Saturday, March 28, 2009

Earth Hour Fail


"Oh my god...It was like...so much fun! We sat by the river/beach. All the big buildings had dimmed their lights. Even Esplanade seemed a bit darkened...Just...wow...". My friend and her family made a trip to the Singapore beach area (ECP), while another made a similar family event out of it, as a few CBD areas darkened for Earth Hour 2009...sigh..

I would have hated to have this pseudo environmental gimmick succeed this year at Singapore. Thankfully, it didn't. News articles may quote otherwise, but I am reporting what I saw. In the designated Earth Hour, I happened to be traveling through major central areas of city - Dhoby Gaut, Orchard, Novena - and nobody had flinched or bowed down to this pretentious celebration of darkness. To show solidarity, we played futsal in a brightly lit court after witnessing the Earth Hour fail at Singapore. Jai ho!

I place this symbolism in the same league as the bimbo solutions from Miss Universe pageants.

(From Seinfeld)
KRAMER: If you were Miss America, what would you do to make the world a better place?
KAREN: As Miss America, I would try and bring an end to world hunger. If every person sacrificed one meal a week, there would be enough to feed the whole world!
JERRY: That's a hell of a plan.


Sure, the pro-environment supporters would have already assumed the non-believers in Earth Hour are spitting, polluting, wasteful, insensitive bastards. So I would like to tackle arguments here that I expect to receive against my stance.

Argument1: It makes people aware of the issues.
Reality: What exactly is the issue? What is the message that you are trying to drive? That energy consumption is bad? Or that we can do without all the frills of life like light and communication? The headline in Telegrah (UK) for March 30th 2009 reads 'Landmarks plunged into darkness in support of climate change action'. Is darkness our symbol of victory now? This article from Ayn Rand institute captures the fallacy beautifully - This blindness to the vital importance of energy is precisely what Earth Hour exploits. It sends the comforting-but-false message: Cutting off fossil fuels would be easy and even fun! People spend the hour stargazing and holding torch-lit beach parties; restaurants offer special candle-lit dinners. Earth Hour makes the renunciation of energy seem like a big party.'

Argument2: It is only a symbol. The real intention is to drive the message of environmental awareness.
Reality:
If I again consider the wikipedia page and news reports as a 'symbol' of people's perception, then collectively we are swooned more by energy reduction statistics. The issue that Earth Hour supposedly tried to highlight is smothered by percentages and watts.

As seen on the Earth Hour Wikipedia page today in the top entries (might change on later dates)
'The Capital city of India, Delhi's power demand fell by 1000MW. The “phenomenal” dip is attributed to the Earth Hour observed by Delhi'

'Malaysia's 8TV halted transmission for one hour starting from 8:30 p.m'

'The Canadian province of Ontario, outside of Toronto, saw a decrease of 6% of electricity while Toronto saw a decrease of 15.1% (nearly doubled from 8.7% the previous year) as many businesses darkened, including the landmark CN Tower'


Santosh Desai says 'We live in a world where it is easy to confuse the token act with the symbol and the symbol with the action. In a world, where media amplifies the smallest action by filling its frame with it, it is easy to mistake the symbol for the real thing.

Just by sheer numbers, any figure beyond 2-3% and suffixed with Million Watts seems big. We are being bombarded with more facts about reduction and successful shutdowns than anything else. Which brings up the fundamental question - What was the objective of the event? Measures should help you understand how you are doing against your objectives. Otherwise the numbers are just garbage.

Argument3: Real change can happen only if we all act together.

Ever noticed the twinkle in the obese Delhi aunty's eyes as she flicks a coin into a beggar's hands? The emotional fuzz created by Earth Hour participation is not very different. Instead of an isolated act of generosity, you become a part of a global self-applauding, back slapping groupie to energy conversation. God, I hope you have given me plus points for this magnanimous act!

1. Prudence in expenditure or energy consumption is not caused by an hour of dark extravaganza.
If the Earth Hour guys really wanted to affect behaviour, then they should have been measuring difference in energy consumption between periods post/pre Earth Hour to track any significant changes - And reporting that instead of one hour astonishing-dip-in-consumption bullshit. Clearly, this is just a PR gimmick.

2. Conservative consumption is not the solution to the energy crisis.
Innovation is the way. And that is neither helped or triggered by our candles and such fuzzy acts of environmental support. Placing onus on little significant activities is a typical method of transferring guilt and responsibility. In India we have often received exhortations which are like - 'If you save electricity and don't switch on your AirCon in the evening, then there will be enough electricity for everyone....Even the poor'. The reason why there is irregular electricity supply in Delhi is not because you are using that extra bulb or power source. Prudence is a way of life and optional - not the reason.

Similarly, independence from fossil fuel based energy will not be caused by these minuscule reductions. It needs to be backed by sound government support and private players who have a stake in innovation. Atanu Dey says 'All sources of energy — fire, coal, oil, nuclear — for human use have been the result of discovery and invention. Some entity somewhere invests what it takes for research and development, usually some corporation in search of profit, and invents the technology to exploit some new source of energy.'

If abstinence from modern comforts is some sort of achievement, then maybe some we require some marketing repositioning wizardry for a few things. The countless vehicle strikes in Kolkata should be called 'Earth Day - Transport' - to help us appreciate our leg muscles and how beneficial it is to get extorted during such strikes. The Writer's Guild Strike should have been called 'Earth Month - Family' - to help family members spend quality time since they'd choose to bear each other than watch Sitcom reruns.

Instead of developing a weird dislike for energy consumption, for gadgets, for transportation, for comfort, we should be happy to have these niceties in life and continue to pursue the lifestyle of our choice.

The lights of our cities and monuments are a symbol of human achievement, of what mankind has accomplished in rising from the cave to the skyscraper. Earth Hour presents the disturbing spectacle of people celebrating those lights being extinguished. Its call for people to renounce energy and to rejoice at darkened skyscrapers makes its real meaning unmistakably clear: Earth Hour symbolizes the renunciation of industrial civilization. [Source]

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Pranav has written a strong response to this article. You can read it here.

14 comments:

  1. I perfectly agree with you

    -Subash

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  2. Well, I dont agree fully with what you have said, especially in argument 2. I believe that earth hour helped in spreading awareness about saving fossil fuels. I dont have numbers to prove this, but I have my own example to give. I have been more careful about not leaving electric devices on when i dont need them. Yes, this might turn out to be a temporary change in my behaviour, but it just might not be! Even if 0.5 % (randomly generated no.)of those who were exposed to earth hour, reduced wastage of electricity, it would mean earth hour has achieved something. And i dont expect them to start using candles for lighting their houses, I just expect them to take little measures to reduce their fossil fuel consumption. Basically, being prudent. I believe that earth hour was a symbolic gesture to help people realize that they all have to get together to save electricity! Yes, there could be better ways to do so and you have suggested some of them. But, this certainly was one such small step in the right direction (and i dont mean towards dark ages)!!

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  3. I couldn't disagree more vehemently! I find your arguments to be flawed on more than one level.

    I've written a counter-post to yours, and have linked your blog in it. Your linkback, comments and counter-arguments would be appreciated.

    Thanks

    P.S. The post is at http://pranavb.wordpress.com/2009/03/31/in-defence-of-earth-hour/

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  4. cant agree more..Amazing piece
    Shreyabha

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  5. you've been linked..
    http://iitkgpblogs.blogspot.com/

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  6. are, newspaper mein likha tha ki Delhi ne 500MW bijli bachayi total ek ghante mein.... aise roz bachaenge to bachegi hi bachegi... hai na!

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  7. @Subash, Suhaib: Thanks

    @ Satbir: Being satisfied with any minuscule 'positive reduction in consumption' or 'increase in awareness' is not my definition of a good objective. But good to know it brought some change in your behaviour!

    @Pranav: Thank you for composing your thoughts in a separate post. I read your article. Give me a few days I'll respond to it.

    @Shreyabha: Thank you. Good to know you support me. FYI: Surya supports Earth Hour :)

    @iitkgp blogs: Thank you. I'll check the other KGPian posts too.

    @ Swapnil: Do read the Ayn Rand article. It tackles the same argument you have posted. Savings in 60minutes of Earth Hour ? Insignificant. Consistent change in behaviour across the year? We don't know because its not being tracked. I doubt it.

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  8. I so highly disagree with you. Let us have the big debate this time - I don't mind spending my Saturday on this now...

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  9. DAMN!! Nicely said ... kudos.

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    ReplyDelete
  11. I cudnt disagree with u more!! In fact, I am going to write a counter post on it soon!

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  12. one of the best ever written about this event... rightly said...

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  13. Interesting one. Always nice to see 'voices' from Singapore of a fellow SIngaporean(?). Fyi, I was in the cinema during the 60mins, I believe I've done my part :)

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