy. I guess I should wait and see how that goes before advising the same approach on energy.

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