Tonight is Earth Hour. A chance for people to turn their lights out for an hour and feel better about themselves. So much so that they’ll probably drive their car somewhere they don’t need to tomorrow to buy something with extra non-recyclable packaging and not feel bad about leaving all their lights on when they do it. But Earth Hour is, of course, just a “symbolic gesture” meant to get people to think about energy conservation, not a solution. Since an actual solution would entail outlawing of the use of incandescent lighting after 7pm every night, which would undoubtedly cause rioting, instead we are left with an impotent symbolic gesture. Next I’m sure there’ll be a “leave your car at home day” so that people can feel better about driving their cars instead of what needs to happen which is an outright ban of the private ownership of vehicles for personal use. Perhaps there will also be a six hour period next month where grocery stores don’t give out plastic bags at all or coffee shops will require people to bring in their own cups for twenty minutes or so. Business as usual for the rest of the year.
There seems to be a feeling that we can correct the ecological problems we face without curtailing peoples’ liberty and, that properly educated, people will curtail their behavior on their own. I tend to side with Hobbes on this one. People are far too self-interested to do the right thing and will instead try to get away with as much as possible within the parameters layed out for them. This is why, he says, we need a government and laws; because life in the state of Nature is “nasty, brutish and short.” At present the parameters of ecological behavior set out for us give us the freedom to destroy the planet. The danger of events like Earth Hour serve as valves to relieve the pressure of guilt within the populous caused by having the liberty to consume resources unfettered instead of encouraging real change (i.e. legislated curtailment of activities by citizens which harm the environment).
I suppose I can’t ultimately say Earth Hour is a terrible thing. The intention is certainly commendable. But the backslapping smugness which will be the result is utterly abhorrent.