Start your countdown clocks! Before you can say “polar bears,” it will be 8:30 on Saturday night. It’s not the NCAA Elite Eight I’m talking about (although it’s been one of the best tournaments in recent years, even if I hadn’t picked Wichita State to go out in the round of 32 and UCLA to get to the Sweet Sixteen); it is the World Wildlife Fund’s “Earth Hour.” Its Web site explains: “Earth Hour is a global movement uniting people to protect the planet. By asking individuals, cities, landmarks and business to turn their non-essential lights off for one hour and commit to reducing their environmental impact, we are showing everyone that the world’s environmental issues don’t have to overwhelm us. Small things we do every day can make a better future. Join the movement and make your commitment to a better planet.”
WWF’s Director of Renewable Energy and Footprint Outreach, Keya Chatterjee, made clear via e-mail just how symbolic it is. Here is part of our exchange:
How does the energy saved from Earth Hour compare to, say, lighting a 10,000-square-foot house? Or traveling on a private jet for one hour?
Earth hour does not claim that the event is an energy or carbon reduction exercise — it is a symbolic action. Therefore, we do not engage in the measurement of energy or carbon reduction levels. Earth Hour is an initiative to encourage individuals, businesses, and governments around the world to think about their ecological footprint and engage in a dialogue to provide real solutions to our environmental challenges. Participation in Earth Hour symbolizes a commitment to change ‘beyond the hour.’
However, I’d argue that this sort of event argue does foster the self-reverential quality of many green groups — which claim that symbolic gestures with a lot of marketing is “doing something.” The rules seem so relaxed, in fact, as to negate any inconvenience:
What about TV, computers, etc. – are those okay to keep on?
Earth Hour is a symbolic gesture that you are personally making. What a person wants to turn off or leave on is an individual decision, but usually people switch off the overhead lights in rooms (whether it is your house or a business), outdoor lighting that does not impact safety, decorative lights, neon signs for advertising, televisions, desk lamps, etc.
There is no harm in all this, I suppose, except when the environmentalists leave the world of gestures and plunge into real action that has real-life consequences for average working people. I couldn’t help but notice that Leonardo Di Caprio is on WWF’s board. That seems odd given his carbon crater, as we learn from none other than People magazine::
Once owned by popular ’40s and ’50s singer (and 1970s TV talk-show host) Dinah Shore, the 7,000-sq.-ft. midcentury home has six bedrooms, 7½ bathrooms and boasts a pool house, tennis court with a glass pavilion and a detached gym .
The multi-leveled, single story mansion, designed by noted architect Donald Wexler, was built in 1965 and has since been fully renovated, though still reflects its original style.
DiCaprio has been on something of a real-estate frenzy recently, having snapped up a home in New York’s Greenwich Village last year and selling his seven-bedroom Malibu beach home in December. That one went for $17.35 million.
Hmm. I bet if he turned off his pool heater (or even the lights in the pool house) for a day or lived a Spartan life in, say, 5500 square feet of living space, it would reduce the carbon footprint some. Now imagine if all the Hollywood elite stopped flying on private jets and lived in merely huge instead of gigantic homes. I bet that would really make a difference.
Well, you see it worked — Earth Hour, even before it arrived, has spurred me to think about “real solutions to our environmental challenges.” Now I can in good conscience leave my lights and my TV on Saturday for what will be, if the last weekend was any guide, a thrilling evening of sports. (And unlike the Olympics, all the games are played here in the USA, so no dictator PR to worry about.)
Don’t get me wrong. DiCaprio has earned his wealth fair and square and can live anyway he sees fit. However, before staunch environmentalists ask Americans to make real sacrifices (like giving up the opportunity for a good paying job) based on nothing more than hype “far away from any realistic assessment of the [scientific] merits” of decisions, they might make even a tiny attempt to make some sacrifices of their own. Just saying.