Friday, March 28, 2008


I'm not a fan of empty gestures and there are few that feel as empty as tomorrow's planned "Earth Hour" set for Toronto and several other cities around the world. Among the things I have less time for are arrogance and hypocrisy, which both seem in full supply for this event.

I'm not going to argue Climate change or whether that crisis is the result of man-made or natural causes. It makes no difference whether a threat comes from within or without a bio-sphere. If it is not combated or compensated for, it will have a negative effect. So, if reducing our energy use helps then we should do that.

But for some reason, our current crop of environmentalists seem less interested in actual change than creating "consciousness raising" events that don't really change anything.

From "Live 8" to all the copycat films coat-tailing Al Gore's movie, it seems the process is more about branding yourself environmentally friendly than actually doing something concrete.

Back in 2000, I bought a farm just North of Toronto. One of my first calls was to CANWEA, the Canadian Wind Energy Association, because I wanted to get off the grid and build a couple of Windmills that in addition to serving my own needs, would put some clean energy back into the system.

I grew up with windmills. Every farm in Saskatchewan had at least one that pumped water and maybe powered a string of lights in the barn or a heater in the chicken coop. Today, much more efficient versions power towns and cities all over the world.

The CANWEA guys came out and set up a test site, determining that a single windmill on the property could handle my needs, those of at least two of my neighbors and maybe send a little juice down the line to Toronto.

The windmill never got built.

Permits to do so got tangled in so much red tape of government fact finding and approvals that I was looking at several years of waiting before I could get started. It became very clear to me that the powers that be hadn't figured out how to make money off the process, or at least, how not to lose any.

Even the blackout of 2003 couldn't shift anything. I recall listening to a news conference two days after the disaster with officials insisting they needed to find a specific number of Kilowatts to get things back to normal -- when that exact number of kilowatts was already on hand from clean energy sources they wouldn't allow onto the grid.

Five years later, I've got friends who could be contributing solar and wind energy to reduce our dependence on nuclear and fossil fuel. But the costs of connecting to the grid remain prohibitive.

Say what you will about George Bush, but prior to his 8 years in the White House, he passed laws in Texas forcing their hydro electric companies to buy green energy first. That law resulted in windfarms and regular income from a renewable resource that has saved many family farms and ranches while also improving the environment.

Yet Canadian politicians, instead of simply doing the same, are more interested in the PR points they can earn by flipping off their lights for an hour.

The corporate hypocrisy is just as bad. While Rogers will be a good corporate citizen and turn off the exterior lights of Toronto's Rog Mahal (formerly the Skydome) they'll be staging a Supercross event inside that won't be interrupted.

After doing endless coverage of "Earth Hour" all over the CBC and with the exterior lights snuffed at their headquarters and the Air Canada Centre, our National Broadcaster will still have its TV lights and satellite trucks at full power so it can Broadcast the Toronto-Montreal tilt for Hockey Night in Canada.

This game will be broadcast to countless 42" flat screen televisions in the "blacked out" city that eat up more power than all of the lights in your home put together.

The whole thing is an empty gesture designed to make you feel you, your elected representatives and your corporate brand partners are all doing something positive -- when you're not making a damn bit of difference.

Do you want to do something that really will change things?

Go to a hardware store and spend $2 on a CFL bulb. One bulb. If every home in Canada changed one bulb, we'd lower our annual energy costs by $73 Million and permanently save hundreds of thousands of Kilowatts.

That's a fact you can look up on more places than Wikipedia.

Imagine if all the time and effort spent on "Earth Hour" had been spent convincing people to change one lightbulb in their home or maybe all of them. The impact would have been immediate, visible and substantial.

But the powers that be wouldn't have been able to profit from that change (unless they owned a bulb company) or make you believe they really care about the planet. In the meantime, they know they can fool you with empty gestures.


DMc said...

I didn't know that about Texas.


Vincent Clement said...

Well said. Some of the folks over at a discussion at the Globe and Mail were lamenting my sarcastic comment about turning on all the lights and electrical appliances.

It seems a lot of energy (pun intended) has gone into promoting this event. I agree with your stance that that energy should have gone into promoting longer-term changes, such as buying a CFL bulb.

But that doesn't have the media impact as turning your lights out for one hour in each time zone.

Traciatim said...

The problem with everyone buying a CFL is that they should put them outside in Canada, especially in northern climates. Incandescents make so much heat inside (say in a table lamp) that they will help your heat run less. So any time your heating your home (Which in Canada is anytime but August ;) the CFLs inside are a moot point.

Though, then again, CFLs don't really work well outside in cold climates and their light output is changed dramatically. . . so they don't really do well there.

Oh, and don't put them in any rooms that you cycle your lights a bunch (like kids rooms or bathrooms) since they are sensitive to on/off cycles . . .

Wait, so where can we use them again? Only in my hallway and only in the summer?

Anonymous said...

Jim: another good blog post. As far as I am concerned, it was just a way for the yuppies with the SUV in the driveway to say "look at me, I'm Green...for an hour".

We have CFL lights in all our most frequently used lamps, our furnace is set low (and air conditioner high), I don't own a car, take the TTC to work, etc. I don't NEED to take an hour to feel good about what we do. I feel good all the time about it.

I was at the Marlies game and their entire effort was to...shut the lights off in the luxury boxes. I wish I was making that up.

Worst example was the government of Ontario: they were also going to shut down all non-essential lights.

I would think that for the government MOST lights are non-essential at 8PM on a Saturday night...

BTW, every hear of Fred Eaglesmith? Famous Canadian folk artist, farmer, and off the grid. You should look him up.

wani said...

All those and the fact that they used candles in place of the lights they switched off. I thought it was a general knowledge that candles release more greenhouse gases than normal incandescent bulbs?

I think what pissed me the most is the chest-thumping acts of these so-called "environmental-friendly" people. Earth Hour is just a glorified event. If you want to make a statement and stop global warming, then do more than just switching off the lights for one damn hour. I bet my piggy bank these people spend the other 364 23/24 days in bright lights.