Secret Totalitarians Emerge During Earth Hour

Yesterday, “Earth Hour” struck. The goal was to get everyone on this planet to turn off their lights and other optional electrical usage (televisions, computers, etc.) between 20.00 and 21.00 local time.

As an aide memoire to turn off lights in rooms not currently in use, to not leave appliances running purposelessly, etc., “Earth Hour” was a good idea. As a means of enforcing compliance through social suasion, however, it left a lot to be desired.

Unfortunately, this is part of a pattern we see more and more often these days: everyone must comply. It’s not enough any more to win over a significant minority, or even a majority: the result must now be total.

That is so perilously close to a return to (take your pick) Fascism, Naziism, Stalinism, Maoism, Khmer-Rougeism, etc. as to be frightening. (Yes, I know, every one of those “isms” is going to get someone’s back up. That’s another little “everyone must comply” of our twenty-first century society: “no one can upset me”. Get over it, and get over yourself.)

There are those, of course, who, in the face of societal pressure like this feel a deep need to rebel. So we had the converse, those who publicly announced they would (and no doubt did) “turn every light, every appliance on in the house”. Some of that is perhaps also motivated by a rejection of the whole panic-mongering syndrome that surrounds discussion of greenhouse gases, energy production, limits to supply, and other such issues. (Note that when it comes to anything — if I may be permitted “a convenient” shorthand here — raised in Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth the only debate seems to be “are you of the body (of those who accept this without criticism) or not?” To even question Gore’s claims at the margins is to be thrown into the same camp as the outright deniers, and those that welcome the possibility of the planet’s impairment.)

Well, I do not count myself in with the deniers (despite this past winter!) but neither do I accept all the claims holus-bolus. Science is a process, and every statement made comes with (when no attempt to deceive is in play) an implicit to the best of our knowledge to this point in time. I expect to be able to, for instance, accept the Stern Report, and accept the IPCC report, and still find that new data, experiment and analysis will yield changed conclusions. Those don’t mean the deniers were right; they just mean the process continued and the position is now refined.

Still, it is as obvious as all get out that the winters of today are shorter than they were when I was a child, on average. The change in species availability (and I am no naturalist!) is staring me in the face. So, too, the summers being more intense. The finding, after all, wasn’t “universal and continuous warming in all places and at all times”. It was a general annual temperature rise in terms of the trend line, more pronounced as you look to the poles, which would, pace the models, lead to more intense weather systems. Seems about right from one man’s nearly fifty years of observed conditions, just as it is equally obvious to me that a point in time would come when cheap and easy-to-extract energy would decline as a component of our energy supplies, leaving us with tightened supply (hard-to-extract implies long lead times to get projects running, and lessened total outputs likely for the effort) and permanently higher costs involved for energy use. (You can say many things about the thousands of square kilometres of “oil sands” in Alberta, but “cheap and easy-to-extract” aren’t one of them, not matter how many oil-barrel equivalents they may represent.)

In other words, experience should be more than enough to motivate any thinking person not to be wasteful of energy. (Hair shirts are not required, just common sense.) You leave the kitchen for the evening, make sure things are turned off. You’re not using those outboard disc drives for your computer, power them down. Little things, all over, adding up. That makes the stance — from the point of view of rationality — of spending last night with all power consumption at maximum to counter “Earth Hour” really an irrational response.

Of course, if the point is not to play along with a totalitarian impulse, then that’s a potentially different story. Non-violent “disobedience” leads one into irrational acts that can add up to a reasoned path to change. My own view is, however, that “all lights blazing” wasn’t necessary to overcome the “everyone must comply” overtones in our society, at least yesterday.

Simply living normally — the only lights on were the ones that were needed, the only appliances on were the ones in use (or that must stay on, as with the refrigerator, to do their jobs) — was sufficient.

I must say that last night, in a brief glance out the windows, I didn’t notice a massive darkening of my neighbourhood. I suspect that many of my neighbours fall into the same camp I did: it was well on toward nine before I remembered that this was the day that had been set aside. This, mind you, with no less than thirty plus blog posts read earlier in the day highlighting it! But lives are busy these days, and time quickly slips by when work is at hand.

Having realised when it was, however, I can also say that I felt no impulse to rush and join “the crowd”. Saving power by day in British Columbia means offsetting the twenty-odd percent we import from Alberta and Montana, all produced via coal-fired generators. In the evening, however, we produce a power surplus, and it’s all hydro power. The water will fall over that dam regardless; spin the turbine, regardless. Giving up a post-Edison existence was therefore only going to make it possible to sell more power from our grid to other grid operations in Western North America; it wasn’t going to offset anything locally. (You might say, “well, but those sales offset GHG-producing producers elsewhere”, but much of the power moves by contract regardless of conditions, and that would only be true if we — Powerex, that is — priced BC power at a discount so as to win the business. One presumes, after all, that consumption might have dropped in the target markets as well?)

So I didn’t shut my remaining lights off, nor turn off my computer, last night. To be fair, I feel pretty good about that. Consumption had been minimized — which is in both my and our interests — but, at the same time, I had stood up to the totalitarian impulse surrounding this issue.

One can be greenish, in other words, without having to slavishly take up a position, and worry whether one choice or another is about to trigger the opprobrium of the crowd.

Those of us who have watched group-think descend since “9/11”, with its “those who are not with us are against us” Manichaean thinking at work, and who have watched a similar dualism infect any rational discussion of the environment on this planet, know full well that waiting until the other men of independent spirit are overcome to make a stand is to leave it too late. By then, one is the one albino monkey in a cage of brown monkeys. Ask any zookeeper: the albino is torn to shreds simply for being different.

For those of us who value liberty and the possibilities it creates, breaking up the dead hand of the crowd is essential. For, behind it (as history shows) someone will always emerge to use that crowd-think to impose their will on all of us.

Whether you went “lights out” yesterday or not, that’s the real issue at stake.

2 responses to “Secret Totalitarians Emerge During Earth Hour

  1. I am not much of a group follower so crowd think does not work well with me, unless of course it is the crowd thinking my way. Having a grade 12 daughterin the house I was aware of the day but only did what I normally do and that is keep on what was neccesary to enjoy my evening…nuff said
    Good column Bruce!

  2. coffee-offline

    Borgism, as the ultimate compliancy threat, is eventually outmanoeuvred, too, assuming the individual thinker will always come out of the crowd.

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