Earth Hour, and why it is a bad idea


in Daily updates, Economics, Politics, Rants, The environment

Bank Canal Bridge

The news today is full of talk about Earth Hour. Frankly, I think the idea is stupid. Telling people to turn out the lights for one hour one day has a trivial impact. Furthermore, it has nothing to do with approaches that actually would. Shutting down the lights in a brief symbolic gesture does nothing to change the energy basis of our society. Replacing one ordinary light bulb with a compact fluorescent one would have a bigger impact in the long term, and would at least suggest an understanding that brief voluntary abstinence from energy use is no solution whatsoever. Earth Hour is akin to choosing to fast for one hour and hoping that it will send a strong message to the factory farming industry.

Earth Hour reinforces many of the fallacies people believe about climate change, such as:

  • It will mostly be solved through consumer choices
  • Voluntary efforts are enough
  • It’s the visible changes that really matter

As discussed at length here in the past, it is very likely that none of these things are true. Climate change will only be dealt with when the energy basis of society has changed enough that the most greedy and selfish people are nonetheless leading low-carbon lives. That requires massive infrastructure change over the course of decades – the progressive replacement of high carbon options with low carbon and finally zero carbon ones. Earth Hour is, at best, a distraction from this process.

[Update: 25 March 2009] Judging by the Google searches, another ‘Earth Hour’ is coming up. I still think the exercise is a pointless one. Moving to a sustainable society isn’t about reducing energy use for one hour, it’s about reforming the energy basis of society. Tokenistic environmental gestures do no good, and help to convince people that the real changes we need are trivially easy.

[Update: 24 March 2011] Looking back over it, what I have written about Earth Hour before is a bit harsh. Yes, I think the basic idea of turning out the lights for an hour is a weak one. At the same time, environmental groups presumable use Earth Hour as an opportunity to communicate with the public. It might have less value as a symbolic action, and more as a simple advertising opportunity, in terms of direct communication with the public and media exposure.

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{ 82 comments… read them below or add one }

David H March 29, 2008 at 7:45 am

I’m sure the hour in darkness will not stop pollution or excessive waste, but it may bring awareness to some people. Like that guy who dumps motor oil into the ground or pokes a hole in his portable air conditioner to release the freon all because “the earth can fix itself” Even a silly bumper sticker or tee shirt slogan won’t reverse human impact but it may get one thinking.

Donald P March 29, 2008 at 8:19 am

I too think “Earth Hour” is stupid, but not because of it’s limited impact, but because I do not believe human activity influences climate change in the way presented, and the CO2 hype is just that. I do believe in energy conservation for economic reasons, and spend much of my time turning things off in the house and telling the children to do the same, but for 1 hour today I am going to do the opposite, throw another lump or two of coal on the fire, and let the engine in the car run. (On second thoughts the car bit is just too expensive).

tristan March 29, 2008 at 8:32 am

People are also ignoring that it is cold out and, at least for inside lights, turning them off simply means the furnaces will have to work that little bit slightly harder for an hour.

Maybe Earth hour is being sponsored by the gas companies.

Padraic March 29, 2008 at 9:18 am

I completely agree with your post, well said.

Milan March 29, 2008 at 1:08 pm

David H,

I’m sure the hour in darkness will not stop pollution or excessive waste, but it may bring awareness to some people.

I don’t think there is anyone in Canada who is both (a) ignorant about the nature and seriousness of climate change and (b) liable to have their mind changed by a gesture like this.

P.S. I removed the commercial links from your comment. This blog is not a place to sell t-shirts.

Donald P,

I too think “Earth Hour” is stupid, but not because of it’s limited impact, but because I do not believe human activity influences climate change in the way presented, and the CO2 hype is just that.

It is precisely because the problem is so real and serious that Earth Hour deserves condemnation. It trivializes what is perhaps the greatest challenge ever faced by human civilization: stabilizing the climate in spite of the availability of fossil fuels and short-term desirability of felling trees.

Those who still doubt the ironclad science behind the central elements of climate change may want to have a look at this.


This point has been extensively discussed and is probably valid. The really surprising thing about Earth Hour is that there seem to be people who think the actual, direct impact will somehow be significant. Almost certainly, the impact will be less than that of random changes in weather on the day in question.

R.K. March 29, 2008 at 1:20 pm

What is that bridge? It seems to be a favourite of yours.

Milan March 29, 2008 at 1:45 pm

Posts on many aspects of climate change


That is the Bank Street Canal Bridge, near the Glebe in Ottawa.

I think it is among the most elegant structures in the city. It is also notable because of how much its mood can change on the basis of lighting.

More serious enviro March 29, 2008 at 1:56 pm

If you want to participate in a more meaningful event, consider Fossil Fool Day.

Suggested actions:

* Block gas stations and biofuel facilities

* Protest outside banks that fund oil projects

* Deflate the tires of SUVs

* Protest outside travel agencies

* Block road construction

* Form a critical mass of cyclists and block traffic

* Block access to mines and powerplants

* Protest at corporate HQs

Tristan March 29, 2008 at 7:28 pm

I disagree and agree. On the one hand, everything you say is true, on the other hand, as for making sacrifice explicitly part of the public discourse, it probably must appear first as token before it can become as substantial.

Sarah March 29, 2008 at 8:54 pm

Milan – I concur wholeheartedly. I’ve heard of at least one person having a no-electricity party to celebrate Earth Hour, & the while thing seems idiotic. So saying, I think voluntary changes could make a difference (though collective enforcement would obviously be much better) – but only when they refer to a vastly different scale of energy use such as flights. Perhaps we need a really great Don’t Fly This Year movement, with local groups & campaigns? People could be sent a virtual certificate congratulating them on taking no flights in & choose to buy organic tshirts, posters etc saying “I Didn’t Fly in – visit to join the campaign”. This might be neatly combined with your suggested protests outside travel agencies, too.

Lindi March 30, 2008 at 12:11 am

Stupid indeed. “I can turn the lights off for one hour, masturbate while thinking oh oh oh! I am saving the earth! And then go back to being an energy guzzling SUV driving asshole for the other 8,759 hours in the year. But it is OK cuz I turned the lights out for Earth hour. Ohhh it feels so good.”

. March 30, 2008 at 5:01 pm

Aussies turned on by Earth Hour switch-off -poll

Reuters UK – 12 hours ago
By James Thornhill SYDNEY (Reuters) – More than half of Australian adults switched off their lights in major cities on Saturday as part of Earth Hour to raise awareness about climate change, organizers of the event said, citing a poll.

. March 31, 2008 at 11:07 am

It’s Earth Hour
Even a big shaggy dog shook his tail for the count down in Nathan Phillips Square. As soon as the clock struck 8 p.m. the BMO building blinked out over the cheering crowd as Nelly stepped up to the mic to sing “Turn out the lights”. With every passing minute the night gets darker and the audience stands outlined in the fading civil twilight. In addition to some familiar faces from local news stations I’ve spotted local city councillor Janet Davis and MP Olivia Chow enjoying the show.

Earth Hour Success!

Earth Hour was an astronomical success! At 8:50pm the electricity consumption in the city dropped by 264 Megawatts, which is approximately 175,000 households. And much of the city remains dark.

Milan March 31, 2008 at 11:13 am

If you want to participate in a more meaningful event, consider Fossil Fool Day.

Fossil Fool Day seems like a good opportunity to get arrested, though it is undeniably more hardcore than Earth Hour.

I disagree and agree. On the one hand, everything you say is true, on the other hand, as for making sacrifice explicitly part of the public discourse, it probably must appear first as token before it can become as substantial.

It is arguable whether this was a sacrifice at all. People turned off some ‘non-essential’ lights and gadgets, possibly replacing them with fossil fuel derived candles. It is possible for a ‘sacrifice’ to be so tokenistic as to be counterproductive. That is especially true when you consider the sacrifice people in the Artic, small island states, and river deltas will be making.

Perhaps we need a really great Don’t Fly This Year movement, with local groups & campaigns?

Convincing people not to fly is amazingly difficult. When I argue that I shouldn’t fly, that choice is constantly attacked by friends of mine who are aware of the scale and seriousness of climate change. Not being able to fly might be the most inconvenient truth of all, at least for the demographic that visits this site.

Ashuri March 31, 2008 at 12:38 pm

Yes Earth Hour, soooo ridiculous. My disgust with EC was always directed at the “airhead fraternities” that have little sandwiches and ask people to re-use mugs when they could have lobbied the cafeteria to not use a disgusting amount of styrofoam which, last time I checked, biodegrades on the fourth of never.
Energy use is not about benevolence though, being greedy or being good, or following in the gospel of Saint Suzuki. Greedy corporations can profitably invest in green tech that decreases carbon output or they can deceitfully greenwash products and dump dioxin into the groundwater.

Needs are met with energy. Am I living a less moral life because I use traditional power sources? No. We know the unit of the state and and the MNC will be the most capable of change– our citizen role is to demand that change and to accept the consequences that will indoubtedly come with it…

But I did enjoy inciting the wrath of the eco-warriors by asking for the invention of a solar powered curling iron if they wanted me to forgo the prime saturday night primping hours in the name of their aim. ; )

Anon March 31, 2008 at 4:36 pm

I’m Doing My Inconsequential Part For The Environment

“Now is the time to take steps toward creating a cleaner environment, however insignificant and useless those steps may be. That’s why I’m doing my own laughably inconsequential part to end pollution, limit damage to our precious ecosystem, and preserve what remains of our planet’s biodiversity for future generations.”

. April 1, 2008 at 1:39 pm

It’s April. Protesters hit the streets to parade against ‘fossil fools.’

April showers are ushering in a new batch of global warming-related protests aimed at “Big Oil” and policies that favor expanded use of coal and natural gas.

Today’s “Fossil Fools” campaign is the brainchild of the Energy Action Coalition, Rainforest Action Network and Rising Tide, grassroots groups that are organizing more than 100 actions against fossil fuels around the world, most in the United States but a few in Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand.

The activists are planning to crash today’s hearing of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, which has summoned executives from Exxon Mobil, Shell, BP, Chevron and ConocoPhillips to defend their continued high profits amid high energy prices.

This year’s protests are intended to be slightly more disruptive than in the past, reflecting an increased sense of urgency, Energy Action Coalition spokeswoman Brianna Cayo Cotter said. “This year the youth in our movement have been clamoring, saying ‘We’re sick of talking about climate change; we need to do something about it.'” Energy Action Coalition has been behind a number of campaigns, including last November’s “Step it Up” series of rallies around the country in the name of reducing U.S. emissions 80 percent by 2050 and establishing a moratorium on coal-fired power plants.

Several actions scheduled for today involve Critical Mass bike rides, which started in 1992 in San Francisco as an attempt to reexamine transportation and planning from a non-car perspective and has resulted in hundreds of arrests over the years for blocking traffic. Other protests include rallies against planned coal-fired power plants in Columbia, S.C., and Walla Walla, Wash., as well as tar sands projects in Alberta and coalbed methane development in British Columbia. There is a protest at Washington University in St. Louis against Bank of America’s lending to coal-fired power plant developers, and an assembly on the steps of the Connecticut Capitol.

‘More and more civil disobedience’

“I think it’s just starting; it’s only going to get bigger,” Cotter said. She expects “more and more civil disobedience, particularly among young people,” spurred by frustration at the regulatory process. “They see policies aren’t working to stop coal-fired plants, so they’ll put their bodies on the line,” she added. Rising Tide and other international groups are more willing to engage in direct confrontation, Cotter said.

Rising Tide spokeswoman Monica Vaughan confirmed that people were planning events using “nonviolent civil disobedience, which we refer to as ‘direct action.'”

“People are frustrated with governments and corporations making all these promises but doing nothing to contribute to restructuring” of society to reduce dependence on polluting fossil fuels, Vaughan said. Last month, for example, Rising Tide and Earth First! sponsored a protest of a gas-fired power plant being built by FPL Energy in Palm Beach, Fla., that activists said would produce 12 million tons of CO2 per year. They halted construction work for six hours, and 27 people were arrested.

On the virtual side, the coalition is holding an election to determine the “fossil fool of the year.” Candidates include the chief executive officers of Exxon Mobil, Bank of America, General Motors and Dynegy Corp., as well as Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach for his efforts to boost tar sands production. Other categories include “most inauspicious newcomer,” for which the CEOs of Dominion Power, Marathon Oil, ADM and Penske Automotive are in the running; “outstanding performance in corporate greenwashing”; and “lifetime achievement,” for which voters can choose from West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin (D), Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship, Ford Motor Co. Chairman William Clay Ford or the team of President Bush and Vice President Cheney.

As of last night, Bush and Cheney were winning the lifetime achievement race by a landslide, as was ADM’s Patricia Woertz in the newcomer category.

. April 1, 2008 at 5:07 pm

“We probably need more than 14 wedges starting in 2010 to stay below 450 ppm, and we currently don’t have the political will to do more than two or three. In particular, the policies needed to achieve most of the wedges are currently anathema to most conservatives, even the relatively few who actually believe the climate problem warrants strong government action.”

lloyd March 25, 2009 at 4:40 pm

Earth Hour is a symbolic event. Turning off our lights for an hour won’t stop climate change but it does demonstrate that our individual action is important and adds up to make a big difference. More importantly, it sends a very powerful message to government and world leaders that people want policies and regulations put in place that can achieve meaningful emission reduction to help fight climate change.

Everyone can participate in Earth Hour! And it’s as simple as flicking off a switch – literally. You can participate by yourself or with family, friends and just a few candles. Or check out what’s happening in your own community. There are many cities, community groups, restaurants and bars that participate or host Earth Hour events.

. March 28, 2009 at 12:08 am

A Geek’s Guide to the Earth Hour Challenge
Fri Mar 27, 2009 11:21pm EDT

So, a full hour with no electricity — a daunting idea, isn’t it? (If you really have doubt as to the level of your electronics addiction, take this digital astrology quiz to see just how dependent you are.)

Now, to be fair, the official Earth Hour site talks about spending the hour making a video, taking and uploading photos, live-blogging, or tweeting away on Twitter. And sure, even with the lights off, you could technically still bask in the glow of a battery-powered cell phone or laptop as you connect with virtual friends across the world.

oleh March 28, 2009 at 8:08 am

Earth Hour is taking place today at 830 pm to 930 your local time.

I will be participating in Earth Hour because
a symbolic gestures can be important
b my niece Katrusia who lives in a very environmentally conscious way asked me to
c it makes me feel connected with something positive.

Emily March 28, 2009 at 10:32 am

I will be participating in earth hour because it means I get to turn off my laptop for an hour, not work on my paper(s), and knit…


Tristan March 28, 2009 at 11:24 am

It’s quite nice to take a walk through the city during Earth Hour – it is shown up in a way it normally can’t. For one, you can see symbolism operating as such, whereas usually symbolism, especially such pervasive symbolism, is so ubiquitous it’s difficult to recognize.

Milan March 28, 2009 at 11:34 am

I didn’t notice any difference in Ottawa, during Earth Hour last year.

Tristan March 28, 2009 at 2:33 pm

Perhaps it’s because I live in a Yuppie neighborhood, but it was extremely obvious when it was earth hour last year.

oleh March 28, 2009 at 4:41 pm


Thanks for the suggestion of walking outside in the city during Earth Hour. I would like to see it shown up in a different light. I think I will try to do so in my neighbourhood but I suspect it would be more obvious in the city. Do you have any suggestions for where in Vancouver this may be most obvious?

Did others have similar experiences as Tristan?

Tristan March 28, 2009 at 8:15 pm

For me, last year what hit home was the way everyone in my neighborhood was observing earth hour. I don’t use the term “observing” accidentally – the time had a religious feel about it.

I would suggest trying to get a view of the Vancouver Skyline to see how much of the city goes dark.

Milan March 28, 2009 at 8:57 pm

In a way, the darkened neighbourhoods reinforce my point about how this is not the way to deal with climate change.

People can enjoy (or at least cope with) darkness for an hour. They would be much harder to persuade to accept darkness for their whole lifetimes.

In the end, climate change requires either a return to the dark ages, where energy comes from crops, animals, and human beings, or the creation of an industrial society powered in a renewable manner.

The actions that take us towards the latter do not resemble Earth Hour.

Tristan March 29, 2009 at 2:08 pm

“In the end, climate change requires either a return to the dark ages, where energy comes from crops, animals, and human beings, or the creation of an industrial society powered in a renewable manner.”

Climate change doesn’t require anything – climate change imposes things on us. The world doesn’t care if we adapt, but it says “if you don’t adapt in one way, you will adapt in another”. The world doesn’t require that we live at all, but if we wish to, we must either mitigate climate change, or deal with its consequences (or both, to varying degrees).

Similarly, we are not required to pick one or the other from these 2 options. But, if I had to pick any option, I’d pick the one that is the most fundamentally different from what have now as is possible.

Milan March 29, 2009 at 3:49 pm

Why change more than you have to? It makes it less likely that you will succeed.

Also, the question of what is ‘most different’ is very subjective. It depends on which aspects of the world you think are especially important.

Tristan March 29, 2009 at 4:08 pm

“Why change more than you have to?”

We don’t have to change anything.

The worry would be, so long as our choices are determined by values, we will choose mastery over stewardship. The most different would be to no longer determine being according to value. If you grasp the last sentence as an subjective opinion, you haven’t.

Milan March 29, 2009 at 4:14 pm

I can’t begin to guess what that means. Do you think other people reading this can?

Tristan March 29, 2009 at 4:22 pm

It’s perfectly comprehensible if you read it in context of the previous sentence. Is the intuitive difference between “mastery” and “stewardship” not obvious? Can we not sense the difference between two kinds of command, one of domination, and one of an authority sensitive to the inherent needs of the taken-care-of?

If we do things because of values which we erect ourselves, we do so in will full ignorance of anything that doesn’t fulfill or act as a condition for the fulfillment of one of our values. In other words, we never even encounter the world as other than the thing we use to fulfill our man-made values.

It’s unclear to me, how this kind of relationship with nature, could ever produce a relationship healthy for either party. Remember your Hegel – the master is the idiot – he perverts himself, fails to recognize himself as human, in his domination of the slave. Hegel is quite helpful to anyone who wants to understand the relationships in contemporary life.

. March 29, 2009 at 4:56 pm

Cities mark Earth Hour with lights dimmed


The Associated Press

March 28, 2009 at 10:06 PM EDT

BONN, GERMANY — Canadian cities joined cities around the globe in marking Earth Hour Saturday night, as people in central and eastern Canada switched off their lights.

Peter March 29, 2009 at 11:32 pm

“Needs are met with energy. Am I living a less moral life because I use traditional power sources? No.”

Try this adaptation of your argument: Needs, meaning mostly wants, are met with labour. Am I living a less moral life because I use slavery as a traditional form of labour?

There are many types of responsibility. One might be causally responsible, morally responsible or legally responsible, or some combination of the three. In the case of climate change, if you accept the science than it is hard to claim that you are not casually responsible if you use power sources that emit carbon dioxide. Traditionally necessity and ignorance are the two most common considerations for mitigating moral responsibility. Since you are discussing climate change, I presume we may skip ignorance. The moral mitigation seems to come from the fact that you erroneously labelled most of your lifestyle “needs”, and a claim that the state enjoys the optimal position for preventing global warming. I agree that it is easier for the average citizen if changes are institutionalized through law; it is extremely economical to avoid researching every purchase, and I believe the onus should be placed on corporations and the state. State intervention is also optimal because it can restrain corporate pollution. I’m actually quite pessimistic about what the individual can and willachieve in terms of emission reduction, but this post is primarily a clarifier on the nature of moral responsibility. So, while I agree with several of your claims, and applaud your efforts to lobby for change, I most point out this doesn’t amply discharge you of moral responsibility. It seems strange to take the lobbying efforts in an all-or-nothing fashion, because it marks a complete lack of internalization of the principles you are arguing for. It would be akin to supporting the abolitionist movement because slavery was wrong, but holding slaves until the state changes the law because you aren’t in the position to eliminate the entire problem. Just as with my slavery case, if there is a moral wrong, it comes from the harm that our actions cause to others. The relevant questions become: Did you know? Could you have done otherwise? And while I fully accept your point that a far more optimal solution lies with the state, it seems you still enjoy several degrees of freedom even without legislation.

. March 30, 2009 at 12:15 am

Environmentalists hail Earth Hour as a big success

By VANESSA GERA – 10 hours ago

BONN, Germany (AP) — For environmental activists, the message was clear: Earth Hour was a huge success.

Now they say nations have a mandate to tackle climate change.

“The world said yes to climate action, now governments must follow,” the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) said Sunday, a day after hundreds of millions of people worldwide followed its call to turn off lights for a full hour.

. March 30, 2009 at 10:52 am

Cities switch off for Earth Hour

Major cities and global landmarks have been plunged into darkness as millions of people switched off lights for an hour to protest against climate change.

In pictures: Earth Hour

Tristan March 30, 2009 at 11:19 am

“it comes from the harm that our actions cause to others.”

Peter, do you have a strict Utilitarian view of the wrongness of slavery? It seems to me that if it was just because of “harm to others”, then you could hold slaves in a morally justified condition.

No, it’s because holding slaves violates people’s autonomy – not because it “causes harm to them”, that it is wrong.

Now, if climate change is wrong not for strict deontic reasons, but pleasure/pain reasons, then it might be the case that I’m justified in exerting some harm on others if that is the course of action that allows me to alleviate the most harm. If it’s just a math equation, there are no strict rules.

Milan March 30, 2009 at 12:46 pm


A moral system that never allowed you to impose some harm on third parties for any reason would be absurd. For instance, you would be forbidden from breaking through a door or window to rescue someone trapped in a burning building, provided the person being burned isn’t the owner of the building, or the damages will be paid for by an insurance company.

Damages to third parties are an important part of moral deliberations, but they do are not sufficient to block actions in all cases.

On climate change, for instance, I think it is acceptable to cause some level of harm to those who have invested in fossil-fuel dependent industries, in order to take action against the massive threat of climatic destabilization.

While I understand that you object to utilitarianism, I don’t think I have ever seen you explain your overall moral framework in terms I could understand.

Tristan March 30, 2009 at 2:04 pm

“While I understand that you object to utilitarianism, I don’t think I have ever seen you explain your overall moral framework in terms I could understand.”

“Framework” is not a neutral frame in which different ethical thinkings can co-exist, be compared. I don’t have a “framework”, because I think what is necessary is to think precisely all those presuppositions in our thinking which appear absolute, as absolute, and only by that, as contingent. As far as my “liberal hat”, I’m closest to Hegel, or a strict classicalist reading of Marx. But this hat is only essential insofar as we can expose the contradictions in it. Positive projects are over – now the decision is between the continual erection and dis-erection of frameworks, or thinking out of “frameworks” altogether. I therefore like retrieves of thinkers like Aristotle, or even Plato in certain respects, because they can, in places, be seen appropriating pre-framework thinking.

Milan March 30, 2009 at 2:21 pm

You can probably appreciate why that is bewildering to most people, especially those who have only read a limited amount of philosophy.

Milan March 30, 2009 at 2:43 pm

Having a form of moral reasoning that other people cannot understand seems like a big disadvantage. You either need to find an audience willing to listen and then spend a long time explaining things, or expect them to respect it despite not really understanding your argumentation.

Certainly, it limits your ability to change the minds of people who have strong pre-existing views, since they are especially unlikely to take the trouble to understand you.

Matt March 30, 2009 at 3:32 pm

I’m going to have to agree with Milan. I literally have no idea, Tristan, what a lot of the previous posts mean. Let’s take for example the “frameworks” post a few above this one (3 above as I write this). The second sentence, to me, is so dense as to be incomprehensible, the following ones not a lot better. It’s not fun trying to decipher something like that, rather quite tedious and boring. Remember, language is meant to convey thoughts, not to be a hindrance to understanding. While I’ve found I sometimes agree and sometimes disagree with the points you make I often just don’t understand them.

R.K. March 30, 2009 at 6:23 pm

I also find that Tristan speaks in philosophical shorthand too often. The discussions on this site are for non-specialists. Heavy philosophical jargon is as poorly suited to the conversation as partial differential equations would be.

Tristan March 30, 2009 at 6:43 pm

“I don’t have a “framework”, because I think what is necessary is to think precisely all those presuppositions in our thinking which appear absolute, as absolute, and only by that, as contingent.”

Normally, today, we think all thinking as “framework” thinking. If someone is espousing a new kind of post-modernist theory in poetics, they give the “framework” of it. Even Deconstruction (which was meant to be a critique of framing logics) itself turns into an “analytic”, in other words, a method that can be applied any any case. You can even describe the deconstructive analytic quite easily: taking apart binaries, showing how they rely on each other, making them collapse into each other.

” I think what is necessary is to think precisely all those presuppositions in our thinking which appear absolute, as absolute,”

Framework is thus a pre-supposition in our thinking. All thinking proceeds according to framework. We could acknowledge this factoid and move on – it’s safe to ignore any property that applies to everything, because if it applies to everything it will not distinguish any thing from any other thing. However, this does nothing but allow framework to remain something like an “a priori” condition for thought.

But, if we can think framework as framework, thinking as always conditioned by framework, we might be able to begin to hear in the necessity a note of contingency. In other words, when we recognize all thinking as framework thinking, only then can we begin to imagine what a thinking outside of framework thinking might be possible.

Framework thinking puts the world to work for the sake of the frame. Everything appears as an object of will (we are masters of the world, Milan, you have already embraced this point), for the will. Meteorological demands become moral demands because the world is nothing for us but a manipulation of our will. Our willing therefore demands us to be “stewards of the earth” as a condition for willing at all – catastrophe means death – death is the execution of willing.

We value “life”, we say “life is important”, “stand up for life” – and we posit other values because we think they will help us sustain life and its vitality. “Truth is” (a poet) stands on a stage and cries for “justice”, like the hero in an 80’s Disney film – because life sometimes thinks justice as a condition for willing (i.e. for Rawls Justice is for the sake of Life – this is why the liberty principle is as important as the difference principle, and the difference principle is grounded in the “inherent” value of the pursual of human projects, the “absolute” right to make a life-project for yourself, to will in a coherent way across time, to make the world the object of your will and will into accord with your will).


That which could be otherwise. Empirical universalities (universalities in experience) are always contingent because they can never guarantee lawlike behavior. This is why “law” for Hume is habit or custom, “that which works” in James, “that which hasn’t been proven wrong yet” in modern mathematical sciences. Whose to say that frame-work thinking is lawlike? Kant thinks its law-like, he thinks the pre-determined a priori categories of the understanding are the only ways objects could be thought – and if no such categories were a priori, no lawlike experience would be possible at all.

But, 20th century, the categories are no longer a priori. They become transitory, historical a priori in Kuhn. They are ignored entirely by the returned embrace of pre-Kantian empiricism. The question of “lawlike” is no longer a “problem” because no one really believes in the law anyway. String theory is the law in maths, but our finitude guarantees we could never think it – our computers are not fast enough to do the computations.

What this makes possible, although the possibility will always be fought against by those who cling to reason as calculation, who call Frege the end of traditional logic – and are in a sense right, but only in a sense because what is put into question is the necessity of the form of judgment, not the necessity of encountering the world as an object of propositional judgment at all.

The thought that thinking might not be determined by frameworks can always be thought earlier by the poets, because the poets are never entirely made to forget that language is not only logical, not only assertional. The poets are essentially beyond Framework, even when all they can do to poeticize their language is to yell louder at poetry slams. Even when they reproduce tropes which stopped being transgressive 30 years ago. Even when they speak in corporate advertising for the military industrial complex – they are always showing language’s inability to be contained within the realm of “claims”.

Emily March 30, 2009 at 8:14 pm


The problem that I often have reading your comments is:
a) Lack of brevity
b) Impenetrable jargon, without ‘description’ (I understand that you see the term ‘definition’ as a philosophical joke)..
c) You are writing to the wrong audience.

For example:

“The thought that thinking might not be determined by frameworks can always be thought earlier by the poets because the poets are never entirely made to forget that language is not only logical, not only assertional.”

The ‘poet’ figure here is playing a very specific role within Aristotelian philosophy, but.. anyone who isn’t well-versed in this will struggle mightily with the idea that “the poets are never made to forget that language is not only logical, not only assertional”.

This would be nearly incomprehensible if I hadn’t had a conversation with you earlier today about precisely this.

In order for a casual reader to understand what you’re talking about, you need to assume the following:

1. They have been able to read to the end of your exhaustive account of framework in ‘comment’ form.
2. They are familiar with the role of the ‘poet’ within Greek philosophy
3. They know what ‘assertional’ means in this context
4. They are able to parse something meaningful from the idea that to “poeticize their language is to yell louder at poetry slams.”

It’s not clear that your non-assertional-ness is amplified by the volume of your voice.

And, 5) that they can begin to understand why you spent all this time telling us that poets are the only ones who understand that language is non-assertional and then claim that this idea is old hat and everyone does it:

“Even when they reproduce tropes which stopped being transgressive 30 years ago. Even when they speak in corporate advertising for the military industrial complex – they are always showing language’s inability to be contained within the realm of “claims”.”

Tristan March 30, 2009 at 8:28 pm

“1. They have been able to read to the end of your exhaustive account of framework in ‘comment’ form.
2. They are familiar with the role of the ‘poet’ within Greek philosophy
3. They know what ‘assertional’ means in this context
4. They are able to parse something meaningful from the idea that to “poeticize their language is to yell louder at poetry slams.”

1. I don’t understand – I was asked to clarify one specific comment I made, and I made one comment of clarification. So, they had to read 2 comments. And it wasn’t specifically for “anyone”, but for those who read the first commend and were confused. But, presumably it could be for anyone who wanted to look at both comments.

2. I do not mean the poet in this narrow sense at all. We did not have a conversation today about Aristotle and the role of the poet – how could I? I don’t know anything about Aristotle’s poetics – my knowledge of Aristotle’s philosophy of language is restricted to his short text “On Interpretation”. I’m talking about actual poets, one’s that you can go out and hear. Of course not all the poets are poets, but who would expect that? There is no criteria to distinguish between the real and the false poets, you just have to go see them and recognize for yourself. In other words, you have to listen to them. And I don’t pretend that this is easy.

3. Assertional means “making assertions”. Asserting things about things, making claims. “This apple is red” is an assertion. You want to know what an assertion is? Make one, and then ask yourself what you are doing. You are pointing something out “as” something. When you say “the apple is red” you point out the apple “as” red apple. Anyone can discover this, just by noticing what they are already doing constantly. This is not elitist.

4. The notion of “poeticize” is immediately comprehensible as “to depart from assertional language”. To “make” their language poetic. So, the poet is the one who could read an ingredients list, or a piece of legislation, and make it sound as poetry, make us hear it as poetry, make it resonate, make it not mean only assertionally. The poets poeticize, what could be more obvious?


I appreciate your attempt to tease out what is incomprehensible in my clarifying comment. However, we might want to consider that asserting someone to be non-understandable might just reproduce our own lack of understanding. Is it so hard to ask a question when you don’t understand something, rather than asserting what is non-understandable?

Until we learn to deal with miscomprehension through inquiry, through question-posing, rather than through asserting the other as the maker of nonsense claims, we won’t get to a place where conversation is possible about topics we don’t already understand.

oleh March 30, 2009 at 8:53 pm

Concise and plain language are gifts to the reader. Jargon excludes people outside fo the circle that use the jargon. As lawyers, we can forget this. Thanks for the reminder to avoid doing so.

Emily March 31, 2009 at 9:56 am

“I appreciate your attempt to tease out what is incomprehensible in my clarifying comment. ”


“You’re an idiot, but thanks for coming out!”

I’m just coming at this from my perspective, which is admittedly a meager point to come from because I haven’t studied philosophy in any serious sense. Alls I’m saying is that if you want people to hear you, you have to talk to them – and not yourself. (ie., consider your audience)

Tristan March 31, 2009 at 7:17 pm

It’s kind of strange that I’m being accused of using “jargon”. I combed over my post, and I can’t find any jargon in it, other than an offhand remark about Derrida, and the elaboration on contingency. But, that can be safely ignored, as I explicitly define what I mean by contingency in the first sentence of that paragraph. And there is a reference to Rawls – but Rawls is hardly optional reading for modern liberals.

Mostly the terms I use are part of everyday language, and I don’t mean them in any special way. “Framework”, “life”, “stewards”, “master”, “will”, “value”, “assertion”, “poet” – none of these are jargon terms. These are words we use all the time, I’m trying to get at what’s meant when we use them, like we use them all the time.

If you bring to something I’ve written the prejudice that I mean the terms in some special “philosophical” way, then I can hardly be blamed for the absurdity that would follow. I have no idea what special “philosophical” significance one might add to these terms, presumably it could be done – many 20th century philosophers have espoused word coining, but it’s mostly a disastrous project because it makes thinking more exclusionary, more disconnected from where we all are (in language).

Milan March 31, 2009 at 7:31 pm

It’s less about jargon and more about expressing your ideas in a way that people can comprehend, and which engages them.

Sentences that would make the eyes of non-philosophers glaze over at a party are likely to be skimmed over by most people reading this site.

Tristan April 1, 2009 at 11:47 am


What exactly is incomprehensible about this sentence?

“As far as my “liberal hat”, I’m closest to Hegel, or a strict classicalist reading of Marx”

It just means, when I put my liberal hat on, when I pretend to be a liberal, my “moral framework” (which was the question I was answering, which Milan had asked me), is closest to Hegel, or perhaps a classicalist reading of Marx. By classicalist I just mean one that doesn’t follow Lenin or Mao or any 20th century political re-interpreters of Marx.

But, the bigger problem with this entire discussion, is rather than asking me what I meant, you dismissed the sentence as “dense and incomprehensible”. It’s just as easy, to ask “what did you mean by that?”

Can we no longer seen the world of difference between declaring something incomprehensible and asking “what did you mean by that”?

Milan April 1, 2009 at 11:52 am

All told, it is a very positive thing to have philosophically-informed comments on this site. I think the only objection people have is to comments that are phrased in ways that are difficult for non-specialists to understand. I think this applies as much in terms of comments about science or economics as in comments about philosophy.

There may be a genuine trade-off between accessibility of a discussion and the depth that discussion can have. That being said, if all commenters recognize that not everyone will have the background knowledge they do, they can accommodate that by explaining themselves from first principles or providing links to accessible explanations.

Matt April 1, 2009 at 12:04 pm

This is the sentence I was referring to was actually: “I don’t have a “framework”, because I think what is necessary is to think precisely all those presuppositions in our thinking which appear absolute, as absolute, and only by that, as contingent.”

And really, I’m not trying to be a jerk or flippant, but I didn’t ask “what do you mean by that” because I didn’t care. I don’t feel like I have the energy to get down to the minutia of every post, it’s easier just to skip if the meaning is not clear.

Tristan April 1, 2009 at 12:17 pm

“it’s easier just to skip if the meaning is not clear.”

Anony April 1, 2009 at 10:32 pm

A lot of the comments on this blog take the form of either: ‘I don’t give a damn about people who haven’t read extensively from the literature in my field’ OR ‘Hey, I am a big man with big complex words! Respect me!’

Both approaches turn me off their ideas.

Complex terms April 1, 2009 at 11:27 pm

“Framework”, “life”, “stewards”, “master”, “will”, “value”, “assertion”, “poet”.

Man, what complex terms. Also, they are meant in such a specific way that would only be understood if you had extensive literary background. Not.

Anon April 3, 2009 at 12:56 am

“The Nirvana Fallacy is when you dismiss anything in the real world because you compare it to an unrealistic, perfect alternative, by which it pales in comparison. It wouldn’t be a problem, except it keeps us from getting anything done.”

Terms that don't exist in the real world April 3, 2009 at 1:21 am

““Framework”, “life”, “stewards”, “master”, “will”, “value”, “assertion”, “poet”. “

Anon April 3, 2009 at 8:27 am

I thought the quote suited the Earth Hour discussion, not the ‘discussing philosophy’ sub-discussion.

. September 14, 2009 at 2:23 pm

earth daze
New film ‘Earth Days’ takes a sometimes devastating look at the history of environmental activism

Posted 6:48 PM on 11 Sep 2009
by Claire Thompson

In the 1970s, just after the first Earth Day and in the midst of oil shortages, recessions, and uprisings by restless youth, politicians were suddenly expected to show concern for the environment. President Jimmy Carter went above and beyond by installing solar panels on the White House in 1979. Solar panels on the White House!

Seven years later, President Ronald Reagan took them down.

This mind-bogglingly idiotic reversal is chronicled in Robert Stone’s new documentary Earth Days, about the history of the environmental movement. Seeing “history” and “environmental” in the same sentence probably makes you want to curl up for a 100-minute nap. But Earth Days, though it moves at a contemplative pace and contains less radical-protest/crunchy-commune footage than the hippie in me had hoped for, gives an absorbing overview of how the green movement got started, and why it ended up where it is today.

Firebird March 23, 2010 at 5:11 pm

The EARTH HOUR is just another idiotic idea from a bunch of annoying granola munching tree huggers with their pea-sized brains TELL THEM TO GET A LIFE

Matt March 23, 2010 at 7:48 pm

Wow, Firebird, what insightful commentary!

Here’s an idea: Why don’t you expand on your point rather that spout off a useless two sentence opinion. Also, I recognize that “granola-munching” is what you perceive to be an insult, but how is it one?

R.K. March 23, 2010 at 8:09 pm

I believe granola is eaten by ‘the gays.’

John Z March 24, 2010 at 11:35 am

Earth hour is the one of the worst ideas ever. The power companies can and will not change the output from a nuclear reactor for 1 hour of energy fluctuation. All this does is force them to lower the output from ‘green’ energy sources like wind and hydro-electric dams.

Let’s stress the system! participating in earth hour is kin to trying to replicate the major blackout in the NE a couple of years ago.


Jeff March 26, 2010 at 10:55 am

I bet I’ve saved more energy than 100 eco-morons who will be making a big show of this! I always only light the part of my house I’m in, turn down my heat at night, etc. and not to “Save the Earth.” It’s to SAVE MONEY for me! I don’t believe global warming is real, either. I will be changing NOTHING during “Earth Hour.” Coincidentally, it occurs at about the same time of night that I normally do my assigned church work.. Going down to a large building and turning off it’s lights that the careless last users left on, and locking the doors they left open….

Milan March 26, 2010 at 10:59 am

This thread certainly attracts a lot of ignorant comments…

The problem with Earth Hour is that it doesn’t do enough to help address the extremely serious environmental problems humanity has. It certainly doesn’t provide justification for false assertions that no such problems exist, or that no action should be taken on them.

Jeff March 26, 2010 at 11:03 am

So I guess they’ll be stumbling around with candles, setting the house ablaze.. how much will it cost to do run the fire trucks?? Or let’s use a flashlight.. Do the math about how many resources it takes to make battery-powered light! Batteries are a very expensive source of energy, and then there’s the disposal issue..

Jeff March 26, 2010 at 11:08 am

Society does not have environmental problems that can’t be addressed rationally and incrementally. We’ve already been doing it quite successfully. What has happened is that the more radical factions have piled on fake issues just to keep their grants rolling in. It also excites control freaks, because if they can stir up a frenzy about what a big emergency it is, they can gain control over the world’s economic and political machinery.

Milan March 26, 2010 at 11:32 am

Climate change is an enormously significant problem that requires much more than incremental change to solve. Indeed, we need to cut net human emissions to zero at a pace sufficient to avoid dangerous, catastophic, or runaway climate change outcomes.

Avoiding the 2°C level of warming broadly considered dangerous requires global emissions to fall fast and steeply. For instance, in order to have a 75% chance of avoiding that much warming, global emissions could peak in 2011 and fall from around 30 billion tonnes per year now to under 5 billion tonnes by 2050. Alternatively, they could peak in 2020, but would then need to fall to zero globally by 2040.

Wildbird March 26, 2010 at 5:51 pm

The EARTH HOUR is just another stupid idea from a bunch of stupid annoying granola munching tree huggers whos brains consist of absolutly nothing

Matt March 26, 2010 at 6:55 pm

Why, “Wildbird”, your prose is strikingly similar to “Firebird!”

Milan March 26, 2010 at 7:06 pm

He’s on the right track, though.

Earth Hour just helps make us “rich enviromentalists even more rich and arroganr.”

Ahsan Zaman November 29, 2010 at 10:09 pm

A worthy cause. If you are interested join as a fan and send the link to friends.!/pages/Earth-Hour-Protest/110844145652520?v=info

Wildbird December 23, 2010 at 12:02 pm

A better idea is for all dedicated eco-wackos to keep their pieholes shut for a whole day and help cut back on the HOT AIR

Ahsan Zaman December 23, 2010 at 2:31 pm

I have organized a site to protest against Earth Hour this coming year. Please join me.!/pages/Earth-Hour-Protest/110844145652520?v=info

oleh December 24, 2010 at 2:40 am

This blog entry continues to attract comments – 76 to date.

From my cursory review, 11 commentators thought Earth Hour was a bad idea , and five including myself thought it was a good idea.

Milan December 24, 2010 at 12:38 pm

The fact that a majority of people think it is a good idea is not necessarily encouraging.

My main criticism is that Earth Hour makes people feel like they have made a useful contribution to improving the sustainability of their society, whereas they have actually done nothing at all. It is an easy way to make yourself feel good, without actually doing much (if any) good.

asian March 31, 2011 at 8:50 pm

I think it’s good to turn off the lights to save the energy and it’s fun to see the lights going off and i feel comfortable when the lights go off.

Elliot. April 15, 2011 at 10:16 am

I work for a energy saving company and deal with a lot of comments about this green hour.

For me its a waste of time because when you turn everything off the electricity companies are still producing the electricity to power your houses.
So you are wasting this electricity that’s being produced by the time they realise you aren’t using it you are about ready to turn everything in your house back on and if you have the standard heating systems and lights this can be a 1.5KW peak not including if you decide you fancy a cuppa.

Now if everyone that participated in earth hour did this the energy companies are un-ready for this huge spike in electricity hunger so they kick every generator into action to mass produce energy for a spike which will only last about 20 minutes.

So with that and the over production of electricity its better for the environment to not even try and save the planet.

. May 26, 2011 at 11:51 pm

Opinion: Every little bit doesn’t really help
Wednesday, May 25, 2011
By MARQ DE VILLIERS, The Ottawa Citizen

There is no easy way to cut the necessary emissions. We do need to be green, but it is not nearly as simple (or as cheap) as the greenies would have you believe. What is required are big changes in demand, and big changes in supply. We’re talking countrywide scales — hundreds of thousands of wind turbines, thousands of square kilometres of solar panels, massive cuts in demand, wholesale switches in technology, gigantic investments. You won’t hear these numbers from politicians, or not very often. Nor will you hear them from business leaders. And hardly ever from environmentalists.

Here are a few lamentable numbers to remember:

Every year our global civilization digs up, transports, heats and pummels and shapes and processes and sells half a trillion tons of materials. Only six per cent of all those tons ends up in products — the rest is used to mine and make and move them. And only one per cent — a single measly per cent — is still a useful product six months later.

Only 37 per cent of primary energy production is put to any real use. The rest is lost to conversion inefficiencies and waste.

About four-fifths of all energy used in transportation, including trains and planes, is spent on road traffic — and about half of that is for moving light vehicles and people. Worse, only about five per cent of the energy we expend in transportation actually gets us from one place to another. The rest is just to shift our inefficient internal combustion vehicles or is sent out the tailpipe as waste heat. Ninety-five per cent of the energy we use to get to Wal-Mart is wasted. So much for so-called “savings.”

The International Energy Agency estimates that somewhere around $45 trillion, or an average of one per cent of annual global economic output, needs to be invested between now and 2050 to make any real difference — which sounds unlikely in this era of “jobless recoveries” and multiple fiscal crises.

. March 25, 2013 at 11:24 pm

Notice that you have not been asked to switch off anything really inconvenient, like your heating or air-conditioning, television, computer, mobile phone, or any of the myriad technologies that depend on affordable, plentiful energy electricity and make modern life possible. If switching off the lights for one hour per year really were beneficial, why would we not do it for the other 8,759?

Hypothetically, switching off the lights for an hour would cut CO2 emissions from power plants around the world. But, even if everyone in the entire world cut all residential lighting, and this translated entirely into CO2 reduction, it would be the equivalent of China pausing its CO2 emissions for less than four minutes. In fact, Earth Hour will cause emissions to increase.

As the United Kingdom’s National Grid operators have found, a small decline in electricity consumption does not translate into less energy being pumped into the grid, and therefore will not reduce emissions. Moreover, during Earth Hour, any significant drop in electricity demand will entail a reduction in CO2 emissions during the hour, but it will be offset by the surge from firing up coal or gas stations to restore electricity supplies afterward.

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