Reports have varied over how successful Saturday’s Earth Hour — the fourth since it began in 2007 — actually was. As with a lot of these symbolic, awareness-type things, success depends a lot on how you measure it, but one poll showed that fewer people had participated this time around than in previous years. That may be because the novelty has worn off as climate change has become a serious mainstream issue and as such people don’t see the point of awareness-raising.
But it might also have something to do with the fact that apparently some of us just aren’t that bright.
Few people know that Earth Hour has a competitor. "Human Achievement Hour" is the latest footnote in the annals of conservative self-delusion. This counter-event, for those out of this very loopy loop, is a stunt designed to counteract what it apparently sees as Earth Hour’s socialist aims. It was thought up by the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), a rabidly Libertarian US think-tank which rushed to the defence of the unfairly maligned CO2 molecule with the following rosy assessment: "They call it pollution. We call it life". The CEI dedicates its initiative to "recognising the incredible accomplishments of the human race". So, how exactly does the CEI propose we show our appreciation and respect for humanity’s extraordinary ingenuity?
The answer: by using as much coal-fired electricity as possible. In the words of CEI employee Michelle Minton, Human Achievement Hour advocates should ideally be "doing things like eating dinner, watching television, going to the movies", and, even more bizarrely "brushing their teeth". Following the institute’s logic, electricity is a marvellous invention which has improved our quality of life immeasurably and enviro-communists want to prevent anyone from flicking on a light switch ever again. To combat this Grinch-like attitude, Human Achievement Hour bravely celebrates the correlation between electricity and prosperity.
Where do you begin with a claim like that? At the risk of giving this thing too much oxygen by appearing to actually take it seriously, it might be worth having a closer look at just how thick you’d have to be to be persuaded by them (Hello, Cory Bernardi).
While this movement repeats its creaky slogan that Earth Hour supporters would literally like to send us all "back to the Dark Ages", the environmentalists and ordinary people who support Earth Hour are not keen on a medieval lifestyle at all. This bait-and-switch tactic is a characteristic attempt to convince us that any criticism of coal-powered electricity is an attack on electricity itself.
If anyone lacks respect for humanity’s ability to solve the problems it faces it is the H.A.H. movement, indulging as it does a strange love of an obsolete technology like coal-fired generators. The superficial cheeriness of the H.A.H. masks a deep pessimism toward our capacity to solve real-world problems without sacrificing our quality of life. According to Human Achievement Hour’s twisted logic, if it was good enough for our ancestors, it’s good enough for us. (I eagerly await the arrival of "Stone Tools Hour").
It is only by doing everything they can to spread disinformation that these devoutly anti-scientific denialists are able to deceive people into thinking that everything’s hunky-dory with the planet’s thermostat. It beggars belief that such people can pretend to be defenders of scientific progress, rather than the staunch luddites and enemies of critical thinking that they really are.
Perhaps it’s worth remembering at this point just how old coal-powered technology actually is. The first coal-powered electricity plant began operation in the late 19th century; we are now entering the second decade of the 21st. Other 19th-century technologies include wax-cylinder sound recording, Morse code and the typewriter, all of which have utterly vanished from modern life. Human Achievement Hour’s wistful paean to obsolescence actually demonstrates contempt for human achievement.
By contrast, many of the technologies that will replace coal were invented in the last two decades. Renewables continue to develop at a staggering rate, despite a frequent lack of support from some governments. New carbon-free power generation techniques are products of what can be seen as a Renewable Industrial Revolution, a revolution which is one of the most impressive demonstrations of human ingenuity in history. The Competitive Enterprise Institute and its supporters, though, prefer to find evidence of our amazing intelligence in our addiction to large-scale burning of filthy lumps of sulphurous rock.
As they dig themselves in against all the technological progress of the few decades, the organisers of Human Achievement Hour demonstrate that they understand none of the many fields of human ingenuity except marketing. Their distraction merely celebrates laziness, complacency and vested interests.
Earth Hour has been criticised by others in the green movement for being superficial — and sure, it may not be the most awesome, planet saving thing ever — but it sure beats the H.A.H. cranks’ festival of cynicism and stupidity.
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