Clocks struck backwards for Earth Hour

Earth Hour is about making Westerners feel good about themselves, but it’s an edifice built atop a pile of human suffering.

On Saturday last at 8.30PM the lights went off for an hour—not because of an energy shortage, but because it was Earth Hour, the one time of the year when the comfortable come together and pretend they live in abject poverty, the kind of poverty that means no electric light.

Initially an Australian event organised by the World Wildlife Foundation and the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper, Earth Hour has gone global, sweeping a curtain of darkness around the world. Its appeal is easy to understand: an hour spent in candle light certainly has a romantic charm—and romance is the virtually the central appeal of environmentalism—but there is a world of difference between choosing to spend some time by a dim, flickering flame and living in a permanent twilight world. Two whole worlds, one might say.

Plenty of committed environmentalists have criticised Earth Hour for its tokenistic nature and, indeed, it is exactly that. The fact that it is an empty gesture is precisely why it appeals in today’s narcissistic age. But given the fact that this month saw an accident at Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan destroy the possibility of a grown-up debate about how we can meet humanity’s energy needs, there is something especially dim about pretending we have no electricity for an hour.

The meltdown in Western media and political circles betrays a fragile worldview centred on humanity being punished for its hubris but despite all the discussion about how many people have died as a result of nuclear power, no-one stopped to ask the much more important question: how many people die every year because they have no access to electricity at all.

Electricity—and growing energy use—means the ability to read after dark, to travel and to work. It means better education and less drudgery, it means better jobs and greater productivity. By all means, we should work to develop new energy sources and more efficient technologies, but the darkness that crept around the earth last Friday as the clocks struck half-past eight was a sign of decadence, not a herald of a bright new future.

Earth Hour is an insult to the people whose lives could be transformed by industrial and economic development, however uneven the result invariably is. There is quite enough darkness in this world of ours, both metaphorically and literally. It’s time to shine a light on the cause of human development. It’s time to call for a new Enlightenment.