Earth Hour 2011: In the dark, again

“I am ashamed at the number of things around my house and shops that are done by animals—human beings, I mean—and ought to be done by a motor without any sense of fatigue or pain. Hereafter a motor must do all the chores.” – Thomas Edison.

During the World Exposition of 1873 in Vienna, Zénobe Gramme and his partner, Hippolyte Fontaine, were demonstrating their latest wonder, the reversible Gramme Dynamo (an electric generator), when a workman accidentally connected wires to a spare dynamo. The spare then began to run too. They had stumbled upon the first electric motor. It was a motor capable of turning belts and gears using electricity. Electricity could do more than power lights; it could move things.

Think of the electric things you use regularly. Lights, refrigerator, washer, dryer, clocks, heating, air conditioning, water pumps, television, phone, computer, radio…
What would you do if they no longer worked?

Tomorrow night, Saturday 26 March 2011 the WWF (formerly the World Wildlife Fund, now simply initialized as WWF), wants people everywhere to give up electric light from 8:30 PM to 9:30 PM for Earth Hour. WWF says doing so shows people’s “commitment to the environment.” They say on their website, “But when the lights go back on, we want you to go beyond the hour and think about what you can change in your daily life that will benefit the planet.”

Bjørn Lomborg, director of the Copenhagen Consensus, says it’s “one of the most successful publicity stunts ever dreamed up.” I understand why he says that. Earth Hour is gimmicky. Enduring an hour of candlelight is a symbolic gesture, at best. After all, it probably takes more energy to manufacture candles than light bulbs.

It appears more symbolism than publicity stunt; rather like forehead ashes on a Christian on Ash Wednesday. Could it be more than coincidence that Earth Hour and Lent occur in March? Lent is a spring observance where practicing Christians give up certain foods and/or practices for 40-days. Earth Hour is a spring observance where practicing environmentalists forgo electric lighting for one hour (though you are urged to do more).

Perhaps sackcloth and ashes are in order?

At the risk of being simplistic, here is the greater change that Earth Hour sponsors want to come over you:

Be more self-sufficient. Do with less—of everything. Live a “make do or do without” life. Why? Because, according to E. F. Schumacher, “highly self-sufficient local communities” will be “less likely to get involved in large scale violence than people whose existence depends on world-wide systems of trade.” Eco-topia.

The most self-sufficient people on earth have no money. More than one-half of humanity live Earth Hour around the clock. Besides living without electric lights, toaster ovens, microwaves, washers, dryers, dishwashers, electric clocks, waffle irons, or hair dryers; they use dung, dry grass, wood, or coal to light and warm their homes and cook their meals. The lack of electricity means dirtier indoor air, which causes increased death and debilitation from cancer, lung and heart disease. Self-sufficiency equals poor health and poverty.

It is always Earth Hour in North Korea.

So, as a suggestion, here is an experiment: instead of just turning off your lights for one hour, go to the master switch and turn off everything—for forty days. Collect water for washing clothes and dishes; get firewood to heat, cook and light your house with (you may substitute dried grass or dung, or coal for firewood if you wish). Sorry about the refrigerator, you will just have to do without the convenience of food preservation. On the plus side, you can learn all about medieval cooking and food-storage techniques.


With the discovery of electric motors, Zénobe Gramme and his partner Hippolyte Fontaine made washing machines and other labor-saving products possible. These made everyone more productive and freed many from forced labor. As professor of economics Ross McKitrick points out, “Abundant, cheap electricity has been the greatest source of human liberation…Giving women the freedom to work outside the home depended on the availability of electrical appliances…Getting children out of menial labour and into schools depended on the same thing, as well as the ability to provide safe indoor lighting for reading.”

Let us celebrate the miracle of electricity, not demonize it.

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