Sunday, March 30, 2008

Earth Hour

Along with everyone else in our street we ‘celebrated’ Earth Hour last night. We turned all our lights off, lit a few candles, drank a little wine and did not much.

So did I really support it though? Well, yeah – kinda half heartedly at best.

I’m just not sure Earth Hour is worthwhile. I know – it’s about symbolism, and symbolism has its place and can be very important. Witness the recent apology by Prime Minister Rudd to the stolen generations.

As per usual, the wingnuts misrepresented and misjudged the situation. No honest person believed the entire point of Earth Hour was to reduce electricity generation and consumption for that one hour. We can expect ignorance and a large dose of stupid from that thankfully minor section of the population and they didn’t disappoint.

So what’s the problem?

I think Earth Hour is too easy.

It allows people to undertake a minimal and mostly painless activity that isn’t at all representative of an effective strategy to combat global warming. It reinforced the point that altruistic individual action is the solution, when it clearly isn’t.

Economists model individual human behaviour as that of the selfish maximiser. Sure, not everybody is, no one considers themselves that way, but a majority of people are a majority of the time.

If we rely on people being nice to stop global warming we’re well and truly screwed.

The only effective strategy is hitting the hip pocket. Carbon has to cost for everyone. Governments have to enact laws that ensure this is the case.

The recent petrol price hikes provide a fine example of how effective this strategy is. Oil prices skyrocketed. People bitched and moaned at the petrol companies and the government. Still do. Car companies built decent fuel efficient small cars instead of crap. People bought them instead of large and relatively inefficient cars. Car makers that couldn’t adjust (Mitsubishi in Australia for example) went broke. End result – many people are paying a similar amount (adjusted for inflation) to run their cars as they would've a couple of years ago, and their lives aren’t really the worse for it. Sure, their cars have a little less space and power, but they’ve the added benefit that they’re easier to drive and park, and there might even be a few less speed-related car accidents in the future.

The problem I have with Earth Hour is it’s akin to a few people going out and buying a big fast V6 instead of a big fast V8 and going “Look at me! I’m onto something here”. Everyone else still buys their V8s, some feeling a little guilty, some not. Up the fuel prices and all that changes.

Needless to say, a symbolic act by the people that made governments comprehend that real and effective action just might not be political suicide, well, that’d be something.