By Dylan Sahlin
Earth Hour is truly the pinnacle of feel-good events.
For an hour every year, wealthy Sydneysiders switch off their lightbulbs and bask their ignorance in the soft glow of their vanilla-scented, light-beige candles. At no other time of the year can people flaunt their social conscience by giving up the modern conveniences that have built our world (and only for the painfully long period of one hour of course). Never mind that modern paraffin candles burn more carbon emissions than low-energy lightbulbs to produce an equal amount of light…. it’s for ~nature~ guys.
To be fair, the premise is undisputedly sound: we can save energy and stop global warming if we try. And that is more than accurate. Climate change efforts need co-operation and mutual investment to be successful on a macro-level, and one could argue that simultaneously darkened cities worldwide are representative of the potential fruits of collaboration. But, beneath this feel-good brand of environmentalism, there is a far darker symbolism.
Proponents of Earth Hour advocate what is a rough form of neo-luddism. The event carries the implication that we must return to the past: the (dark) Dark Ages. Neo-luddites hold a muddy philosophy – arbitrarily opposed to most things that improve our quality of life. Their attitude ignores how intertwined our culture, society and successes have become with electricity. We can’t simply abandon electricity as Earth Hour subtly suggests – we need to find cleaner methods of generation. The yearly ritual of blanketing ourselves in darkness for an hour is painfully pessimistic – renewable technology and its exponentially growing levels of efficiency means that we don’t have to give up electricity, we just need to generate it in better ways.
It’s easy to forget the benefits and necessity of electricity. As Bjorn Lomborg found, the electricity afforded to people in wealthy nations is roughly equivalent to a house of 55 servants in pre-Industrial times. This reality is easy to glaze over once you’ve sunk back into your warm bath and a re-run of the Bill on the ABC, but it’s a sobering thought that definitely wouldn’t be lost upon the citizens of Sierra Leone and Chad where a 60 watt bulb is a rare commodity. And this is exactly the problem. The philosophy of Earth Hour numbs us into a both self-resenting and self-disabling semi-consciousness. We hate our use of electricity so much we are purposely destroying and dismissing the fruits of technological development – development that offers us the only hope for reversing global inequality and solving the global warming crisis. It’s a problem that can be solved, and a solution that doesn’t involve the destruction of civilisation as we know it.
On a demographic level, Earth Hour also hides the real culprits of climate change beneath a thick blanket of ‘personal responsibility’. It frames climate change as a problem that can be solved through individual household change, and small (and highly disruptive) lifestyle adaptations. In doing so it releases corporate and political groups from their much-deserved culpability. Climate change is a macro issue: it needs to be solved by the industries capable of investing in efficiency, not the people just trying to make ends meet.
Abundant electricity has been the greatest enabler of liberation since the 19th century. It fuelled an enlightenment by making safety, housing and technology plentiful. All Earth Hour represents is a hark back to the Dark Ages. It’s a dirty stain that holds back a green movement we so desperately need. Next Earth Hour, lay off the $25 vanilla-scented candle and buy an efficient lightbulb instead.