Earth Hour 2012 – A dissent and poll

satellite image of the korean penninsula at night, showing city lighting

The winner for Earth Hour every year since 2003 - North Korea. Odds favor them to be the winner again this year.

Every year at Christmas, many newspapers reprint “Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus“, this excellent essay by Ross McKittrick should be repeated on every blog on every observance of Earth Hour. Copy, paste, and share it widely. A poll on what you plan to do to observe this event follows.

The whole mentality around Earth Hour demonizes electricity. I cannot do that, instead I celebrate it and all that it has provided for humanity. – Ross McKitrick

Earth Hour: A Dissent

by Ross McKitrick

Ross McKitrick, Professor of Economics, Univer...

Ross McKitrick, Professor of Economics, University of Guelph, Canada. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Image via Wikipedia

In 2009 I was asked by a journalist for my thoughts on the importance of Earth Hour.

Here is my response.

I abhor Earth Hour. Abundant, cheap electricity has been the greatest source of human liberation in the 20th century. Every material social advance in the 20th century depended on the proliferation of inexpensive and reliable electricity.

Giving women the freedom to work outside the home depended on the availability of electrical appliances that free up time from domestic chores. 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.

Development and provision of modern health care without electricity is absolutely impossible. The expansion of our food supply, and the promotion of hygiene and nutrition, depended on being able to irrigate fields, cook and refrigerate foods, and have a steady indoor supply of hot water.

Many of the world’s poor suffer brutal environmental conditions in their own homes because of the necessity of cooking over indoor fires that burn twigs and dung. This causes local deforestation and the proliferation of smoke- and parasite-related lung diseases.

Anyone who wants to see local conditions improve in the third world should realize the importance of access to cheap electricity from fossil-fuel based power generating stations. After all, that’s how the west developed.

The whole mentality around Earth Hour demonizes electricity. I cannot do that, instead I celebrate it and all that it has provided for humanity.

Earth Hour celebrates ignorance, poverty and backwardness. By repudiating the greatest engine of liberation it becomes an hour devoted to anti-humanism. It encourages the sanctimonious gesture of turning off trivial appliances for a trivial amount of time, in deference to some ill-defined abstraction called “the Earth,” all the while hypocritically retaining the real benefits of continuous, reliable electricity.

People who see virtue in doing without electricity should shut off their fridge, stove, microwave, computer, water heater, lights, TV and all other appliances for a month, not an hour. And pop down to the cardiac unit at the hospital and shut the power off there too.

I don’t want to go back to nature. Travel to a zone hit by earthquakes, floods and hurricanes to see what it’s like to go back to nature. For humans, living in “nature” meant a short life span marked by violence, disease and ignorance. People who work for the end of poverty and relief from disease are fighting against nature. I hope they leave their lights on.

Here in Ontario, through the use of pollution control technology and advanced engineering, our air quality has dramatically improved since the 1960s, despite the expansion of industry and the power supply.

If, after all this, we are going to take the view that the remaining air emissions outweigh all the benefits of electricity, and that we ought to be shamed into sitting in darkness for an hour, like naughty children who have been caught doing something bad, then we are setting up unspoiled nature as an absolute, transcendent ideal that obliterates all other ethical and humane obligations.

No thanks.

I like visiting nature but I don’t want to live there, and I refuse to accept the idea that civilization with all its tradeoffs is something to be ashamed of.

Ross McKitrick

Professor of Economics

University of Guelph

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UPDATE: MSNBC is running a similar poll here. It seem “Human Achievement Hour” has been noticed.

http://usnews.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2012/03/30/10926095-lights-on-or-off-earth-hour-challenged-by-human-achievement-hour

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stu

Bravo!

geronimo

Absolutely brilliant and spot on. It should be sent to every politician on the planet. Well done Dr. McKitrick.

Ross is wrong. “Nature” is also what humans make of it. A nice urban landscape including great architecture is as natural as a rainforest.
The dichotomy humans/nature is after all what brought us to demonizing humans, with loons dreaming up our return to some feral state.
I guess we should say, “I like visiting THE WILD but I don’t want to live there”

Larry in Texas

I concur with Professor McKitrick’s analysis. Electricity is the key component of our technological age, and it offers the most promise for Third World development. We should be praising electricity instead of turning our lights off for the so-called and misnamed “Earth Hour.”
By the way, I voted to turn all my lights and TVs on and bask in their glow. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Peter Miller

Well said.
You would have to be a seriously goofy, bolts-in-the-side-of-the-neck, alarmist to disagree with any of this.

tokyoboy

Ummm…. something must be wrong with the right bottom corner of the night satellite photo, because it covers such fairly big cities as Hiroshima (population 1.18 million), Okayama (710,000), Kurashiki (480,000), Shimonoseki (280,000), and Kure (240,000); why are all these in complete darkness???

Splendid essay – will distribute widely. Just had a look at the Earth Hour website – Virtual lightswitch? Are they serious?
To hell with the Enviro-Taleban! On with the lights! Forward!

Three hours to go. Sorted my spot-lights, got the kids organised, every single electrical appliance in the Kaboom household will be on and active.
Ross McK nails it! Well done!
He identifies his agenda, which is the total annihilation of those bothersome people who seem to breed so prolifically. This agenda has been in place for many years. We need to fight, and fight hard.

Interesting points esp “Earth Hour celebrates ignorance, poverty and backwardness. ………. It encourages the sanctimonious gesture of turning off trivial appliances for a trivial amount of time, in deference to some ill-defined abstraction called “the Earth,” all the while hypocritically retaining the real benefits of continuous, reliable electricity.”…..
For me the issue is more that earth hour is a yearly greenwash feel good drop in the ocean that doesn’t actually make much difference if we all go back to our normal consumption patterns.

brennan

Hear, hear Prof McKitrick.
I was going to protest the inanity of this pseudo-commercial lack-of-fun-fest tonight by turning on every light, heater and appliance, but stuff it, I’m having a few bourbons and watching Idiocracy. Seems appropriate.

Brian H

Gaian Goofs Genuflecting Gratuitously. Gah!

Brian H

Economics isn’t any nicer than The Wild. The Invisible Hand has brass knucks, and those who rely on renewables are asking for a potentially fatal drubbing.

novareason

Working on a cardiac unit in a hospital, I can tell you that would fly over like a lead balloon. Other than the inability to actually monitor the cardiac status of the patients, our medication delivery system, our vital signs monitors, our charting system, and every aspect of patient comfort and care relies directly on the availability of electricity, to the extent that we have specially marked plugs for important medical equipment that are set up to never lose power in the event of a complete power loss, while we bridge over to our generators. Without electricity, the PPACA wouldn’t even be necessary, since there would be no expensive or accurate diagnostic medicine.

tokyoboy says:
March 31, 2012 at 12:34 am
Ummm…. something must be wrong with the right bottom corner of the night satellite photo, because it covers such fairly big cities as Hiroshima (population 1.18 million), Okayama (710,000), Kurashiki (480,000), Shimonoseki (280,000), and Kure (240,000); why are all these in complete darkness???

It’s a low-oblique photo — those cities are actually cropped out of the picture. That bright patch at center-right on the edge is Kitakyushu.

Alan the Brit

No need to say anything else, nailed it in one!

Electricity is still a limited resource, so excessive use deserves criticism. Also, even if electricity were abundant, excessive lighting should still be criticised because of the light pollution it creates. Some might think that a well lit wilderness is a benefit, but others don’t and that should be respected. Just as you shouldn’t play loud music all night if your neighbours might mind.
But Earth Hour isn’t about light pollution. It isn’t about saving electricity on a regular basis. It’s a symbolic act. It’s an option for doing something symbolic instead of doing it for real on an everyday basis. I’ve been measuring light pollution where I live, and it has been skyrocketing in the past few years, during the same years that Earth Hour has caught on. I can barely measure any effects when Earth Hour begins, while the difference during an average night a couple of years ago and now, or just a year ago and now, is probably more than 10 times Earth Hour. That is, if we could turn back time just a couple of years it would be like 10 Earth Hours permanently. It makes Earth Hour an embarrasing affair. A symbol of utter failure rather than of real concern.
New technology has made lighting much more efficient in the past years. Rather than producing mainly heat, modern fixtures now turn much more of the electricity into useful light. This has been welcomed as a great way to save energy. But it doesn’t work this way. What is happening is that the advantages of the technology are not used to save energy, but to get more light using the same amount of energy. I think this new “green” technology is the main reason why I’ve seen light pollution skyrocket in the past few years.
I will minise my lighting during Earth Hour. Like I do every day.

MindBuilder

Turning on every electrical item in your house could overheat your electrical system. Household electrical systems aren’t designed to handle everything at once, especially if you have an older house and many more electrical items than people had back when your house was designed. Yes, if your breakers are all working right, you’ll probably be OK, but it is still a small but significant risk. Anthony, please post a warning about this after the article.

David, UK

Is the BBC going to stop broadcasting for an hour?

David, UK

Re my last comment: silly question. I forgot this was a trivial gesture. The BBC will probably just broadcast in the dark for an hour.

The huge amounts of money squandered on alternative energy could have been spent on providing many millions in the developing world with cheap electricity, clean water and basic schooling. It is a scandal that it hasn’t.

Ian middleton Canberra.

Ok only 30 minutes to go here in Australia. 500 watt front yard spots on, check. Three 60watt fluoros under car port on, check. Kitchen, lounge and bedroom lights on, check. 2000 lumen pencil beam led torch ( blind an eco nazi at 50 metres) holstered. One tea light candle burning and producing CO2 to compensate for the little light in the fridge. Check. Ok bring it on!

Jeef

Small sidebar in the news in NZ. Would have been a headline a couple of years ago.

Dodgy Geezer

I have often felt this way, but find that if I tell my friends they get angry….
This is really a re-casting of Julian Simon’s ‘cornucopia’ theory. He points out that, throughout the ages, human life has been getting BETTER, not worse, in spite of all the dire predictions that ‘something will go wrong’, and we should ‘stop progressing’. And that ‘getting better’ involves the continuous increase in the use of all sorts of resources – and this is NOT a problem.
It’s always funny how, for the environmentalists, the right place to stop human progress is always about 20 years ago. This is a meme which has been going throughout most of recorded human history, and shows no sign of abating.
Since the invention of fire, and the bow and arrow, humans have handled stored energy. We now routinely handle 10-100 HP per person. A home electric socket in the UK can put out about 5HP; someone cooking a Sunday dinner might be using double that at some point. We have built an infrastructure which can handle distribution of this level of energy entirely because of DEMAND. Not because that was defined as the ‘right’ amount of energy which would be needed.
Suppose someone invents a ‘teleportation’ device, which would revolutionise transport. But, for fundamental physical reasons, it requires at least 1MW to function. Does anyone think that we would not rearrange our energy distribution system to enable this, even though it would be quite disruptive compared to current distribution systems? And would we then have environmentalists complaining that people should be using no more than 10MW per house?
Handling more energy is fundamental to human life getting better and better. And it is DEMAND which enables this under a capitalist system. The environmentalists are trying to enforce a communist system under which a central decision is made about the ‘correct’ level of energy to use, and then people are provided with this. And we know how well that works…..

Dr. John M. Ware

Terrific essay. Dr. McKitrick mentions unsanitary conditions in the third world, thus bringing up the second-most-vital element in civilization: Reliable toilets. They, of course, ideally require electricity also, with pumping stations, filtration plants, and the like for modern systems. It is possible, though, to improve sanitation in places where open defecation defiles land and rivers, by installing sanitary or composting toilets until such time as the full system becomes available. Primitive “natural” defecation is surely not something modern humans should ever wish to return to. The Earth Hour folks should avoid flushing during that mystic hour; in fact, let them not flush during that whole day so they can imagine another aspect of life without electricity and modern technology.

Kasuha

I don’t know if you noticed but there’s a nice switch button beside each video’s title on YouTube and when you click on it, the page turns black. I can see what they did there and I think I’ll follow the youtube example tonight – I’ll close curtains on my windows for the whole hour. It will look black enough for anyone outside and will let me keep doing whatever I wish to do at that time.

I think I just realized why Earth Hour is in March rather than in April. Imagine if it would fall on April 1st? 😎

WooooHoooo!
One hour to go until Earth Hour.
Can’t wait to obliterate 10kW for a total cost of $2.10 AUD.

Cheryl

My son is an apprentice electrician. Tonight he will drive 40mins from our home to a major bridge in Brisbane (Australia). He will open a switchboard panel and turn off 4 switches. This will turn off the pedestrian lights and the decorative lights on the bridge. The road lights and navigation/warning lights for aircraft and watercraft will be left on.
He will play games/watch videos on portable battery powered devices for an hour and then he will turn the 4 switches back on. The bridge will again look pretty with its decorative lights. And then he will drive home.
For this little gig, the Ratepayers (Taxpayers) of Brisbane will pay him for minimum 3 hrs work at double time. There are at least 4 other electricians turning off power to bridges and parks tonight in Brisbane – could be more.
I can’t help thinking that if they were serious, the decorative lighting would be turned off permanently. But I guess this is a media event – tomorrow there will be pictures of the bridge fully lit and then darkened. Empty gestures!

peter_ga

Obviously the developed nations rely on fossil fuel powered electricity. While accepting that the negative effects of co2 emissions are probably exagerated, I would prefer some sort of international effort be made to implement nuclear powered electricity generation in developing nations. Some sort of scheme should be set up so that for the cost of a fossil fuel powered station a nuclear power station be installed instead. Countries with abundant uranium like Australia and Canada could set up schemes to provide fuel and take the waste. Developed countries with existing fossil fuel plants should keep those that have already been built. Instead of wasting money on wind/solar power, the money could be used to support such a scheme, which would deliver significant reductions in co2 emissions.

observa

And don’t forget THE MAN himself when men were men and women were mighty glad of it-
http://www.teslauniverse.com/nikola-tesla-books-the-man-who-invented-the-20th-century-by-robert-lomas

Bloke down the pub

On their website it says that Earth hour is at 8.30pm, yet their clock counts down to 5pm, wuwt? Not that it makes any difference, as I’ll be going out for a meal with friends and won’t be saving the planet this week.

Otter

David, UK says:
March 31, 2012 at 1:42 am
Re my last comment: silly question. I forgot this was a trivial gesture. The BBC will probably just broadcast in the dark for an hour.
Considering their devotion to the Church of AGW, I’d say they always broadcast in the dark!

J.H.

My sentiments exactly……. My light will be on in a celebration of an “Hour Of Power”…… The coming of the light.
I will not crouch in darkness and ignorance for anyone.

Oatley

Ross’s thesis leads to another point. When the activists attribute costs for burning fossil fuels in power plants (deaths from lung disease, warming of the atmosphere, etc.), they never net the societal benefits. Sort of like misstating financial statements.

J.H.

Peter_ Ga…… You don’t need to reduce CO2. CO2 is not a pollutant. There is no evidence that Anthropogenic CO2 has a significant effect on climate…. to the contrary it there is plenty of evidence that suggests Anthropogenic sources of CO2 are insignificant in their effect.
The developing world is better off using coal and gas for electricity production. The modern Western coal or gas fired power stations are extremely clean burning. Scrubbers are very efficient at removing sulphur compounds and other pollutants.
I agree that Nuclear power technologies must be developed, for that is the energy source of humanity’s far flung future….. But it will be hundreds of years before human society needs to rely on nuclear power generation as a replacement for hydro carbon based fuels.

William Abbott

I like McKitrick’s idea of Earth Month. (sans the terrorist attack on the hospital) All of us would be so thankful when the power came back on. It would be fatal to “the cause.” More potent than any rhetoric. Make it mandatory.It would be the environmentalist’s last will and testimony. It would be their last exercise of political will.

peter_ga says : “the negative effects of co2 emissions are probably exagerated”
CO2 — It is All Good.
http://www.co2science.org/education/book/2011/55benefitspressrelease.php

Great piece. I agree with the annual reprint.
Glad I looked at WUWT this morning. I might have missed Earth Hour all together. In the US EDT it happens during the NCAA basketball semifinal. Now, which is more important?
I sometimes can’t fathom the enviro’s. It is a sign of wealth and a life of relative comfort, wealth and idiocy that they can preach the things they do. I also notice that the most fervent enviro doesn’t give up his comfort. I was 10 (1957) before I slept in a bedroom that was heated. I didn’t really suffer because feather beds and quilts handled the eastern NC winters, but one learns not to dawdle getting dressed when you wake up with snow on the covers. We had indoor plumbing but some of my relatives didn’t. Some got water from pitcher pumps, sometimes the pumps were even in the kitchen. Farm work was a bit less machine assisted way back then. I didn’t have AC until the ’70’s. I remember folks in iron lungs. Not much before my time, no electricity meant that you didn’t eat a lot of fresh or “fresh frozen” foods. My son was born with an atrial septal defect (blue baby). In the ’80’s the surgery wasn’t that big a deal. In the ’50’s it was. I didn’t suffer from the life without all the modern conveniences way back then, but life expectancy was lower, people lived much harder lives, the water and air were more polluted. My cell phone has about as much, or more, computing power than the IBM 370 I used getting a doctorate in x-ray crystallography.
All this made possible by the growth of cheap, abundant and available energy. And the environmental loons want to feel guilty and get in their way back machines to return to those thrilling days of yesteryear. Neither my mother nor grandmother thought the good old days were all that good and they certainly didn’t want to go back. My mother said that she was going to spend my inheritance staying warm in the winter and cool in the summer and when that ran out, she’d be knocking on my front door. 🙂

johanna

I first came across Ross McKitrick’s excellent essay a couple of years ago, and send it to my warmiest pals on this day each year. It makes them very, very angry, but this mainly seems to be because they are quite unable to disagree with any of the individual propositions in it.
When I ask them why it upsets them so much, they just splutter stuff like “the whole thing is just wrong!!” Yet going through it line by line, they cannot seem to identify specifically where the problem is.
Congratulations, Ross McKitrick. This devastating critique hits the nail on the head with style and panache. If there is an Earth Hour next year, it will be doing the rounds again.

Mike M

Many of the things you say are correct but for energy in general, not just for electricity.
Under the current tax structure and an inelastic energy marketplace, government has a self interest in maintaining high energy prices. Higher prices generate higher energy business profits and therefore higher income tax revenue on those profits. That places government squarely against the expansion of energy resources and therefore against us the consumers – the voters.
I have a very simple idea that would dismantle that linkage and radically alter government’s position into one championing low prices, more competition and higher energy utilization – completely abandon taxation of corporate energy profits and instead collect only a PER UNIT ENERGY TAX.
For vehicle fuels the taxing infrastructure is already there right at the pump in the form of the highway tax! Instead of taxing Exxon’s profit which just gets tacked on to the price at the pump anyway, tax only the fuel itself at the pump. If government collected say, (I’m guessing at the number), an additional 20 cents per gallon at the gasoline pump instead of taxing the equivalent amount that would represent the tax on Exxon’s profit.
With that model the government will want us to find ways to utilize MORE energy not less. They will be on our side to increase competition as a means to LOWER energy prices. They will favor opening more federal land and off-shore reserves for exploration. It would put government back on OUR side of the equation.
(Yes, this idea will smother government interest in fuel efficiency but that was, is and will always continue to be in the self interest of the consumer in a FREE market. )

MindBuilder says:
March 31, 2012 at 1:35 am

Turning on every electrical item in your house could overheat your electrical system. Household electrical systems aren’t designed to handle everything at once, especially if you have an older house and many more electrical items than people had back when your house was designed. Yes, if your breakers are all working right, you’ll probably be OK, but it is still a small but significant risk. Anthony, please post a warning about this after the article.

Speaking as an electrician, if your electrics aren’t designed to cope with having everything on then they’re functionally inadequate and consequently dangerous. An older house can be forgiven for having inadequate wiring but anything built in the last 15 years should have been designed to provide enough slack for every room to have all its lights on and a major appliance running in each one. It’s simple safety; more to the point it’s written in the regs, and I stick to those particular regs like glue because I don’t want my work causing house fires.

Translated into Spanish and posted in my blog, then twitted and facebooked:
http://goo.gl/CXb4R

Mike M

And to all you radical liberals out there – coal saved our forests and crude oil saved the whales.

robmcn

Energy Hour – Switch on all the lights
A tribute to the miners, drillers and energy workers around the globe who do a dangerous job providing the electricity and energy that enables our modern living standards.

Apart from electricity certainly NOT being cheap in Australia, you certainly don’t seem to understand the reason behind Earth Hour, which is far more about A: overuse of and getting people thinking about it B: and the production / fossil fuels etc.
Also a mere hour will not hurt at all. The following excerpt, shows you are also steeped in a sexist way of thinking, for a start. Once again, it IS only an hour… your whole attitude is not even in line with the whole global ideal of carbon footprints.
“Giving women the freedom to work outside the home depended on the availability of electrical appliances that free up time from domestic chores. 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”.
I could rave on more, but I’ll leave it there.. to think you teach, anywhere… is beyond me… chauvinist, and obviously not concerned on the future of our planet.
Sasha

It would also not surprise me if you disallowed the prior comment… as it is ‘anti’ your post, and I’m a female… Have a Happy Day.

Patrick Davis

“peter_ga says:
March 31, 2012 at 2:44 am”
I think you need to do some more research regarding Uranium reserves. If all power was derived from burning Uranium, the reserves in Australia alone would last only 35 years or so. That’s not a good prospect. There’s ~500 years of discovered coal reserves in Austalia alone. Time to stop being silly with the CO2 bogeyman, use it while developing Thorium.

Truthseeker

Don’t give Earth Hour the oxygen of even protesting against it. Just ignore it and it will go away.
I had a large group of friends over to celebrate my birthday and it was never once mentioned in the conversation.

Frank K.

I’ll be installing some incandescent bulbs in honor of earth energy hour…

Can we adapt Dylan Thomas? Don’t go gentle into that good night/…/Rage, rage against the dying of the light.