Earth Hour 2010

2010-03-22

in Economics, Politics, Rants, The environment

Earth Hour is happening again on March 27th. I have argued before that it is a bad idea, and I stand behind that assessment. I think it propagates faulty beliefs over what needs to be done, and what sort of tactics can succeed.

One more reason why Earth Hour is counterproductive is that it feeds naturally into one of the most common arguments against action on environmental issues: namely, that environmentalists just want to shut down everything people rely upon and enjoy. Turn the lights out, ban travel, etc. They may ask you to do it voluntarily for an hour, but they really want to force it on you forever. That’s how the Conservative Party portrayed the Kyoto Protocol – as though meeting it would mean shutting down a third of all of Canada’s energy use overnight.

Dealing with climate change does require us to change behaviour, and the ethics considerations everyone needs to make now must take climate change into account. That being said, the solution doesn’t lie with shutting everything down, but rather with replacing the energy basis of our society with one that is clean and renewable, leaving most remaining fossil fuels unburned. I don’t see how Earth Hour helps us move in that direction.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

R.K. March 23, 2010 at 10:02 am

Arguments like the one above are stronger when the climate change movement is running strong. Right now, it seems to be going through a stretch of weakness.

That may be when collective, symbolic efforts have the most value. More substantive actions may simply be out of reach for now.

. March 23, 2010 at 1:46 pm

Let’s turn off our dirty coal plants during Earth Hour!

This past Saturday Ontario used its dirty coal plants to produce 610 megawatts (MW) of electricity while 7,394 MW of much cleaner natural gas-fired generating capacity remained idle. This doesn’t make sense.

Ontario no longer needs to use dirty coal to generate electricity. We have more than enough coal-free generation capacity to keep the lights on without burning climate-destroying coal. A gas-fired generating station produces less than half the greenhouse gas emissions of a coal plant, a fraction of the smog builders like sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, and no harmful mercury and lead. Renewable sources are, of course, even cleaner.

Millions of people around the world will be turning off their lights during Earth Hour next Saturday, March 27 at 8:30 p.m., to show their political leaders that they want action to stop climate change now.

Please email Premier McGuinty and ask him to send a message of hope to the world by turning off Ontario’s dirty coal plants during Earth Hour (and please send me a copy). Remind Premier McGuinty that he got elected in 2003 on a promise to permanently turn off our dirty coal plants by 2007.

Please pass this message on to your friends.

Tristan March 23, 2010 at 4:55 pm

” A gas-fired generating station produces less than half the greenhouse gas emissions of a coal plant, a fraction of the smog builders like sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, and no harmful mercury and lead. Renewable sources are, of course, even cleaner.”

Sure, and this might be fine for now – but this “even cleaner” logic misses the point. We don’t only need to reduce emissions, we need to switch over to zero emissions tech.

Right now, Dalton’s government is under fire for increasing electricity taxes an effective 4$ per year to pay for development of renewables. If this tax is being opposed – what we should probably be doing is educating people about why energy taxes need to go up, rather than talking about the need for slightly cleaner non-renewables.

Milan March 23, 2010 at 5:01 pm

As I have said again and again, the peak date matters, and switching from more emissions-intensive to less emissions-intensive fossil fuels can help accelerate that.

It would be a good thing for the climate to replace all coal generating capacity with gas generating capacity. That may even be true for two reasons. Firstly, we would emit less to produce any set quantity of power. Secondly, electricity from gas is more expensive, which might drive people to increase efficiency and/or decrease consumption sooner and faster.

Milan March 23, 2010 at 5:01 pm

Burning gas for electricity can also reduce cumulative emissions by raising its price and discouraging its use for fossil fuel production.

Milan March 23, 2010 at 5:04 pm

Arguments like the one above are stronger when the climate change movement is running strong.

You could argue, conversely, that times of adversity are when we can least afford to focus our efforts on empty gestures. We really need to turn things around, not just make ourselves feel better.

That said, I admit that to some extent, feeling more enthusiasm about the progress of the movement might encourage people to achieve meaningful things.

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