Tonight marked the occasion of Earth Hour in Melbourne, an event celebrated in many other cities throughout the world. Essentially, the call was for people to switch of their lights for an hour in order to demonstrate their support for the environment.
At first I thought I'd just give this topic a pass, but after reading that during Earth Hour in Tel Aviv shops were serving their customers under candlelight I thought my readers deserve to know why I think this whole Earth Hour thing is, to quote Ben Elton, just garnish. Or rather I thought I'd say why the Earth Hour came and went while I had my lights on as per usual even though I claim to be an environmentalist (to one extent or another).
First of all, there is the practical matter of whether emissions will actually be reduced because of reduced demand for electricity during Earth Hour. Now, I'm no expert on such matters, but as far as my understanding goes I suspect there will hardly be any real emission cuts: the power companies simply cannot afford turning turbines off for just one hour; these beasts are not that flexible.
Second, there is the problem that for most people "celebrating" the Earth Hour, that one measly hour will be all they would actually spare. That is, by turning their lights off for an hour, they will think they've done their share and continue with business as usual immediately afterwards. It sounds foolish, but then again the average person in the street is very much a fool about most things other than a few very specific things they deal with in their daily lives (and that includes yours truly).
This may explain why some big time companies have enlisted to show their support for this Earth Hour: by pretending to do something meaningful for an hour, they're trying to divert attention from the damage they do to the environment on a regular basis. Hence why I think that this Earth Hour is not only just a case of hot air, it could actually damage the environment.
In the building I work at they put these signs saying that the building will shut its lights off during Earth Hour, with the exception of lights that are deemed necessary for security reasons. Given that Earth Hour takes place at night, when no one other than security actually works in the building, am I the only one that asks the question why they don't just turn all the lights off after hours, not just during Earth Hour but just all the time? As I said, hot air.
The biggest problem I have with the Earth Hour is, however, different. It relates to my experience as an ex-Israeli.
The Israeli calendar "celebrates" two memorial days per year: The first is the Holocaust memorial day and the second is the memorial day for Israel's fallen soldiers. Both memorial days have a very established culture for the way one is supposed to act and feel during the days: Radios play only depressing songs in Hebrew all day long, sirens do their sirening during the day and you're supposed to stand still during their "song", and in general you are not meant to do happy stuff such as go to the cinema. If you do listen to nice music in a loud enough volume that others can hear what you're listening to, or if you walk during the siren, or if you just do an activity that might be interpreted as happy in public, you're immediately labeled as a traitor of the first degree. But are you, really?
At this point it is important for me to mention that some 40% or so of the Israeli population has been directly affected by the Holocaust and that most people know someone who has lost a relative in one of Israel's wars, which means that a lot of the grief expressed during those memorial days is very much genuine. However, the memorials are no longer there to allow people to express their grief; I don't know if they ever were, to be honest.
In my view, and I know I will be very much contested on this view by the vast majority of Israelis who read this, the memorials are mainly a way to feed the notion that it is good to kill and to be killed in the service of the state of Israel. That is where the buck stops.
By celebrating the Holocaust memorial, people are fed with the notion that the Jews are the world's most fucked up people. This leads to the reasoning that says that because the Jews have always been the most fucked, they can never be the victim and they therefore have an open check with which to establish their home state. And if some Arabs are uncomfortable with that then fuck them, because no one has been ever fucked like "us".
Then comes the war memorial day, which further enhances the notion of Israel as the victim with its pure hearted soldiers dying left and right in order to maintain this pure and innocent country. Never mind that the last truly existential war Israel had to fight took place 35 years ago and that since then Israel has been the instigator rather than the victim; if you have yourself enough memorial days, no one would be allowed to think this way and everyone would be properly conditioned. It's not as direct as Orwell's 1984 world, but it's essentially the same thing.
When I heard of the idea of having a token memorial day for the earth, or when I hear of similar token memorials for other worthy causes, the skpetic in me turns its head up to ask what the real reason for said memorial is.
If people truly cared for the earth, all they would need to do is turn of lights they do not require and turn off electricity consuming devices they are not using. Not for an hour, though; all the time. Make it a habit. There is no need for token gestures. There is, however, a definite need for immediate and lasting action.
Granted, there's much more to be done, but that would be the first step. It's not hard, either: I do it all the time, and I believe I am leading a happy and fulfilling life.