Peter Foster, Financial Post Published: Wednesday, March 26, 2008
Light, both natural and artificial, has traditionally been associated with The Good. A critical element of civilization has been the development of ever brighter, more flexible, and more reliable forms of illumination, from the tallow candle, through whale oil and kerosene, to Thomas Edison's marvellous invention of the electric light bulb.
Conversely, the absence of light is associated with primitivism and ignorance. Is it not significant, therefore, that radical environmentalists are seeking to persuade citizens of the world to flick the switch? Toronto, Ottawa and Vancouver are among the cities planning to dim their lights this coming Saturday between 8 and 9 p.m. as part of "Earth Hour."
The cause, masterminded by the World Wildlife Fund, WWF, is allegedly to raise awareness of climate change. But what needs raising is not so much awareness as knowledge. People are woefully ignorant both about the uncertainties of climate-change science and the implications of climate-change politics. However, the WWF has no interest in discussing or debating the issue. According to them, we should "stop talking and start acting." Check your brains at the door.
Far from being a harmless gesture of support for the environment, Earth Hour is symbolic of a spreading soft fascism, aided by well-meaning individuals and well-meaning and/or cynical and/ or scared corporations. Indeed, what is truly astonishing, and disturbing, about this turn-out-the-lights exercise is how many businesses and corporations have signed on to it. According to the WWF Canada, they haven't had one "no" from any company they've approached.
Loblaws, the foundering supermarket chain, which is seeking environmental salvation by bold strategies such as depriving its customers of plastic shopping bags, is now to deprive them of adequate lighting too. Molson-Coors and McDonalds are on board. Both the Air Canada Centre and the Rogers Centre will turn off their external signage and spotlights this Saturday. Also, although the Leafs are playing the Habs, the lights in the ACC washrooms will be turned down. So get ready, as the Aussies say, to "splash your boots."
Earth Hour was in fact pioneered last year in Sydney by WWF Australia, advised by advertising giant Leo Burnet. Leo Burnet's chairman, Nigel Marsh, demonstrated his skill both in semantic perversion and moral obfuscation when he declared: "I'm an optimist about climate change. The human race eventually abolished slavery and gave women the vote. We eventually work it out."
Get the implication? "Deny" the dubious science or dangerous politics of anthropogenic climate change and you're the kind of person who would support slavery and keep women barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen!
The presence of Leo Burnet indicates that this is very much about business and branding (a bit ironic for the No Logo crowd, surely). Guidelines about how the Earth Hour brand must be used are available on the WWF Canada Web site, along with the information that: "The Earth Hour tone of voice is human, optimistic, inclusive, passionate and caring. The Brand should never appear to be aggressive or use scare tactics to incite participation."
How this squares with all the greatest-threat-the-world-has-ever-seen stuff escapes me, but what the hell, this is about business and power, not truth.
The mythology about Sydney is that it was a "great success," and that no less than 2.3 million "Sydneysiders" happily participated, along with a couple of thousand businesses, and that there was an energy saving of 10.2% during that hour-of-no-power.
The endlessly regurgitated 2.3 million figure comes from a poll taken by the Sydney Morning Herald, which just happens to belong to Fairfax Group, which just happened to sponsor the event (and pull in a lot of guilty green advertising in the process). How this figure gels with the number of Sydneysiders who actually signed up with WWF Australia to express support, reportedly not much more than 50,000 -- i.e. around one-fortieth the number of "participants" --isn't clear.
And as for that energy savings, subsequent studies suggested that the actual savings from the event -- in which external lights on the Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour bridge were doused -- amounted to 2.1%. Even the most optimistic estimates, that is, those put out by the WWF, suggest that the energy saved had been the equivalent of taking 48,000 cars off the road for an hour. Sounds mildly impressive, until you express this statistic in another way: it was the equivalent of taking one car off the road for five and a half years.
The WWF claims that Sydney demonstrated what we can do by voluntarily pulling together. Indeed it did. Nothing. Meanwhile, following the event, the head of WWF Australia immediately got on a plane to Singapore to discuss the event going global.
On a plane. To Singapore.
Eco Main Chancers in London followed up with "Lights out London." The illuminated ads on Piccadilly Circus were switched off for the first time since the Blitz. Coca-Cola, McDonald's, Samsung, TDK, Sanyo and Budweiser all dimmed their messages. Buckingham Palace went dark, along with Westminster Cathedral, the Houses of Parliament, and Canary Wharf. The tabloid Sun's page 3 pinup backed the move. "If we work together we can massively reduce climate change," she said. "It takes very little effort to be green."
WWF Canada, supported by -- among others -- the Toronto Star, Virgin Mobile, the City of Toronto, Toronto Hydro and Canwest's Global TV (Canwest owns this newspaper), is using Earth Hour as an opportunity to take its environmental indoctrination deeper into schools. It suggests that schools hold an event this Friday, and perhaps turn their gyms into cinemas, where they might show films such as -- you guessed it --An Inconvenient Truth!
I would suggest that the biggest current threat to our planet is not either climate change or the financial "crisis," but the mindless conformist tendency to support ideas such as Earth Hour, which are aimed at the levers of both electrical and political power.
If you love civilization, freedom and the use of reason, keep on all the lights you need on Saturday. Take Back the Night.