Guest editorial: the real meaning of Earth Hour
On the evening of Saturday, March 29, cities around the world turned off their lights for one hour to "raise" awareness about global warming. In observation of Earth Hour, iconic landmarks such as the Sears Tower and the Sydney Opera House went dark, while participating individuals turned off residential lights.
The purpose of Earth Hour, according to its organizers, who plan to make it an annual event, is to encourage people to think about how they can reduce their energy consumption. While the event itself--one hour with the lights off--admittedly had little effect on carbon emissions, what matters, say the organizers, is the symbolic meaning of the event. So what is the meaning of Earth Hour?
We hear constantly that the debate is over on climate change Ã¯Â¿Â½ that it is now an indisputable fact that human carbon emissions are causing a planetary emergency. Earth Hour is intended to showcase public concern about global warming and to inspire people to take practical actions to reduce their "carbon footprints."
But it is far from indisputable that we face any sort of planetary crisis. Predictions of catastrophic global warming have long been disputed, and continue to be disputed, by numerous serious scientists skeptical of the global warming "consensus."
Furthermore, what is never mentioned is the fact that reducing greenhouse gases to the degree sought by global warming activists would, itself, cause great harm.
Politicians and environmentalists, including those behind Earth Hour, are not calling on people just to change a few light bulbs, they are calling for a truly massive reduction in carbon emissions Ã¯Â¿Â½ as much as 80 percent below 1990 levels. Because our energy is overwhelmingly carbon-based (in 2005, fossil fuels made up 86 percent of world energy production), this necessarily means a massive reduction in our energy consumption.
People don't have a clear sense of what this would mean in practice. We, in the industrialized world, take our abundant energy for granted and don't consider just how much we benefit from its use in every minute of our every day. We drive our cars to work and school, we sit in our lighted, heated homes and offices, powering our computers and countless other labor-saving appliances, and we count on the indispensable values that industrial energy makes possible: hospitals and grocery stores, factories and farms, international travel and global telecommunications. It is hard for us to project the degree of sacrifice and harm that global-warming policies would force upon us.
This blindness to the vital importance of energy is precisely what Earth Hour exploits. It sends the comforting-but-false message: Cutting off our use of fossil fuels would be easy and even fun! People spent the hour star-gazing and holding torch-lit beach parties; restaurants offered special candle-lit dinners. Earth Hour makes the renunciation of energy seem like a big party.
The participants of Earth Hour spent an enjoyable 60 minutes in the dark, but all the while they remained safe in the knowledge that the comforts and life-saving benefits of industrial civilization were just a light switch away. This bears no relation whatsoever to what our lives would actually be like under the sort of draconian carbon-reduction policies that global-warming activists are demanding: punishing carbon taxes, severe emissions caps, outright bans on the construction of power plants.
What is really needed is greater awareness of just how indispensable carbon-based energy is to human life. Forget one measly hour with just the lights off. How about Earth Month, without any form of fossil fuel energy? Let those who claim that we need to stop emitting carbon dioxide try spending a month shivering in the dark without heating, electricity, refrigeration; without power plants or generators; without any of the labor-saving, time-saving, and therefore life-saving products that industrial energy makes possible. Those who claim that we must cut off our carbon emissions to prevent an alleged global catastrophe need to learn the indisputable fact that cutting off our carbon emissions would be a global catastrophe.
It is true that the real importance of Earth Hour is its symbolic meaning. But that meaning is the opposite of the one intended. 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 going out. Its call for people to abandon their use of energy and to rejoice at the sight of skyscrapers going dark makes its real meaning unmistakably clear: what Earth Hour represents is the renunciation of industrial civilization.
Keith Lockitch, PhD in physics, is a resident fellow at the Ayn Rand Institute, focusing on science and environmentalism.