I missed it here on the east coast, but there is still time for some of you to participate in Earth Hour — turning off lights and so on between 8:30 and 9:30 pm. It’s a feel-good exercise that raises awareness and helps the Earth.
Or not. You could actually do the Earth a real favor and give it a miss:
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.
And the cozy candles that many participants will light, which seem so natural and environmentally friendly, are still fossil fuels—and almost 100 times less efficient than incandescent light bulbs. Using one candle for each switched-off bulb cancels out even the theoretical CO2 reduction; using two candles means that you emit more CO2.
You should read Lomborg’s entire piece, which makes the case that electricity is a good thing and, rather than engage in feel-good do-bad things like Earth Hour, we should be putting out effort into research and development of new technology. For example, I was just read about the wave disk engine, which could massively improve fuel efficiency.
But research is hard; turning off your lights for an hour is easy. Research takes years, maybe decades to pay off; feel-good bullshit pays off today. Research involves learnings things and knowing things and figuring out things; Earth Hour is mindless obedience.
Interestingly, the response to Lomborg’s piece has not been to dispute the facts (probably wise, since they are all on Lomborg’s side). It’s been to question his intentions. Earth Hour “raises awareness”, they say. Earth Hour lets us enjoy dark skies, they say. But I’d just as soon raise awareness with something useful. How about “research hour”?
I think P.J. O’Rourke nailed it twenty years ago: the young people comprising much of the environmental movement seem to be willing to do anything to save the Earth … except actually learn something about it.