Some Things More Useful Than Earth Hour


This is in the same vein as my recent post about Pointlessness of Unplugging.

This time it’s Earth Hour which is on March 29 at 8:30 PM in whatever time zone you’re in.

So we sit in the dark for an hour, then what’s supposed to happen once we’ve made our token gesture?

Well I didn’t sit in the dark for an hour, I finished writing this instead.

There is this naïve exuberance for what we allegedly can do to fix our environmental mess. It usually smacks of some kind of techno-utopianism. The usual course of suggested action is that we only need to…. <make more stuff to fix the stuff we made wrong in the first place to fix that other stuff that went wrong>…which translates to a bottomless pit of kludges, fixes and patches for an entire system that is out of control and going to take us down with it.

But rather than just complain, although complaint (and critique) is a useful thing in itself in that it sorts out the problems and suggesting alternatives is not necessary to that process, I’ll give some things that are more useful to do than observe Earth Hour. Certainly they’re not all possible for everyone but some will be. None of these, except the abandonment of capitalist lifestyles, will repair what has been done in the name of growth and prosperity, but some of them might stall the dystopian end for a few decades or so, during which time maybe the human species can get its shit together enough to make the necessary major changes.

I know that sounds rather apocalyptic but FFS people’s drinking water is catching fire, entire cities and even countries are pretty close to the point where they are going to be submerged under the rising ocean, deserts are expanding at phenomenal rates, huge swaths of arable land is being rendered unusable for agriculture, rain forests are being depleted at alarming rates such that CO2 cannot be converted fast enough in those forests to forestall it’s accumulation in the atmosphere and in the oceans leading to increasing acidification which causes the destruction of entire ecosystems like the Great Barrier Reef, glaciers and polar ice caps are melting which will bring more rising temperatures and destructive weather as air currents shift and increasingly catastrophic weather patterns are emerging globally.

Instead of thinking about what we can do or more aptly what we think we can do, we are soon going to be confronted with all that we cannot do. That’s going to entail our entire lives. We are lulled into the notion that it will be as easy as moving a light switch and our accustomed levels of comfort will remain. That will not be the case.

Scarcity will become an ever more real experience for the highly developed part of the world rather than be used as hype, as it is currently, to generate panicky notions of lack in order to sell more useless commodities.

“Buy this now before it’s sold out.” “Rare product.”  “Don’t lose your opportunity to own this.” “Last chance to get in on this deal.” “Only a few available.” “One of a kind.”

So here’s some of the things I think are more useful than Earth Hour in various categories.

Start sacrificing.

I don’t mean some token renunciations of staying off the Internet for a day or shutting off the lights for an hour or limiting one’s weekly quinoa intake. I’m talking serious sacrifice.

1. Give up private cars. Demand reliable, accessible public transit and use it instead. Particularly if you live in urban areas.

2. Give up air travel. Or most of it. There are an awful lot of people on the airlines’ “Elite” and “Super-elite” or equivalent status frequent flyer programs. That means people flying hundreds of thousands of miles per year. One can easily find them bragging about these milestones in social media. One place I find this sadly ironic is in the tech industry. You’d think by now, with tech being what it is and with all the trillions of dollars invested in it that there would be something like video conferencing available, if not full 3-D holographic representations of participants.  Apparently tech is not really interested in these kinds of technical things unless it is to resurrect dead musicians or movie stars for entertainment purposes. See here for example Amy Winehouse hologram ‘in the works’ for world tour. Who knew?

3. Give up notions that technology will save us. There’s a near-religious like faith people are placing in technology as some kind of eco-soteriological agent that will deliver us en masse from our own stupidity. This kind of optimism is delusional. Consider, for example, that we’ve been fooling around with radium, uranium and plutonium including the enriched varieties for over 150 years and we still don’t even have the first clue as to how to neutralize radiation yet. We can’t even explain gravity properly. Is it the result of the graviton or something else? That is how technologically slow and foolish we are.

Ideological changes.

Ideological changes are also going to be necessary. Continuing to mindlessly practice consumption with the underlying current of fostering capitalism’s “unlimited growth” paradigm is going to have to go too.

1. Examine and curtail consumptive desires. Invoke use value rather than cultural capital value. By this I mean, if you frequently think you need “those cute (but very impractical) shoes” or that tech gadget with all the add ons like covers and extra chargers and special pockets inside of special travel cases and the matching t-shirt and sun visor and additional input and output devices and tickets to the international conferences to tell you about all the upgrades to the tech gadget–though you’ll be too busy reading the reviews and shopping for all these extras to even use the gadget–consider how much use you will actually get out of the things rather than trying to collect points from friends and strangers on the cool factor. Consider what meaning these “things” have to you. Do they have meaning beyond a momentary emotional indulgence? Are they really just part of the desire-consume-discard-repeat cycle of unending seeking for relief from some other kind of dissatisfaction particularly the manufactured dissatisfaction of consumerism?

2. Learn about supply chains. Where do these goods come from? What are the factory and worker conditions? How are they transported? What are the environmental concerns in their production and distribution? Are you OK with that?

3. Get over the notion that capitalism, with it’s need for unlimited growth in order to survive, is the “natural” way of economic and concomitant social relations. We don’t have to be capitalists you know. There are other ways of doing things. Yes we are deeply enmeshed in the outfall of the neoliberal nightmare right now and with the mutated strains of that for the foreseeable future and thereby forced to participate in it or starve but that doesn’t mean it has to stay this way. We need to examine the system we are in seriously and consider it’s conscious dismantling before it collapses completely on it’s own. There is still time to plan this transition rather than to keep stumbling along. [I’m going to give some help with this in the future on this blog.]

Changing lifestyle.

The following may be more lifestyle activism than anything but I’ll put it in anyways.

1. Choose size and effort appropriate to use. Here are some specific examples of what I mean:

  • Point of use water heaters are often called geysers (geezers) in India. There’s people who keep 100 gallons of water heated to the highest possible temperature 24 hours a day whether they’re using that much water or not. They even keep it heated when they go on vacation. This strikes me as rather bizarre.
  • Cold water hookup appliances with built in heating mechanisms. This means that appliances don’t hook up to the hot water, but have a heating device inside them which heats water only when the appliance is in use and only in the quantity and to the temperature that is needed. Dishwashers and clothes washers made in Europe often have this feature. Regarding dishwashers, washing dishes by hand doesn’t necessarily save much in terms of water use or heating if one is washing dishes several times a day as opposed to filling a dishwasher before running it once.
  • Give up things like powered clothes dryers. Cloth will actually dry in the air. There’s vertical folding racks that can fit in smaller spaces and hold quite a lot.
  • Design and insulate buildings to limit hot and cold temperature fluctuation and thereby the need for artificial temperature regulation. This is such a no-brainer yet if you look at building codes there’s not much in them that is prescriptive in this area.
  • Manual tools. Rakes and brooms instead of leaf blowers. Push lawnmowers instead of power ones, or better still get rid of the lawn (and the accompanying herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers) and plant a bee garden or vegetables. I sometimes can’t believe that some people actually use a gas power mower for their symbolic 100 sq. feet of lawn, but they do. You could cut that with some hedge clippers in 20 minutes, ffs.

The point is not to romanticize some non-technological past or to hype some kind of primitivist utopian Garden of Eden way of life, but to forego all of the overkill, figuratively and literally, that has become characteristic of the developed world.

[I was going to write more here but I’m going to deal with a lot more of this in the future and I want to get this posted before I go to sleep.]

In all, the over-surfeit of goods and gluttonousness of consumption that is the capitalist lifestyle is neither necessary nor even normal for human beings. Most of the people in the world live without it. Even until the 1950s most of North America and Europe lived without it.

The thing is the climate issues are anthropogenic. That means MADE BY HUMANS. WE did it, especially the WE that are the top 20% economically, that is responsible for 86% if the worlds private consumption, 58% of the world’s energy consumption, 84% of the world’s paper consumption, who own 87% of the world’s vehicles and consume 45% of the world’s meat and fish. [See more stats in the link by Chakrabarti below]

On a related note, I’m tired of hearing those who read half of the Malthusian dictum about population and resources but don’t bother with the part about resources and their consumption. People in the developed world have a carbon footprint 20 times greater than people in other parts of the world and show no interest in slowing down on that. Yet there’s all this squawking about people of color in particular having too many children (the “guilty” parties there that always get pointed to are in Africa, South Asia and China) even though these are not the people doing the ever increasing consumption. [although with the need for capitalism to continue unlimited growth, which it must to survive, more populations are being captured into that process]

Here’s some articles and excerpts that deal with that population versus resources issue:

Concern about overpopulation is a red herring; consumption’s the problem by Charles Eisenstein

Population stability or decline is not an environmental panacea if it is accompanied by continued growth in consumption

Are There Just Too Many of Us? by Manali Chakrabarti

Which fifth needs to be eliminated?
In one sense, it is true by definition that the size of the world’s population is a factor in the exhaustion of natural resources, the other factor being the intensity of use of resources. Every human being uses the world’s resources to one extent or the other, so any addition to the world’s population must place an additional load. If indeed there are too many of us, let us clinically examine how many of us, and which of us, would need to be sacrificed for the greater common good.

…<tables in the article showing the extravagant consumption of the developed world.>

As is evident from the data provided in Tables 1A, 1B and 1C, it is not the poorest fifth but the richest fifth which needs to be eliminated to make the most spectacular difference to the availability of resources. Of total private consumption, 86 per cent is being consumed by the richest 20 per cent; should they be removed the average available for the rest of the humanity would increase by over six-fold. The availability of energy and high-end food would more than double for the rest of us. By contrast, removing the poorest fifth would not even make a small dent to total availability.

Well that’s a thought isn’t it?

Maybe instead of buying into the crypto-eugenics of “population control” that scare mongers hell bent on controlling the fertility of non-white people around the world (ie Gates Foundation etal) are proffering, we should stop what we—primarily driven by the Anglosphere but joined or aided and abetted by others in the form of the G7 and related economic groupings–are doing instead.

How about that?

Here’s a short science fiction film from Kenya.


The YouTube description: “Dans un Kenya futuriste, Asha, une jeune scientifique se décide à quitter l’entourage confiné de la ville a la recherche d’une Utopie verte.
La nature s’est éteinte. Asha vit et travaille comme conservatrice de musée dans l’une des communautés confinées dans un espace clos. Lorsqu’elle reçoit une boîte contenant du terreau, elle y plante une graine qui germe immédiatement. Malgré l’interdiction de quitter la communauté, Asha s’échappe pour planter l’échantillon à l’extérieur et peut-être retrouver une trace de vie.”

Loose translation (based on the above and from watching the film): In futuristic Kenya, a young scientist named Asha decides to leave the city in search of a green Utopia. Nature is ruined. Asha works at a museum dedicated to conservation of plant life within a closed city. She finds some soil that contains special properties that help germination. She leaves the community and journeys to find other traces of life in the place the soil came from.


3 comments on “Some Things More Useful Than Earth Hour

  1. Great post !
    I am vegan. Not, I always quickly add, as a moralizing reprimandto meat eaters or poor farmers working the land via animal power and eating animals as part of a sustainable agriculture, but as a personal reaction to the obscenity of industrialized exploitation and slaughter of helpless animals, and its ecological and social effects on the food supply chain for all living creatures.
    I also try to buy only second or third hand goods and live in old houses that are due for destruction.(although this has drawbacks in terms of waste of energy I think this is easily avoided by recourse to the great old standbys — extra blankets and warm clothing.)

    Your point about using tools is also spot on. A post could be written about the benefits both in terms of energy saving and in terms of the way such tools redefine(or rediscover) the value in cutting down on the levels of mediation between the person and the natural environment . A more direct approach is often better.

    Your point about population is spot on! Especially the quote about the 20% that need to go? Ha! What a wake up call.

    And your point on ideological change is, for me, the nub of it all

    Thanks. Looking forward to future posts in a similar vein!

  2. Overpopulation is precisely what is fueling consumption – to imagine a dichotomy between these two things is to take a step away from reality. There aren’t enough aquifers to drain, forests to fell or species to extirpate in the name of creating more farmland in order to feed 7 billion people with more coming each day. The most impactful thing any of us can do to stem the loss of biodiversity and ensure sustainability is limit the number of offspring we bring into to the world. The next most important things we can do are to prompt our governments to stop subsidizing and creating incentives for population growth and to start educating people about the impact too many people are having on this planet. And we do agree: turning one’s lights off for an hour is not a meaningful act.

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