Sunday April 1, 2012
Switching off the lights for 60 minutes doesn’t do much for saving power. It’s superficial support, not a solution for a real problem.
IT’S only natural in this day and age of technology to look for easy solutions. Yesterday, you might have been one of those who supported Earth Hour, happily stumbling around in the dark to save the environment. The idea is that you switch your lights off for an hour to raise awareness on the need to take action because of climate change.
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Thomas Friedman wrote in his book, Hot, Flat And Crowded, that “the amount of time, energy and verbiage being spent on making people ‘aware’ of the energy-climate problem, and asking people to make symbolic gestures to call attention to it, is out of all proportion to the time, energy, and effort going into designing a systemic solution.”
Many others say it’s conservation by taking a step backwards. Saying that we can help save the Earth by switching off the lights is akin to saying we should go back to the days before electricity, instead of moving forward. As somebody pointed out, a satellite photo of North and South Korea at night shows a stark difference between the two countries since “it’s always Earth Hour in North Korea”.
The word is “slacktivism”: a show of superficial support for a cause, without any actual change being made. And it seems especially prevalent among the social network-conscious teenagers of today.
It’s only natural that technology encourages us to look for easy solutions, since it has simplified so many things in our life. (Just the other day, I questioned whether anybody was still being taught how to make pie charts using protractors and rulers.) However, this has led to a line of thinking that solutions to problems are just a click away.
So, we celebrate our desire for change by updating our Facebook status, tweeting on the hour – and switching off the lights. You want to be environmentally conscious, well, you might as well look good doing so.
A recent study by Steve and Allison Sextant from the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Minnesota, concluded that people who lived in “greener” neighbourhoods are more likely to buy a car that is visibly “green” (in this case, the Toyota Prius, which has a distinctive design) instead of a hybrid that is indistinguishable from its conventional counterpart (for this study, the Civic Hybrid and Camry Hybrid). Similarly, the act of switching off your house lights is an extremely visible act, and may attract a lot of attention, but it may not be useful in the long run.
A paper on the subject shows that most people are wrong in thinking that curtailment activities (you do something less often) are more energy efficient than actual efficiency improvements (eg, being less wasteful in your energy use). So, instead of switching off the lights more often, it’s better to replace them with energy-efficient compact-fluorescent lamps (CFLs).
The trick is to realise which is superficial showboating, and which is real change. At the end of the day, it is very much up to the individual to decide for himself. But I believe it’s better to take responsibility than to let others do the real work.
This applies to everything, really. Many KL-ites complain about how the police are not doing enough to ensure security and safety, and they pay for private security firms to erect large visible barriers and guardhouses around their homes.
However, they gripe about initiatives such as the 1Malaysia patrol, which has residents and policemen working together to keep the neighbourhood safe, effectively choosing to pay a monthly cheque to a private company, instead of being an active participant.
The attitude that “the police are paid to keep us safe” persists despite the fact that neighbourhood watch schemes are commonplace in more “advanced” countries which have a superior policing force. According to the 2000 British Crime Survey, 27% of households in Britain are members of such schemes; the 2000 US National Crime Prevention Survey says 41% of communities in the United States are covered by neighbourhood watch.
It’s one thing for teenagers on Facebook having to learn about taking responsibility for their community and environment. It’s another when adults who should know better, don’t do it.
You can guess that I didn’t make a special effort to switch off all electrical items in my house during Earth Hour last night. I think one more dark house along the road won’t really persuade somebody to be more environmentally conscious.
I suppose I could have used the occasion as an excuse to have a romantic evening at one of the many Earth Hour dinner events around the city. But I also took into consideration that burning one candle releases more than 10 times as much carbon dioxide as a lightbulb of equivalent brightness, and instead celebrated one more reason to leave the electric light on.
Logic is the antithesis of emotion but mathematician-turned-scriptwriter Dzof Azmi’s theory is that people need both to make of life’s vagaries and contradictions.
Monday, 2 April 2012
Yeah TotallY Agree!
Even though it began with promise and good intentions, I totally have to agree with this article now. And yes I didn't turn off my lights but instead was in my car returning from dinner.