Where ignorance fears to tread.
23 November 2014 07:35 (South Africa)
Opinionista Ivo Vegter

The pointless pretence of Earth Hour

  • Ivo Vegter
If there's anything less attractive than a cantankerous cynic, it's a sanctimonious saviour.

So, we saved the world on Saturday. No, really. That was the answer given when the barman at my favourite hangout made his customers sit in the dark. "We're saving the planet," he said, flashing a supercilious smile of strained patience, as if talking to a recalcitrant, half-witted child.

Oh, really? Saving the planet, are you? No you're not. Who do you think you are? Jesus?

For a start, the planet doesn't need saving, except from the fear and hysteria that tax collectors, bureaucrats and special interest groups have whipped up around global warming. Like zealots at one of those loud revival meetings, the masses wave their hands and sing louder than their neighbours and pretend they don't care that they can't really afford to part with their wages to buy the pastor's wife a new Porsche.

We're also saving money, says the same guy who just spent half an hour lighting paraffin lamps and candles. Granted, his time isn't worth as much as, say, Al Gore's time on the speaking circuit, but that's a lot of wasted time nonetheless. It's also rather a lot of fossil fuel by-products to be burning.

For objecting because it's bad for the eyes to read by candlelight, you get called cantankerous. For pointing out that you don't believe the planet will be saved by switching off some lights for an hour, you're called peevish. For noting that as a matter of principle, you don't believe the world or its climate needs saving, you're called ornery. Or you might have been, if the people who turned out the lights were sufficiently well-read to know the term.

It's instructive to see how people reacted to Earth Hour.

Many delighted in the darkness and romantic candle light, and said we should do this more often. I entirely agree, and demand an immediate scrapping of the law against candlelit social events.

Some turn out the main lights as a grand symbolic gesture, but discover that it's rather awkward to turn off the television, the computer, the dishwasher, and the washroom lights too. And the outside lights also have to stay lit, lest potential patrons passing by think you're closed for business.

Few stop to think how much more polluted city air was in the 19th century, before we had electric light. Homes were illuminated with open gas flames. Rooms were warmed with smoky coal or wood. Streets lamps were lit, one by one, by men from the gas company. The resulting ring of dim light merely accentuated the "pea-soup fog" that was taken for granted by all, while their sickly children died of lung diseases.

As a matter of fact, the history of energy use is one of increasingly clean fuel, both in the sense of actual pollution and its carbon content. In the course of technological progress, as a matter of efficiency, we advanced from straw, peat and wood, to coal, oil, gas and nuclear, each of which is cleaner than its predecessor. Ironically, environmentalists want to reverse this progress, by reverting to inefficient and dirty "biomass" for fuel.

In the end, what did Earth Hour achieve? Other than providing an opportunity for sanctimonious posturing, and a chance for observers of environmental orthodoxy to look down on their inferiors, will it change anything about the climate, people's behaviour, or public policy?

Colour me sceptical, even if this were a goal worth achieving.

Of course, it isn't. The theory of catastrophic climate change is riddled with inaccuracy, hype and outright fraud.

The latest alarmist news report involves the "disappearance" of a disputed islet on the border of India and Bangladesh. The Agence France-Presse quotes Sugata Hazra, a professor from the School of Oceanographic Studies at Jadavpur University in Kolkata: "Climate change has obliterated the source of dispute." Now the island wasn't exactly Mauna Kea, but still, this explanation would imply a sea level rise of 2m since 1990. In fact, it rose by only about 50mm, which is negligible compared to, say, seasonal fluctuations of 200mm, fluctuations due to atmospheric pressure of up to 1m, and El Niño fluctuations of around 600mm. Not to mention spring tides and storm surges of several metres. It is also consistent with the historic rate of sea level rise, which has remained curiously constant since the 19th century, long before man-made climate change is supposed to have arrived on the scene, and long before the island in question was created by a tropical storm 40 years ago. A far more likely explanation is that the island simply eroded away again in much the same way as it was formed. It happens all the time in swampy river-mouth deltas.

In the face of such egregious baloney, dutifully carried as news by respectable organisations such as the Times and the BBC, why do so many still blindly follow where the high priests of ecomentalism lead?

I suppose in the darkness, illuminated only by the self-satisfied shine of sainthood, it is hard for true believers to see beyond their own smug noses.

I know. It's churlish of me to say so and spoil the romantic illusions of all the noble planet-saviours. I'm a crabby sod, that way.

  • Ivo Vegter
IvoVegterBW

Ivo Vegter is a columnist and the author of Extreme Environment, a book on environmental exaggeration and how it harms emerging economies. He approaches issues from the perspective of individual liberty and free markets. He grew up in the deep south of Johannesburg, and learnt his politics reading the Weekly Mail and Vrye Weekblad at Wits University during the early years of the country's transition to democracy. He recently left the city for the lower cost of living of Knysna, where he continues to write about everything under the sun. He is always right.

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