Saturday, March 29, 2008

Rant: earth hour

don't forget to plug in your cell phone this aft and charge up your laptop. you might even want to set an alarm for 7:30 so that you have time to make yourself a nice tall organic free trade decaf soy latte before the big moment:

'cause at 8 pm the world turns off the lights for Earth Hour.

i've tried not to write this post, my new thing being to practice hope instead of cynicism, but the glib self-congratulatory brouhaha about earth hour has so nauseated me that i can't help it. don't get me wrong, i love the WWF (no, not that one, the other WWF), but this change-the-world-through-candelit-yoga idea turns me off. according to the earth hour homepage, the point is to "make a statement" about climate change. hmmmm, what statement would that be: we heart climate change? bring it on? or maybe the point isn't the content of the statement, but to raise awareness of climate change. you know, among the unfortunate cretins who've spent their whole life in a media deprivation tank.

why do i feel so strongly? first, because it's hard not to see this as an attack on working people. the event offers a handy trade: for a small inconvenience on a saturday evening when you wouldn't be doing much of anything anyway since the kids, thank god, are in bed, we'll assuage your white liberal consumerist guilt. (i'm sure christian lander will be blogging about it momentarily.) but what about the servers whose shift at the restaurant you're frequenting becomes exponentially more difficult when they have to fetch your dinner in the dark? what about the janitors who will, what, schlep mops and buckets up the stairs of those dark highrises? -- oh, no, that's right: they just extend their workday by an hour. here's a news flash: poor people are not at the root of the global warming problem.

more importantly, global warming -- or "climate change," as i gather we're calling it now, politely -- is not a moral issue. for an excellent discussion of this, see Michael Specter's article in the 25 feb new yorker. tempting though it is to mock the massive wastefulness of north american suburban life (don't get caught driving your navigator to earth-hour yoga etc), i'm not going to do that because there's just no end to the finger-pointing. sure, we should all do our bit to take the bus more often and switch to compact fluorescent bulbs, but let's not start thinking that buying agribiz-produced organic strawberries in january makes us better people. it makes us lucky.

the most pernicious aspect of earth hour is that it encourages people to believe that the solutions to global warming are simple, and they're not. we don't even have a handle on the full complexity of the problem yet. here's an idea. if you don't heart climate change, lobby your governments to put more money into research and development. not just research into the miraculous promises of nanotechnology, but curiosity-driven research across the sciences and significantly beyond. if consciousness-raising is part of the game, canada council is going to need a lot more money to support the leslea krolls of our world (see yesterday's post). you're also going to want to fund philosophers, economists, sociologists, cultural studies experts, anthropologists, industrial designers and people who know something about children and families -- how about feminists? -- 'cause if we're even going to begin addressing the consumption end of this, we have got to rethink childhood. ever seen the waste created by a grade-school birthday party? although i'm no expert in this, i'm thinking it might be time to put a few more resources into, say, mandarin or hindi too. what i'm trying to emphasize here is that global warming is a problem with social, cultural, scientific, economic and behavioral facets, and finding solutions to it is going to require all the imagination we can command.

as for me tonight, i'm attending a fashion show by a local designer at latitude 53. there will be lights of all kinds: spots and strobes, tracklighting and candles. a DJ will be using an embarrassing amount of electricity to pump the space with music, and the caterers will burn fossil fuels to keep the food hot. but don't worry, i'll turn the lights off when i leave the house. i always do.

2 comments:

Jen Alabiso said...

This is brilliant - I'll reluctantly admit to participating, because my kids were still awake and it was a good lesson for them about what making choices can achieve - but I won't jump on the bandwagon for bandaids that make us feel better - i have already shared with you the OBSCENE amount of trash my family generated at Christmas - it was EMBARASSING. I'm all for rethinking childhood, parenting, feminism, the whole ball of wax. In the meantime - i'll be greatful that there are folks like you saying OUT LOUD what we all need to hear.

RW said...

1.6 billion folks don't even have electricity. it's not just working people who are overlooked.