Saturday, March 23, 2013

The lights are off and there's still no one home

Good parenting (2012) Kodakotype by Pants

I'm not participating in Earth Hour tonight. My reason? Well, apart from the usual curmudgeonly one - that I refuse on principle to obey orders that originate from any source other than the Australian Tax Office or Ma Pants - I'm simply not prepared to descend to that level of pettiness. Yes, pettiness. Besides, the whole thing makes me feel wretched for the squandering of effort it generates and the opportunity it creates to feel smug about doing just this one thing and nothing else.

Australia is the champion of the hollow gesture and now we've managed to export our love of tokenism to the rest of the world. Let's give ourselves a big pat on the back for that. Do we really imagine that turning off the lights on the Sydney Harbour Bridge for an hour will somehow cancel out our huge and, by many accounts, world-leading per capita carbon footprint? According to WWF, the organiser of Earth Hour,

'Australia has one of the world's largest ecological footprints per capita, requiring 6.6 global hectares per person. Over 50% of Australia's footprint is due to greenhouse gas emissions, with the average household emitting around 14 tonnes of greenhouse gases each year.

If all countries consumed the resources that we Australian's (sic)* do, it would take the biocapacity of three Earths to support their lifestyle. The message is clear and urgent

We have been exceeding the Earth's ability to support our lifestyle. Habitats are being destroyed, the soil and waterways are being irreparably degraded. We must get back into balance!'

We adore the thought of being world-class but this is one gold medal that should truly shame us. Yes, I get that Earth Hour is, you know, symbolic but in the book of Pants, hypocrisy neutralises misguided symbolism. This is the seventh Earth Hour. If it were going to make an impact on behaviour, it would have done so by now. Even worse, this displacement activity may produce a net negative. Every year when Earth Hour comes around, experts pop up to warn that the energy required to re-power all the turned-off things combined with the surge when they all come back on at once will cancel out the nano-savings we aspire to make. 

Why do we never learn? And what are enthusiastic Australian Earth-hourers doing tonight? Let me take a wild guess. Barbecuing. They will probably have pre-used some electricity during a peak period to chill beverages and boil potatoes and pasta twists for salads. They may have driven many kilometres to a retail park to buy special solar-powered outdoor lights and they may also have invited lots of their friends to drive many kilometres to their house to enjoy these lights. They will certainly have fired up their barbecues with gas or wood. And then they will hurl huge chunks of beef onto hot grills. That would be beef from the methane factory that is a cow. And half of that meat will probably end up in landfill because there has never yet been a barbecue where all the food gets eaten. 

However, if there is a prize for not wasting beer, I claim it on behalf of our nation.

So what was all that about getting 'back into balance? Here at Seat of Pants, I will be conserving energy just as I do every day. And water too - even though there's no meaningless 'hour' devoted to it. I will be eating vegetables from my own garden and I will be enjoying the warm glow from just one energy-saving light as I do every night. If militant Earth-hourers want to argue with me, they can bring around their electricity bills and we'll soon see whose stand on the moral high ground has the sturdier legs. If we all took a sensibly spartan approach to daily energy use instead of showily donning a fresh hair shirt for one hour on a Saturday night in March we might get that 'better world' that we all so earnestly claim to desire.

* I know I'm always doing this but, really, you would think that an organisation of WWF's stature would at least get a proofreader. There's no punctuation mark after 'urgent' either. Just sayin'.