Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Earth Hour not worth the power


For one hour last Saturday, March 26, from 8:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., buildings across the world went dark as individuals across the world celebrated Earth Hour in order to raise awareness of climate change. Whether it was the India Gate in New Delhi, the Sydney Opera House or the Coliseum in Rome, lights everywhere were extinguished as the clock struck 8:30 p.m..

Organized by the World Wildlife Fund, Earth Hour is a way for all to supposedly vote for greater attention given to global climate change by having a noticeable effect on the night sky and therefore inspiring others to contemplate one man’s effect upon the environment.

However, beneath the veneer of respectability that environmentalist causes have gained over the years, the entire campaign of Earth Hour is one that cannot be reconciled with a modern civilization. It is simply impossible for one to tacitly imply that the technology and wealth that are the defining features of that society are somehow an aberration, whose suppression, if just for a passing hour, is somehow laudable, only to return at 9:30 as a part of enjoyable every day life.. At its ideological core, Earth Hour is torn between the preference of what technology makes possible and the Luddite belief that technology is evil in that it destroys the environment.

Of course, the vast majority of those who participated in Earth Hour would not agree that their aim can be compared to the Luddite peasants who roamed the countryside, looking to smash the machines that threatened their ancestral way of life. Such advocates would claim that it is not aimed against the use of power per se, but rather as an act of symbolism. The point of the hour, they would claim, is not a protest against electricity and other such technology. Rather, it’s their unsustainability.

Accordingly, what they are protesting is not the existence of light bulbs or televisions but the fact that they are powered by nonrenewable sources of energy like coal or oil and that they have been used without thought to the consequences upon the modern world. Nevertheless, when pushed to stark conclusions, this argument unravels.

This is due to the tacit assumption hidden deep within Earth Hour’s program. The choice to turn off the lights for an hour, as the means of protest are not as arbitrary choice as, say, wearing a certain color for a certain day. Instead, turning off the lights is chosen because of the environmental effects that modern civilization has had on the planet. As a result of this, Earth Hour implies, especially in how they have advertised the event, that there is something virtuous about renouncing light, electricity and the many goods that we have taken for granted in modern civilization. This, however, raises one question: If it is virtuous to forsake these goods for one hour, then isn’t there something immoral about them that makes this a virtuous act?

Here is where the environmentalist agenda of the Earth Hour can be revealed for what it really is beneath the mask: an attack on modern civilization and the living standards of modernity.

Organizations like the World Wildlife Fund, which sponsors Earth Hour, have launched against such issues as the use of fossil fuels. They simply cannot be reconciled with modern civilization. The two are contradictory because it is impossible to cut out the pounding heart of the Industrial Revolution and expect its fruit, the dramatically improved living-standards that individuals now enjoy, to still blossom.

On the contrary, if one were to abolish the burning of fossil fuels, man would not only return to the grinding poverty that has accentuated his entire existence, but this would also result in the most stark mass extinction of human life, whose existence made possible only by the production-possibilities of capitalism.

Of course, there is a vast gulf between turning off one’s lights and advocating the termination of all carbon-based energy and the subsequent dissolution of modern society.

However, there is certainly a contradiction in the actions of an individual who turns off his lights at 10:30 p.m., but then turns them back on again at 11:30 p.m. It is easy to take an hour off from the goods that help define our high standard of living. Earth Hour even encourages the naïve view that giving up fossil fuels could be easy and even fun, seeing as how Earth Hour is often spent stargazing or at a restaurant offering candlelight-only dinners.

Even during Earth Hour, if there was a human need that dictated the use of electricity, one does not see the World Wildlife Fund encouraging hospitals to join in their protests. Then, the façade is dropped and the lights are turned back on. The participant in Earth Hour is safe knowing that if a real threat to him were to occur then he could drop the act, recognize how much he actually wants what the use of fossil fuels in history has made possible and return to addressing reality rather than playing in the land of make-believe.

As Ayn Rand once wisely said, “You can avoid reality but you cannot avoid the consequences of avoiding reality.” Earth Hour, like many other environmentalist programs, enjoys the position of being able to avoid the realities that challenge human society without having to inflict their consequences upon it. They exist in a world that enjoys the very fruits of that which they protest and, since their policies have never been taken up in full, no one has had to suffer from the fact that they deny the fact that fossil fuels mean life to millions, if not billions, of individuals across the world. Even though it may be just a symbol, Earth Hour is an apt symbol for its representation as the lights of cities go out. It represents that fact that its tenets, once put into action without internal contradiction, would extinguish the lights that are very much the symbol of this civilization – the product of over 100 years of human achievement and genius.

However, this time, the lights would not just be out for a single hour nor would there be the ability to turn them back on once needed.

Harrison Searles is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected].

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