Ed Driscoll

Earth Hour: Rage, Rage, for the Dying of the Light

Millions of people are expected to switch off their lights for Earth Hour Saturday in a global effort to raise awareness about climate change that will even be monitored from space, ” Agence France-Presse reported today.  Later in the day, AP added, “Hundreds of world landmarks from Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate to the Great Wall of China went dark Saturday, part of a global effort to highlight climate change,” by returning us for an hour to the Dark Ages:

The WWF, the global environmental group which organizes the event, said the number of countries and territories participating has grown from 135 last year to 147 this year.

“Global warming is a big issue,” said Rudy Ko, of Taiwanese environmental group Society of Wilderness. “Everybody can help reduce the problem by turning the lights off.”

Ko said children should invite their parents “to turn the lights off, go out, go to the parks to do some exercise, and enjoy some family time instead of watching TV or play video games.”

In Europe, 5,000 candles were lit in the form of a globe in front of Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate before city officials switched off the monument’s lighting.

Ahh, Springtime for AlGore. Gee, nothing like a candlelight rally in Germany to bring back memories of an early period of tribalistic neo-paganism, as what Condé Nast’s Traveler magazine described in in 2010 as Germany’s “Eco–Anschluss” rolls on.

But back to the lede of the AFP article — let’s get it over with and declare Earth Hour some sort of weird pagan holiday, rather than attempting to sell it under the catch-all rubric of “awareness.” It’s 2012; how much more awareness of global warming do we need?

As Steve Hayward recently noted at Power Line, with photographic examples, Time magazine has been running global warming covers since the 1980s, the decade prior, global cooling was the enviro-doomsday flavor du jour at Time and Newsweek. Is there anybody left who isn’t “aware” of this issue at left’s obsession with “climate change?”

But as, the boys in the Delta House would say, this situation absolutely requires a really futile and stupid gesture be done on somebody’s part! And Earth Hour fits the bill perfectly, as even Maggie Koerth-Baker, the science editor at BoingBoing is forced to note at, of all places, the HuffPo:

First, some people are going to be very easily disillusioned when they find out that Earth Hour doesn’t actually do anything — on its own — to combat climate change. In fact, in places where lots of people participate, there might even be a small, temporary uptick in emissions. When fossil fuel power plants are forced to rapidly increase or decrease the amount of electricity they produce, they also produce more emissions, just as your car burns more gasoline if you’re rapidly accelerating and decelerating than if you maintain a constant speed.

So, when everybody turns the lights back on at the end of Earth Hour, it means that some coal and natural gas power plants will have to quickly work extra hard to meet that sudden increase in demand. In order to do that, they produce more emissions than they otherwise would have. Now, just as turning your lights off for an hour won’t save the planet, this short-term increase in the emissions output of a few power plants won’t seal our fate, either. Yet there is a real risk that discovering this fact will convince some people to mistrust any effort to get them to change their energy-use behavior.

Seen from that perspective, Tim Blair’s solution — let ‘er rip, turn everything on for the hour! — is actually a beneficial service to local power plants, helping to equalize the flow and reduce the sudden increase in power demand that Koerth-Baker describes above.

And then there’s the energy expended in the annual efforts to raise awareness about an event designed to raise awareness about a topic that everyone has already had their awareness more than sufficiently raised. As an unintentionally hilarious article by AFP notes, “Earth Hour promotion ‘hurts the planet:'”

Green groups around the world are turning to social networking to drive their campaign for Earth Hour on Saturday, when lights are turned off for an hour to signal concern about global warming.

But here’s the irony.

With every email, every tweet, every appeal watched on YouTube or “liked” on Facebook, environmentalists are stoking the very problem they want to resolve.

Each time we network, we emit carbon dioxide (CO2) through the fossil fuels which are burned to power our computers and the servers and databanks that store or relay our message.

That poses a small dilemma for the Australian-led campaign for Saturday’s switchoff.

In 130 countries around the world, people are being urged to turn off the lights for one hour at 8.30 pm local time as a show of concern about climate change.

In emails alone, the typical officeworker is responsible for 13.6 tonnes of CO2 or its equivalent per year, a French government agency for energy efficiency, ADEME, calculated last year.

That figure is based on a French company of 100 people who work 220 days a year and each receive 58 mails a day and send 33 per day, with an average mail size of one megabyte.

By comparison, 13.6 tonnes is more than twice the annual CO2 emissions per capita in France and almost two-thirds of the average annual emissions per capita in the US.

The more people you cc and the bigger the mail, the greater the carbon emissions, ADEME said.

“Just a 10-percent reduction in the number of mails that are sent which include the boss and one of his colleagues leads to a gain of one tonne, the equivalent of a round-trip flight from Paris to New York,” it said.

Facebook and Twitter say they are striving to keep their carbon footprint as small as possible.

And there’s no free lunch during Earth Hour as well:

There’s one thing in particular that bothers me about Earth Hour – these people who electric lights and then go and light up candles, and think that they’re helping do something about anthropogenic forcing of climate change.

The widespread practice of misguided eco-Luddites turning off their lights for Earth Hour and burning candles as a source of light is grossly misguided and actually contributes to increased carbon dioxide emissions.

Yes, I know candles are nice and romantic – but you’re taking paraffin wax, in the form of a candle, and burning it, very inefficiently, at a low temperature. This stuff is pure hydrocarbon – it’s a heavy alkane fraction distilled straight off crude oil. This stuff is getting so scarce that nations are prepared to go to war just to secure it, remember?

A candle flame burns at a low temperature – so it’s a thermodynamically very inefficient source of energy – and most of the energy released in a candle is wasted as heat, anyway.

Even if 80% of your electricity comes from coal and fossil fuel fired power stations, as it does in Australia, burning candles is very polluting and certainly very greenhouse gas and carbon dioxide emissions intensive, even more so than electric lighting.

If you need to do something that requires light – then leave an electric light on – just one. It’s far more efficient, less carbon dioxide emissions intensive and better for the environment – not to mention much safer than using hazardous candles.

If you want the romance of a candle, try looking for candles that you are certain are made from pure “carbon neutral” beeswax or tallow – not from crude oil in the form of paraffin wax.

Can’t we just put science, reason, rationality, education and reason ahead of trendy politics and trendy dogmas – before it’s too late?

What Earth Hour should not be about is the notion that we want to have a civilisation without artificial lighting – this is absolutely ridiculous. Lighting up the darkness was one of the most useful technological achievements in human history – why would we give that up?

Good question. And as the left likes to ask, cui bono — who benefits from Earth Hour? Found via Kate McMillan, Donna Laframboise of No Frakking Consensus highlights “The Wealthy Corporations Behind Earth Hour:”

The [WWF’s] partner was “Australasia’s largest multi-platform media group.” Fairfax Media owns major newspapers in both Australia and New Zealand – including The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, The Australian Financial Review, The Canberra Times, The Dominion Post, The Press, and The Sunday Star-Times.

Fairfax Media publishes “metropolitan, agricultural, regional and community newspapers,” owns consumer magazines and “a portfolio of leading websites,” and also runs radio stations (source; backup link).

As the company website explains:

For the six month period year ended 25 December 2011, Fairfax Media reported underlying revenues and profit after tax of $1.23 billion and $135.7 million respectively.

The Boy on a bike blog has dug up copies of Fairfax’s financial statements which confirm that it owns one-third of Earth Hour. Evidently this company doesn’t merely report the news, it’s also in the business of “environmental promotion.”

I think this raises a serious ethical concern. One would have to be utterly naive to imagine that the journalists employed by Fairfax Media are free to say negative things about Earth Hour – or about environmentalism in general. Yet Australia’s recent Independent Inquiry into the Media and Media Regulation report makes no mention whatsoever of Earth Hour in its 474 pages.

Arguably, therefore, people who participate in this annual lights-out ritual are demonstrating their support for corporate-orchestrated environmentalism. They’re also saying it’s OK for media companies to stage-manage the news rather than merely report on it.

That’s also very much true in America, of course, ranging from GE-NBC and their own Earth Hour-style enviro-shenanigans, to most newspapers, as David Mastio noted six years ago in Real Clear Politics:

Next time you read a magazine cover story like the one Time just published (“Be Worried. Be VERY Worried. Polar Ice Caps Are Melting … More And More Land Is Being Devastated … Rising Waters Are Drowning Low-Lying Communities… The climate is crashing, and global warming is to blame”) you should remember one little fact: U.S. media companies, including Time Warner, donate more to the environmental movement than any other industry. Companies like The New York Times, Gannett, Tribune, ABC, CBS and NBC have donated more than a half-billion worth of ad space since the 1990s to raise money for some of the nation’s most extreme environmental groups. And yes, that was billion with a B.

To put that number in perspective, America’s media companies donate more to environmental groups every year than the much-feared Olin Foundation’s spent annually in its effort to build the institutional foundation of the conservative movement.

This trend continues down to the average journalist and editor, who’s been advised by articles in their trade publications to “get over objectivity” on the topic. Or as Scientific American recently asked, “Should Global-Warming Activists Lie to Defend Their Cause?”

Once you’ve amped up the fear sufficiently, lying is the next logical step, no? But when will any of these “news” agencies sufficiently obsessed with global warming set an example and make the ultimate sacrifice for the good of Gaia?

Update: Dramatic photo highlighting effects of Earth Hour available here.